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Monday, 15 September 2003
Page: 15086

Senator MURRAY (1:17 PM) —I want to encapsulate the arguments we have put previously. Firstly, we are making no change to the unfair dismissal provisions which have existed as regulations for casuals since 1996. The exemption for casuals has been 12 months and it will continue to be 12 months. Senator Collins quite rightly points out that our view is that that now needs to be shortened, but we do not believe that that will be accepted by the government and we think it is better to preserve the law as it is than to try and change the law in this particular bill. I must indicate that under the other bill, the termination of employment bill, the Labor Party actually voted against the Democrats' amendment which put it at six months—they supported 12 months. So it all gets a bit murky, I am afraid. I would also remind you that the Labor jurisdiction of Queensland also holds to a 12-month provision.

What we have done with regard to the law with respect to casuals is to put up an amendment to the motion by the minister which does provide for continuity of employment provisions which will improve the circumstances for casuals. You are quite right again, Senator Collins, in that I am unable to tell you how many people will be affected and on what basis because the data is just not available—but it is an improvement in law. The other point I should make is that there has never been any criticism—to my memory, but you could correct me—of the unlawful, as opposed to unfair, dismissal provisions which are available for permanents. I cannot recall ever hearing Labor senators criticise those provisions and the means by which they are acted on in the law. What we are doing here is bringing casuals into line with permanent employees in terms of unlawful dismissal—covering the field—provisions. So I am a little surprised to hear your criticisms there but that does not mean to say you are not entitled to make them. I just have not heard that argument before.

To recap: this enshrines in the act, as opposed to regulations, the situation which already exists; it adds improved continuity of casual employment provisions; and it provides unlawful dismissal provisions which have never existed. I think it is erring on the side of exaggeration to refer to it as `cruel'. I would not have used such language. We think, all round, that a fairly modest but useful advance has been made in this respect. I would remind the Temporary Chairman—because you were not here, Senator Ferguson, when the debate was under way last Thursday—that what we are doing as part of our motion is insisting on the Democrat amendments and putting our own amendment to the government's motion.