Thursday, 30 March 2006
Questions without Notice
My question is to Senator Abetz, the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. Can the minister confirm that the new Howard government Workplace Relations Act will stand at 1,388 pages, plus 566 pages of explanatory memorandum and a further 593 pages of regulations? Minister, doesn’t that total over 2,500 pages of industrial legislation, regulations and explanations? Can the minister explain just how employers and employees are expected to understand their rights and responsibilities under these changes? Doesn’t this show that the government’s so-called simple, single system is really nothing more than a complex dog’s breakfast?
I only went to a public school but I trust my maths is good enough, unlike the senator opposite. On my calculations, the number of pages to which the honourable senator has referred will be not even the size of one award. So, instead of people having to look through mountains of awards, the system has been simplified. We will now have a situation where, instead of having to look through these awards that have turned into books, people can now go to one central place to determine the workplace relations of this country in a unitary system. If you were to stack up all the state legislation on top of each other and then all the awards on top of that, my view would be that the chances are you would be hitting the top of the flagpole on top of this place.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister explain just how the government is going to ensure that employees and employers understand their rights under the 2½ thousand pages of industrial legislation, regulations and explanations? Will it be using the 5.9 million WorkChoices booklets which are still being housed at Commonwealth expense, at $8,000 a month? Minister, isn’t it the case that all of this complexity, regulation and bureaucracy results from the Howard government’s blinkered and ideological obsession with stripping away workers’ rights? Isn’t the real agenda removing the rights Australian workers have enjoyed for 100 years?
I suggest to Senator Wong that after question time she goes straight to the Whip’s office and apologises for not using the word ‘extreme’ in the supplementary question. I think she used every description other than extreme, which seems to have become a necessity in opposition questions. What I think Senator Wong is suggesting is another wave of government advertising. I will pass that on to the Prime Minister—that Senator Wong and the Labor Party support another wave of advertising in this area. But can I suggest to Senator Wong that the award system was never explained by education campaigns to the workers of this country who had to wade through hundreds of pages and were never given educational time to have all these things explained to them. I will take Senator Wong’s helpful suggestion to the Prime Minister.