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Wednesday, 25 August 1999
Page: 9030

Mr BEVIS (12:52 PM) —I might make a few comments about the statements made by the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business. In relation to the commitment the minister has given that the government sees no reason why it would need to introduce legislation in the life of this parliament dealing with junior rates, I think it is important to record my understanding of those circumstances.

We appreciate that in any situation of this kind it is not possible for any government to give a unilateral, total commitment that under no circumstance would it not legislate. But the clear understanding is that there would need to be a very significant, substantial and at this point totally unforeseen event to give rise to a need for further legislation in this area in the life of this parliament. That is an important undertaking that does provide a degree of certainty. It ensures that we will not find visited upon us next week a bill to do the things that were in the original bill and which are just about to be taken out of it by these amendments. That of course was necessary.

I listened with some interest to a great deal of the debate today. I suppose a number of members did not have a lot of time to get across some of the issues, but it did seem to me that a number of government members had their speech prepared for the original bill and gave it, but I think it is important to record that the original bill and the amended bill are chalk and cheese. There are very significant differences between the two documents that are important to record.

The original bill limited the scope of the commission in such a way as to ensure that those junior rates clauses that presently exist in awards and agreements would never be removed; it would be virtually impossible for a union to argue the removal under the provisions in the original bill. More than that, it extended junior rates into awards and agreements that do not currently have them, with a set of criteria that would have effectively ensured their inclusion in all awards as long as someone under 21 years of age worked in that area.

All of those provisions are removed by virtue of these amendments. Importantly, a number of other criteria are inserted, and the minister has referred to these. The inclusion of youth skills and community standards is important, and I commented on that in the second reading debate so I will not repeat those comments. They are fundamentally, though, different and inject a set of values into the commission's considerations that are important in allowing discrimination to be removed.

The next important point in distinguishing the bill in its original form from the bill in its amended form is the strengthening of the role of the Australian Industrial Relations Com mission. There is some irony in the fact that we have another piece of legislation on the books this week that seeks to strip from the commission a whole range of powers. That has been the approach adopted by this government since it came to office. We now find ourselves with a bill before us—unlike that bill—which will actually confer upon the commission a greater degree of independence and power in this area than has been provided by other bills the parliament has had before it over the last three years.

That is important because we made it clear in June this year—and I might say we have made it clear for some years—that we support the independent role of the commission. We think that function is important, and we do not support the efforts of this government in a range of areas to undermine that. So we are pleased the government has accepted the proposals and amendments we were moving that gave to the commission that degree of authority and autonomy.

It is also important to acknowledge that, unlike the original bill, the amendments ensure that the commission actually has the freedom to judge the case on its merits, and that is expressly stated. In doing so, the bill will now expressly say that you can put in a junior rates award or you can take one out. I want to make clear our view on that: our view is that junior rates clauses are discriminatory. We do not agree with the view that has been expressed by the government and held by them in relation to employment implications of this issue. This is for us a matter of basic rights of people to employment on the basis of their skill and competency, not on the basis of their birth certificate. (Extension of time granted) We think it is important that we move as a society to remove that discrimination, but in doing that we have to move as a society in a constructive and sensible way.

On the Labor side, we had a close look at the evidence that was being presented before the Industrial Relations Commission review. We had a close look at the findings of the commission. The commission very clearly said that they had a look—superficially albeit, but nonetheless a look—at a range of models, and their assessment of the range of models was that they could not substitute any of them for the existing junior rates system. But they did say that they did not rule out that there were alternatives that would be suitable. The point they made very clearly was that we should consider the removal of junior rates further on a case by case basis looking at the merits of the individual case before the commission. We hold to that view. We made that plain in June, and we made it clear they were precisely the sorts of amendments we would be pursuing in the parliament.

The government has accepted those positions and in fact picked up now all of those items that we set out in June as our requirements. Every one of the positions that we announced in June in response to the report have now been included in these amendments. That very dramatically alters the nature of the legislation that will be before the parliament. It does draw a very stark comparison between the position the government took when it moved these bills on 24 June and the position it now takes in moving these amendments. It is a better piece of law for that. It does provide a framework that the Labor side of the parliament endorses. Indeed, it is just about in toto the amendments that we proposed to proceed with ourselves. So given the government's willingness to see the light and adopt Labor's amendments, we are only too happy to be reasonable in seeing the bill's passage through here.

Amendments agreed to.

Bill, as amended, agreed to.