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Monday, 20 June 2011
Page: 6525

Mr TEHAN (Wannon) (21:39): I rise tonight to wish Jane Spencer a very happy birthday. She deserves it on this day in particular, because on this day Fair Work Australia, following three appeals, has decided that students will be able to go back to work for an hour and a half after school. This is a sensible decision, a common-sense decision, but a decision that has taken 16 months too long. Sixteen months ago Jane Spencer rang me to ask me why her son Matthew and five other students, including a young girl called Leticia Harrison, could no longer go to work after school. I said: 'That's crazy. No laws would stop young students going to work after school to earn some pocket money and get some work experience.' But, when I looked into it, that was in fact what had happened.

Matthew Spencer, Leticia Harrison and four other students at the Terang Co-op had lost their work after school because, when the government re-regulated the workplace, it made a minimum three-hour requirement, which hurt, in particular, regional and country kids. Matthew Spencer and Leticia Harrison, when they left school at 3.30 to go to work at the Terang Co-op, got there at four o'clock. The business shut at 5.30, so they could no longer do three hours unless their boss, Charlie Duynhoven, was prepared to pay them for work they did not do—and neither the students nor Charlie wanted that.

Jane Spencer decided she wanted to fight this, and so did Matthew Spencer and Leticia Harrison. So Neil Mitchell was called, and it was put to Julia Gillard—the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations at the time—that it seemed silly that these students should not be able to work after school. Julia Gillard said she would look into it and fix it. So what happened? Nothing. She did a Pontius Pilate; she washed her hands of these poor students and said, 'Over to Fair Work Australia.'

These students—and their courage and their independence—have been fantastic. They said, 'This isn't good enough.' They got a petition going. From the community in Terang of 2,000 people they got 1,600 signatures. They drove down to Julia Gillard's office and, with their employer, Charlie Duynhoven—and I went with them—delivered the petition, saying, 'Please, we want our right to work.' What happened? She washed her hands of it. Julia Gillard ordered the Fair Work Ombudsman to go and investigate and, rather than get the students back their work, he fined the Terang Co-op for having employed the kids for an hour and a half—made the business out to be the crooks.

So these two students decided that was not good enough. Not only did they deliver the petition; they then said: 'We're going to go down to Fair Work Australia and give evidence to say that we want our right to work. We want to be able to go back and do our hour and a half after school.' And what happened? One of the trade unions sent its lawyers in, and Leticia Harrison—a 16-year-old student who was down there giving evidence because she wanted her work back—was intimidated. I spoke to her the night after the hearing, and she was very shaken up by it. She said, 'I just wanted to go down there and give my explanation of why I want to get my one and a half hours of work after school back and not be intimidated and bullied.'

We have had another appeal, to which Fair Work Australia said, 'No, sorry.' But finally, today, on Jane Spencer's birthday, Fair Work Australia has decided that yes, students can work after school, between three o'clock and 6.30 for a 1½-hour period—a common-sense outcome. Matthew Spencer and Leticia Harrison will not be able to go back to work, because they have now moved on, but young students across regional and rural Australia will be able to work after school again. I commend Matthew Spencer and Leticia Harrison for having the courage of their convictions to stand up and take the unions on and deliver this result. (Time expired)