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Tuesday, 23 September 1997
Page: 8202


Mr McMULLAN(5.41 p.m.) —by leave—I move opposition amendments Nos 4 to 8:

(4)   Schedule 3, items 1-5, page 6 (lines 6-29), omit the items.

(5)   Schedule 3, item 7, page 7 (lines 6-12), omit the item.

(6)   Schedule 3, item 8, page 7 (lines 13-23), omit the item

(7)   Schedule 3, item 14, page 8 (lines 4-12), omit the item.

(8)   Schedule 3, item 15, page 8 (lines 15-22), omit proposed section 170WHC, substitute:

170WHA Industrial Registrar to publish AWA determinations

   The Industrial Registrar is obliged under section 143 to publish any determination of the Commission that approves or refuses to approve an AWA or a variation agreement, or that terminates an AWA. When the Industrial Registrar publishes such a determination under section 143, he or she must ensure that the publication does not disclose the identity of either party to the AWA.

Although to facilitate things I am seeking to do amendments 4 to 8 together, there are actually two batches of amendments here. I will try to deal with all of them in five minutes. Most of them are quite minor and go only to the general question that we all dealt with in the second reading speech. We do not wish to reiterate and rehearse unnecessarily the general tenor of AWAs and the Employment Advocate and our overall concerns.

The position of the Employment Advocate should never have been created. The way it is operating is reinforcing our worst fears. I did not pretend during the second reading, and do not now, that any of these is a major important new change. Our opposition is to each increment in opportunity for the employment advocate to act in the way that he has done in that remarkable lack of accountability to the parliament and the failure to in any way meet what we would regard as reasonable standards for protection of employees subjected to these AWAs which the employment advocate or his office has to apply. We will oppose and resist that until we get the opportunity to abolish the position altogether. That is our position. It is not going to be productive spending hours reiterating it; I simply state it. It is a position shared and expressed by many of my colleagues in their second reading contributions.

I regard amendment 8 as different and more important—not that I expect this minister in the House of Representatives to be swayed by the rhetoric about this matter. I hope for greater success when my more persuasive colleagues in the Senate advocate the case.

I am particularly concerned that the lack of public access to the nature of decisions being made, which are affecting the lives of Australians and have ramifications for those beyond the immediate agreement, should not extend to the Industrial Relations Commission. Our concern is that item 15 on page 8 of the bill does, in its present form, start to extend to the Industrial Registrar and the Industrial Relations Commission those sorts of provisions where decisions are made but they are not public, they are not open to scrutiny, they are not open for other people to assess their implications in connection with potential future matters on which they might impact—not just if they are not parties to this, but if they work in a similar industry or are confronting a similar problem.

Up until now, if a decision having been made by a public authority has the capacity to affect your rights or set a precedent that might affect your rights, you can consult on it; you can see whether or not you agree with it; you even have some capacity to respond to it. We do not want to see that important function undermined. We would like to see it taken away from the Employment Advocate, but we cannot do that in this particular set of amendments to the legislation. So that is a question for another day.

However, what we would like to do is make sure that the poor standard that is set with regard to the Employment Advocate is not extended to the Industrial Relations Commission. So we are seeking to substitute item 15 on page 8 with the amendment contained in amendment 8. It is, I think, an important question of principle. We do not want to drag the Industrial Relations Commission standard of accountability down to the level of the Employment Advocate. Therefore, I recommend the amendment to the House.