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Monday, 25 June 2001
Page: 28472

Mr WAKELIN (4:21 PM) —I welcome the opportunity today to talk about this important issue of working hours and I congratulate the member for Charlton for raising it. I enjoyed listening to the contributions of the member for Port Adelaide and the member for Petrie. At the turn of a new century—now well into the 21st century—it is appropriate to discuss what is a reasonable working week. There are all sorts of social changes occurring within our society and, as the member for Port Adelaide acknowledged, while the model for Australia may not be derived from the French Socialist government, there is no particular philosophical opposition in law—if there is, it should be looked at—to a set working hours week.

We know that there has been a great casualisation and feminisation of the work force and that technology and mechanisation has occurred at a rate that has fundamentally changed and will continue to change the work force. I will not propose to try to define an ideal of what those hours should be in the three or four minutes I have—Utopia is very much in the mind of the beholder—but clearly there is plenty of scope for creativity, for the enjoyment of the new technology and for an improving outcome for Australian workers. However, if you were to legislate on the French model, would you bring MPs under that model? Would we be required to work only 35 hours and how would you actually do that? I am sure that we would debate that. Nevertheless, for the people of Australia, it is reasonable to say that there is a very much lower union participation rate, there are enterprise agreements, there are share ownership issues and the question of what today constitutes full employment, with our quite strong welfare system which does give a reasonable safety net.

I have particular concerns about working hours as they impact on the family, particularly where there are two parents working. The government has endeavoured to strike a better balance for families with younger children, because it is important that children be well cared for whatever the parents' situation—whether it is in child care or child care combined with quality care in home.

It is a worthwhile discussion to have. I have a couple of things that I could throw across to the opposition. Simon Crean, the shadow Treasurer, when asked about Labor's industry policy, said:

... I think we have to admit that we didn't get it all right ...

That is an interesting statement made on ABC Radio National on 11 August 1997. So there are challenges for the full parliament— not just for the coalition but for the Labor Party as well. I have, as I have indicated, no particular strong philosophical opposition to working hours that are fair and reasonable, but instead of laying down a 35-hour or a 39-hour working week we really want to protect that freedom which is critical. I challenge my colleagues: how do you regulate the working hours of a politician? We would really need to have an open, transparent approach to this and it is a discussion well worth having. I congratulate the member for Charlton for her contribution.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins)—Order! The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for next sitting.