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Monday, 20 June 2011
Page: 6614

Ms ROWLAND (Greenway) (21:32): I rise tonight to grieve for the public servants of New South Wales. These are the public servants who are having their rights stripped from them by a Liberal state government committed to nothing more than an ideological attack on the working people of New South Wales. Last Wednesday some 12,000 workers and their families descended on Macquarie Street in teeming rain to voice their protest against these draconian laws. By amending the Industrial Relations Act, the O'Farrell government has passed disgraceful Work Choices style laws through the New South Wales parliament which will end the independent role of the NSW Industrial Commission; cut the pay and conditions of public sector workers in NSW; undermine the ability of public sector unions to represent their members; and cut services to the community. This legislation is an affront to the hardworking people of New South Wales—the nurses, firefighters, bus drivers and train drivers who are committed to serving the community and providing for their own families.

I want to talk about the New South Wales Industrial Relations Commission. For over 100 years New South Wales public servants have had access to an independent umpire. This disgraceful O'Farrell government has overturned 110 years of precedent by removing the arbitration powers of the New South Wales Industrial Relations Commission in relation to the setting of wages and conditions for all cases before the commission and all future cases before it. The New South Wales IRC will no longer be an independent umpire protecting workers' rights in NSW. For more than 100 years the commission has worked independently, listening to the parties, hearing evidence, conciliating and arbitrating disputes between public sector workers and their employer, the NSW government. By seeking to restrict its role, the O'Farrell government is walking away from 100 years of effective industrial relations practice.

In 2007 the New South Wales Nurses Association produced a report entitled Industrial Relations and the NSW Nurse Shortage, which found that:

… with a strong and fair Industrial Relations Commission public hospital nurses have won some valuable conditions that have improved their working lives, including:

a legally enforceable commitment to reasonable workloads;

groundbreaking 14 weeks paid maternity leave;

monetary recognition of nurses with postgraduate qualifications; and

improved union delegate rights at work.

But the Secretary of the New South Wales Nurses Association wrote earlier this month:

The O'Farrell Government's … laws would reduce the NSW Industrial Relations Commission to a rubber stamp on government wage policy.

This is simply not acceptable and the people of New South Wales do not deserve it.

Premier O'Farrell's laws will transfer the role played by the New South Wales IRC to the New South Wales government. I would not want that to happen under any government. I believe in the role of the independent umpire in industrial relations and so do the majority of workers. The devastating changes under this Liberal government will undermine the separation of powers between government and the judiciary. Instead of public sector workers having a fair and independent umpire, the changes will make the O'Farrell government the prosecutor, the judge and the jury.

In fact, Premier O'Farrell's legislation is so far reaching that it allows the government to do the following: immediately cut the wages of any public sector worker; immediately cut the employment conditions of any public sector worker, with no guarantee that they will receive a wage increase in return; and all of this can happen without workers having access to that independent umpire—because the Industrial Relations Commission will be bound to enforce the government's policy. As Unions NSW Secretary Mark Lennon put it:

"This is an unprecedented assault on the rights of public-sector workers to have their day in court to determine their wages and conditions".

I want to talk about breach of international law issues. This legislation will have an adverse impact on over 300,000 public sector workers. As I have mentioned, it will remove rights for unions to argue in front of the IRC, a move that has been deemed a 'denial of procedural fairness' by constitutional law specialist Mr Arthur Moses SC. In a media release today, the Australian Council of Trade Unions Secretary stated,

… the O'Farrell workplace laws would be a clear breach of international law and Australia's obligation to respect human rights, which include labour rights and the right to collectively bargain …

It is clear that these laws will see the executive absorb the powers of the judiciary and it is clear that these laws stand in the way of labour rights for the people of New South Wales. After being engaged by the trade union movement to look into the constitutionality of Premier O'Farrell's laws, Mr Moses found:

There is no doubt the laws would be considered repugnant to the judicial process.

What is interesting in all of this is that those opposite, including the Leader of the Opposition, have remained extremely quiet on the most dramatic changes to industrial relations in a century. Those opposite and their New South Wales state government colleagues have made a habit of purporting to be concerned about cost-of-living pressures in New South Wales, particularly in Western Sydney where my electorate of Greenway lies. But I find this very hard to believe when this is the same opposition who championed the Work Choices legislation, and the same people who wanted to rip the rights from hardworking Australians and appease their big business mates. If those opposite really cared about cost-of-living pressures in Western Sydney they would support the rights of working families in New South Wales—the nurses, the firefighters and other public servants who will now have the worst industrial rights of any workers in New South Wales.

Today the ACTU has called on the federal opposition leader to break his silence on these new industrial relations laws introduced by the O'Farrell government. I join the ACTU in this call. The opposition leader must either condemn the actions of his New South Wales colleague Premier Barry O'Farrell or confirm the actions are indeed Liberal Party policy. I suspect he will remain silent on this issue regardless of how many hardworking Australians protest Premier O'Farrell's IR laws because we all know that those opposite have a passion for denying the rights of decent working men and women. We all know that they are committed to Work Choices. We know the only thing dead, buried and cremated about Work Choices is the name. Nevertheless, I invite the opposition leader to share his views on Premier O'Farrell's approach to industrial relations.

I stand in this place condemning the actions of the New South Wales state government towards the public sector workers of New South Wales. These laws reflect a coalition government determined to introduce Work Choices style laws and change industrial relations in Australia—changes that will destroy the rights of workers. Without indisputable denunciation of these laws, working families can only conclude that the federal opposition condones the New South Wales government's introduction of laws that remove workers' rights and remove the independent umpire. When it comes to industrial relations, those opposite simply cannot help themselves and cannot be trusted.

I will end by saying that over the past few weeks I have been inundated with constituents who have randomly approached me and told me that in the last state election on 20 March they voted Liberal for the first time. They are now saying to me that they will never do that again. For all the feigned concern by those opposite about cost-of-living pressures, they are conspicuously silent on the rights of decent, hardworking men and women in New South Wales.

I have been a proud member of a union for my entire working life, from the shop floor of a supermarket at the age of 15, and today I am proudly a member of the PSA in New South Wales, the same union which represents the decent, hardworking public sector workers of New South Wales. Those opposite stand condemned for merely seeking to endorse this Work Choices style legislation in New South Wales.

For all their laughter and all their scorn I say to them that they will rue the day they sought to bring these changes into New South Wales. They have been exposed for what they are. They cannot help themselves when it comes to industrial relations. They cannot help themselves in putting down the rights of hardworking men and women of New South Wales and Australia, and they will stand condemned.