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Tuesday, 17 March 2009
Page: 1768

Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Human Services) (6:14 PM) —As I understand it, we will hopefully be able to provide an answer as we progress. But, in going back to the earlier matter, firstly, the Greens have been cooperative in terms of reaching an agreement on how we can proceed with the Fair Work Bill. The commitments that the government has undertaken in discussions with the Greens include—I will leave the broad areas and then I will table the documents so that you have that for your record or for the Senate record—flexible work for carers of children with disabilities. The government agrees to support that amendment moved by the Greens. The government agrees that this amendment is of significant importance to parents in that situation and that it is neither desirable nor necessary to wait until the final report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family, Community, Housing and Youth inquiry into carers to take this step.

In regard to a Fair Work Australia review of the right to request flexible work, section 653 of the bill currently requires Fair Work Australia to review developments in enterprise bargaining after three years from commencement—that is, 1 July 2012. The government agrees with the Greens that this bill should be amended to provide that the review process in section 653 be extended to include an examination of the use of individual flexibility arrangements and further research into the circumstances in which employees make requests for flexible working arrangements under subsection 65(1) and requests for extension of unpaid parental leave under subsection 76(1), the outcome of such requests and the circumstances in which such requests are refused.

In addition, the government agrees to include in the transitional and consequential bill an amendment requiring Fair Work Australia to conduct an interim review of modern awards after two years of their operation, from 1 January 2012. I will not set out what it will be required to review; you will be able to examine that document by the dinner break.

The contribution of the not-for-profit sector in providing community based employment law services to employees in need is important. The government agrees with the Greens that services provided by these organisations are valuable and should be effectively integrated with the services provided by Fair Work Australia and the Fair Work Ombudsman. To facilitate this, the government agrees to conduct a government review by jointly agreed persons into community based employment advice services. We will need to discuss the terms of reference of that review—we agree with the Greens in respect of that. We will provide the outcomes to that in due course.

Pay equity is another matter that figured high on the agenda to be addressed. The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Employment and Workplace Relations is, as the Senate may know, currently conducting an inquiry into pay equity and increasing female participation in the workforce. The government agrees to consult with the Greens in respect of the committee’s recommendations when they are forthcoming. The government also agrees to have the Fair Work Ombudsman prepare a guide on pay equity issues as part of the new function to be detailed in the government amendment to the bill. That is a matter that the Greens have put forward, and the government agrees to that. I understand the Greens have sought to amend clause 485, conscientious objection certificates, and the government will support that amendment. The government understands that the Greens will be also moving a number of additional amendments to the bill concerning industrial action and other matters but notes that it is not anticipated that these amendments will receive the support of the government.

That provides an outline of those matters that we have reached agreement on with the Greens. We are still talking to Senators Xenophon and Fielding on their concerns. Once the government has gone through and detailed those matters, clause by clause, with Senators Fielding and Xenophon, we may or may not find agreement. We hope to be able to persuade them to support the government amendments on a range of other matters. We will be putting our case in respect of those. In the available time, if we can turn to clause 2, we can start from there, unless there are other questions.