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Monday, 26 May 1997
Page: 3940

Mr CREAN(1.22 p.m.) —The objective of the Workplace Relations (Unjust State Legislation) Amendment Bill 1997 is to make absolutely certain that workers and their representatives who exercise their rights under the Commonwealth government's Workplace Relations Act, or who seek to exercise those rights, cannot be penalised as a consequence by the industrial relations legislation of the Western Australian government.

On 21 November last year, when reintroducing the Workplace Relations and Other Legislation Amendment Bill after its passage through the other house, the Minister for Industrial Relations (Mr Reith) said that the bill:

. . . provides that employees and employers should have the right to choose whether they wish to be covered by an award or agreement in the state or federal jurisdiction.

On 12 December last year, the minister welcomed the Victorian government's action to refer its industrial relations power to the Commonwealth as a very substantial step forward in micro-economic reform. For too long, he said in this House:

. . . the Australian community has suffered from the collision of the federal and state industrial relations systems. This rivalry has been at the expense of the efficiency of those systems with consequent costs not just for the national or regional economies but also for individual employers, workers and members of the wider community.

Since he spoke these fine words, the Western Australian government has brought in legislation which directly takes away from workers in that state rights accepted as lawful even under this current government's Workplace Relations Act. For example, it penalises employees under state awards and their unions who seek to transfer to the federal system, in contradiction of the specific assurances given by the minister which I have just quoted. It penalises workers who take industrial action even when it conforms with the Workplace Relations Act.

It is reasonable to expect the government to react by defending its own law; to defend the rights of employees, provided by the Commonwealth parliament, to choose between federal and state coverage, and to protect the national and regional economies, the individual employers, workers and members of the community—to use the minister's own words—from the consequences of this attack on Commonwealth law by the state of Western Australia. It is reasonable to anticipate some leadership from the Commonwealth government, in other words. But, as with so many other current urgent issues, we have been anticipating that leadership in vain. The government is refusing, for whatever reason, to defend federal law and federal rights. Accordingly, we have decided to act in its stead. Somebody has to stand up for people who are exercising their legal rights. This is why the Labor Party has drawn up this bill.

I shall explain briefly its three basic provisions. Firstly, the Western Australia legislation provides that, when a federal union notifies the commission that a dispute exists, procedures may be triggered which penalise the related state union and its members. The effect is to stop employees from exercising their right to transfer to the federal system. This bill proposes to amend the act to prevent this attack on employees' legal rights.

Secondly, the bill seeks to prevent the Western Australian legislation from penalising employees from taking action for which the act specifically provides immunity. Thirdly, it proposes to make sure that members of federal unions may pursue rights to industrial action protected by the act without being persecuted by fines and injunctions under the state legislation.

The Western Australian government has brought down a law which takes away from employees in that state rights which have been given to them by this parliament. In doing so, it has deliberately brought on a collision between federal and state systems. I shall leave honourable members to speculate on why the government has found it so hard to defend the law of the land—its law. Whatever the reason, its inaction is inexcusable. If the government will not or cannot show leadership on this crucial and pressing issue, the opposition will. I therefore commend this bill to the House. I ask leave of the House to present the explanatory memorandum to the bill.

Leave granted.

Mr CREAN —I present the explanatory memorandum to the bill.

Bill read a first time.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Nehl) —In accordance with standing order 104A, the second reading will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.