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Tuesday, 19 June 2007
Page: 72

Senator MURRAY (4:41 PM) —I wonder if I could add to those remarks already made so that when the minister responds he has got my concerns to address as well. I take a slightly contrary view to the shadow minister in that I absolutely do support the maximum information being available to any employee and employer to enable them to comply with the law better, but I am very alert to the dangers in a pre-election environment of such information being provided in such a manner as it might be thought to constitute, in the shadow minister’s words, propaganda—in other words, saying to the employee, ‘Look what a good government we have got—and by the way it happens to be a coalition government, so Work Choices is not as bad as its opponents believe.’ So I need to see if there are any safeguards.

The supplementary explanatory memorandum, at paragraph 79 of page 13, states that these amendments would ‘require the Workplace Authority Director to gazette a Workplace Relations Fact Sheet’. Minister, my question is: is that gazette or the regulations that surround this issue subject to parliamentary disallowance or anything of that nature to ensure that the fact sheet is exactly what the legislation says it is—namely, that it spells out the law without any kind of partisan inference or bias? My question is a precautionary one. I support the principle of information being provided. I am very wary if information is perverted in any way.

My second brief question to you, Minister, which, hopefully, you can respond to, is whether the businesses that have to do this will be clearly identified and identifiable. The reason I ask that question is that the statistics are very difficult to get, but I understand that in some states up to 25 per cent of all employees are still under state systems. In some cases those are easy to identify—namely, they work for the public sector. But there are many people still in the private sector—unincorporated businesses and so on—who do not fall under the federal law and it would not be easy for a Workplace Authority inspector to turn up to an establishment and know whether the business was incorporated or unincorporated. It might be called, to use a name of one of the senators here, ‘Marshall’s Cafe’ and it might be incorporated; it might be unincorporated. So you want to avoid a situation where somebody is threatened with punishment for not handing these things out when they may not in fact be subject to federal law. My question is: will those who have to abide by the law be easily identifiable? I remind the minister that in my head is the fact that in local government, for instance, there have been some quarrels as to which councils fall under federal law and which do not, and I would like to know how those sorts of issues would be resolved.

My third initial query with respect to this particular item is the question of exemptions. The minister would be well aware that under many acts there are provisions for categories to be exempted—for instance, the Financial Services Act, where certain categories are exempted from complying. I wonder whether there will be disallowable instruments such as regulations which will say that microbusinesses employing only one person may or may not have to comply with this law or whether they will say that leniency will be granted for specific categories. For instance, you might find people for whom the English language is very difficult and they might have had difficulty understanding the law. There may be categories—and I am thinking on the run, because bear in mind I have only just seen these amendments and the supplementary explanatory memorandum—that legitimately should qualify for exemptions.

So, to recap the three questions I have, briefly, to make sure that they are clear: I want to know whether there is any measure by which either the parliament or an independent body can ensure that the fact sheet is exactly that—just a fact sheet; secondly, that businesses which are not liable under this law will not be subject to error or mistake by regulators trying to enforce a law; and, thirdly, whether there will be any categories of exemptions spelled out and whether that will be a disallowable instrument.