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Tuesday, 25 June 1996
Page: 2627

Mrs WEST —My question is addressed to the Minister for Industrial Relations. I seek clarification on aspects of the coalition's workplace relations bill as it relates to women. Are claims that the bill will remove paid maternity leave and provisions about predictable part-time work hours from award entitlements correct?

Mr REITH —I thank the honourable member for her question seeking clarification. Those claims which are prevalent from opposition members are demonstrably incorrect. Their constant repetition only highlights the fact that they do not have a substantial argu ment against the principal elements of the package that we are putting.

If you take the two matters which the honourable member has raised, I actually have a document entitled `News alert' from Senator the Hon. Margaret Reynolds. This document of hers is clearly wrong. She says in this document that, under the government's policy proposals, various items will be removed from awards entitlements. For example, she lists paid maternity leave. That is just blatantly wrong. The proposition which the government is putting will see that paid maternity leave is an allowable matter. It is quite specifically mentioned in the list of allowable matters, as are other important entitlements for people, including carers leave, paternity leave and adoption leave, just to mention a number of them.

Senator Reynolds also says that we are removing from awards entitlements the subject of redundancy. That is patently wrong. If the senator cared to read the government's proposals, she would see that redundancy is specifically provided. In fact, it was a matter that was raised with us during the consultation process. We ensured that it was added to the list so as to protect that basic entitlement of people.

Senator Reynolds then goes on to make claims about the impact of the approach that we are taking in respect of part-time work. The claim there generally is that this will place employees essentially at the whim of employers in the times at which they work. That is quite wrong. Not only is it wrong, but it is hypocritical for that claim to be made against the government because we are actually attempting to correct one of the problems in the existing system where we have seen in recent years an explosion in the number of people who are undertaking casual work.

The number of employees involved in casual work has grown from 17 per cent in 1986 under the previous government to 24 per cent of employees in 1995. The reason for that is that there are so many restrictions on the capacity of people to take up part-time work opportunities. We are removing those barriers to those opportunities for people in this proposed legislation. Women who often want to juggle family and work responsibilities are denied those opportunities today by the system which was put in place by the previous government.

As I have demonstrated, these claims are clearly and obviously demonstrably false. These are important issues. We have had a lot of discussion with women's groups about these issues. I can assure the House that we will continue those consultations during the months ahead with the Senate committee process under way. We do so on a genuine basis because we think they are important issues. We want to see the legislation changed in this country to provide real opportunities for a lot of Australians, particularly for women.