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Monday, 17 March 2008
Page: 1852


Ms JULIE BISHOP (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (1:14 PM) —Notwithstanding the ideological rhetoric of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Prime Minister, I must bring to the attention of the House that this piece of legislation, the Workplace Relations Amendment (Transition to Forward with Fairness) Bill 2008, does not deliver what the government said this bill would deliver. It is in fact a flawed piece of drafting. Given that the Labor Party has had almost 12 months since it announced its policy platform on industrial relations, it is almost inconceivable that this bill is so flawed as to not come near reflecting what the government has said it will achieve. The coalition referred this bill to a Senate inquiry, against the strenuous opposition of the government, and then the time frame for the inquiry was severely truncated by the government. Nevertheless, the evidence before the inquiry has revealed that this bill is fundamentally flawed, both from a drafting and a policy perspective.

There are extensive concerns with respect to the bill’s complexity and drafting. I refer to comments from Professor Andrew Stewart, of Flinders University, who has stated that many of the provisions remain ‘unduly complicated and difficult to understand’. On a close analysis, it is apparent that Professor Stewart is correct: the proposed legislation is complicated unnecessarily and in many areas is very difficult to understand. This confusion and complexity will impact on businesses and workers. To prevent widespread confusion and ensure transitional arrangements for workplaces across the country are adequate, the bill should be redrafted to address the numerous technical and policy concerns that have been raised in the evidence given before the Senate inquiry.

Let me give you a number of examples. Whilst the bill seeks to replace existing Australian workplace agreements with another, similar form of individual statutory agreement called an ITEA—an interim AWA introduced by Labor—and in fact allows existing individual agreements to continue up to and beyond 2010, the legislation before the House is unable to accommodate particular types of employment arrangements presently able to be entered into under Australian workplace agreements.

Evidence before the inquiry shows that, moving forward, this will present significant challenges for industries who are dealing with the introduction of Labor’s interim AWAs, otherwise known as individual transitional employment agreements. A specific example of this is the construction sector, where, due to the transient nature of the workforce and the project nature of the work, there will be some employees that will be able to access Labor’s interim AWAs and others that will not. Somebody put it in these terms: ‘There will be workers who will fall into an abyss.’ This will result in workplaces having one set of workers on Labor’s interim AWAs and another set of workers, carrying out the same work, who are going to be forced back onto awards.

Within the construction and mining sector, industrial coverage, and thus protection from industrial action and drawn-out completion dates, is also a commercial consideration for many principal contractors. This bill places workplaces and contractors at risk from industrial action and puts employers and employees in a position where they have different groups of workers doing the same work employed on different industrial instruments. This is a significant problem, not just for employers but also for workers, and it is one that must be rectified by the government.

There are also inconsistencies within the bill with respect to the application of the no disadvantage test and the relevant standard against which these interim AWAs and collective agreements will be tested. In certain workplaces, interim AWAs will be measured against existing collective agreements instead of the new National Employment Standards. This could result in the ratcheting up of wages and conditions where this might not ordinarily occur, leading to wage inflation. This is a great concern. (Time expired)