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Wednesday, 13 November 2002
Page: 8856


Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service) (9:47 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This bill will amend the Workplace Relations Act 1996 to ensure that the workplace relations system better meets the needs and circumstances of business, particularly small business. This bill demonstrates that the government is serious about reducing unjustified third party interference and workplace relations red tape for small business.

There is a compelling case for the passage of this bill. A vibrant and innovative small business sector is crucial to Australia's economic growth and social welfare. The changes introduced in 1996 with the Workplace Relations Act significantly improved access for small business employers and employees to the workplace relations system. Many small businesses in the federal jurisdiction now have a greater choice of agreement types, including non-union agreements and individual agreements. However, further reform is required to maximise the opportunities for small business growth, and to drive unemployment down even further.

Many small businesses are not members of registered employer organisations and, consequently, are not represented in the Australian Industrial Relations Commission's hearings and cases. They often do not have the resources or opportunity to influence commission proceedings and outcomes. The changes implemented by this bill are intended to make the commission and its processes more responsive to small business.

The bill contains amendments that will enhance the ability of small business to resist attempts to rope them into federal awards. A dispute with an employer with fewer than 20 employees will only be taken to exist, in a roping-in or log of claims process, where the union demonstrates that it has a member employed by the employer. The identity of individual union members, however, will be kept confidential.

Where an alleged dispute is notified, for any business, on the ground that the employer has not agreed to demands set out in a log of claims, the commission would be required not to make any finding of dispute, unless satisfied:

· the log of claims, when served, was accompanied by a notice containing prescribed information—the prescribed information is intended to explain the status of a log of claim and explain employers' rights in relation to logs of claims;

· the alleged dispute was not notified until at least 28 days after service of the log;

· the party notifying the alleged dispute had given the employer at least 28 days notice of the time and place for hearing of the dispute notification; and

· the log of claims did not include any demand requiring conduct or provisions contrary to the freedom of association provisions of the act, or outside the scope of the employment relationship.

The bill will also require the commission to inquire into the views of identified small business employers affected by the making of an award, rather than only taking into account the views of employers who go to hearings.

In introducing this bill, the government is demonstrating its commitment to making the workplace relations system better meet the needs and circumstances of business, particularly small business. This is vital to maximise the opportunities for growth and innovation for the approximately 1,122,000 private sector, non-agricultural, small businesses in Australia. These businesses account for 96 per cent of all businesses—and are the engine room for jobs growth in our economy. It is clearly in the public interest to open the door to the new jobs that can be created by small business if we continue to ease the pressure that excessive industrial regulation presents for Australia's hardworking small business men and women.

I commend this bill to the House and I present the explanatory memorandum.

Debate (on motion by Mr Melham) adjourned.