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Thursday, 20 August 2009
Page: 8549

Mr KEENAN (2:49 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. I refer the minister to media reports that she will intervene on behalf of the horticulture sector and possibly spare them from the job losses, business closures and other impacts of the government’s so-called modern awards. Will the minister also commit to providing a similar stay of execution for the workers and small businesses in the retail, pharmacy, aged-care and hospitality industries?

Opposition members interjecting—

Ms GILLARD (Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for Social Inclusion) —Of course, I commence my answer over the voices of those who support Work Choices on the other side. We are involved in a reform, an award modernisation reform, that when the Liberal Party was in office it said it thought was a good reform too. Indeed, the member for Menzies and others used to come into this parliament each and every day and talk about the compliance burden from the awards system and say that the awards system needed to be modernised. As it turned out, the Liberal Party proved too incompetent to get that done and chose instead to go down the route of Work Choices, where of course the award did not mean anything because you could always have an Australian workplace agreement forced on you that would strip the award away. But this remains an important reform for employers, called for by employers for decades, and I direct the shadow minister to views expressed by organisations like the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry when they said:

Workplace relations policy is too important for horse and buggy era approaches to persist.

…            …            …

… many businesses are subject to overlapping, multiple sets of regulation … within the one workplace.

They went on to say that this situation creates:

… profound difficulties in identifying workplace rights and obligations.

When did they say that? It was in 2005. Who is fixing it? This government is. It is fixing it through an award modernisation request that went to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission. The Australian Industrial Relations Commission is well into this two-year task and it is on a journey to reduce 2,400 outmoded state and federal awards and industrial instruments into 130 simple, modern awards—2,400 complex, overlapping documents into 130 modern awards. That is an important reform and one I assume, from this question and the conduct of the Liberal Party, they are opposed to. They are opposed to lifting that burden from the shoulder of employers.

As this award modernisation process has gone on there have been times when employers, and indeed unions, have raised with me concerns about the award modernisation process. I have said consistently to all groups, ‘This is a job for the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, which overwhelmingly is doing it well.’ But if I become persuaded that an individual example raises legitimate concerns about the public interest and legitimate concerns about the implications of my award modernisation request and the framework of that request then I will consider those requests and respond to them if necessary. I did that in the restaurant and hospitality sector. The shadow minister has woken up this morning and read the Australian newspaper and has obviously seen that we have been in dialogue with the horticultural industry. We will continue dialogue with industries as necessary.

What I can promise to the shadow minister opposite and the Liberal Party generally is, whilst they sit there turning their faces against reform, turning their faces against the hard work necessary to achieve it, dreaming of the days of Work Choices and its reintroduction, over on this side of the House we are delivering the Fair Work regime complete for employers, with new, simple, modern awards.