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Thursday, 15 September 2011
Page: 6297

Senator BOYCE (Queensland) (19:33): I rise tonight to put on the parliamentary record a potential disaster facing a vast number of community service organisations in Queensland. This is a pay bungle disaster created by the Gillard and Bligh govern­ments. To understand this we need to go back to 2009, when Commissioner Glenys Fisher made a decision in the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission offering equitable pay for female workers and increases of over 10 per cent in the com­munity services sector. No organisation that employs these people in Queensland is against the idea of gender equity and pay equity for the community services sector. What they are against is the complete bungle that has resulted from the interfacing between the Queensland legislation, the Queensland government's lack of con­sultation with the organisations affected and the current federal government.

On 4 August, the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations, Senator Evans, signed a regulation that will result in back pay having to be paid by 316 prescribed organisations in Queensland. That will amount to $500 million, which will need to be paid on 1 October. Needless to say, these organisations do not have these funds. Not only that, these organisations were promised on 17 February 2010, in a letter that was written under the authority of Ms Gillard as the minister for workplace relations, that regulation 144 would only apply to organisations that were fully supplemented for this change in pay structures. In fact the regulation allegedly prevents the employers from creating redundancies to meet these pay increases. How are these organisations to find the money?

The sector believes that they are $500 million short. That is across 316 organisa­tions. Nevertheless, the organisations did receive some wage supplementation—$440 million—from the Queensland government. In some cases it was referred to as 'money to meet increased costs'. It was not put to them as money to meet the requirements of this change, nor were they told why each organisation got the money they did. In fact there are a number of organisations that are not on the prescribed list that believe they should be. There are organisations on the prescribed list who believe they should not be. No-one knows where the list came from, and there was no consultation whatsoever by the Bligh government with the stakeholders. The only consultation undertaken by the Australian government was with the Queensland Labor government, the depart­ment of community services and the union involved, the Australian Services Union. So, I guess we should not be surprised at this. I am trying to give you a picture of what a disaster this is creating.

I have a letter headed 'Potential crisis in Queensland community service organisations' from Lutheran Community Care, which is not an organisation generally given to exaggeration. They point out that they have been paying the much higher pay rates. They have been paying a 4½ per cent increase over the previous award and have done so since supplementation of their pay began in 2009. The different services they run receive different percentages so, overall, it was a 4½ per cent increase that they have been paying since July 2009, as they thought they were required to do. Now they find that they will have employees who will receive up to 37 per cent increases on what they are currently being paid. They will face a backpay bill of $680,000 and an increase in annual salary costs of about $500,000. They point out that this is unsustainable. They ask that the current regulation be disallowed or cancelled and that there be a proper, open process with organisations so that the pay rates can be introduced and implemented in a phased-in way with support from the government. I remind you that the then minister, Ms Gillard, said that only fully supplemented organisations would be affected.

I would like to just give you a view of some of the things that have happened. Some groups divided up the money that they were given and paid it as a one-off bonus, because there was nothing in the information from the Queensland government that said not to. One group bought a minibus because that is what all the staff agreed they desperately needed. Children by Choice, for example, made accommodations with the new rates. They received $40,000 of what was called 'viability funding' in recognition of the increased costs of providing services. It said nothing about the backpay. That was a one-off payment and it only met 10 per cent of their new annual wage bill. In analysing their figures they discovered that they had dismissed one admin assistant and they now have a likely shortfall of $500,000 over the phase-in period. Another group on the Sunshine Coast is facing a shortfall of $800,000. As I said, Lutheran Community Care have a backpay bill of $680,000 and an ongoing cost of $500,000. The Gympie and District Women's Health Centre has closed one day a week to try to make the payment.

I make the point that we are talking about big and small organisations—more than 300 organisations. It is the entire community service sector in Queensland, yet we have nothing but bungles going on. There is no attempt, as I understand it, from the minister's office to attempt to fix it. There are huge organisations such as Endeavour, the Cerebral Palsy League of Queensland, Centrecare, and Cootharinga in Townsville, which would be the biggest supplier in that city, that are not on the list, yet believe they should be. If you look through the list you have organisations like: Red Cross; Better Hearing Australia; Caboolture Family Haven; Care Goondiwindi; the Community Housing and Information Centre; Eacham Community Help Organisation; Epilepsy Queensland; Gladstone District Respite Care Association; Guide Dogs for the Blind Association of Queensland; Hannah's House; Headway, a mental health support group on the Gold Coast; Independent Advocacy in the Tropics, which helps individuals with a disability with self-advocacy; the Ipswich Women's Shelter; Kith and Kin Association Ltd; Mackay Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Corporation for Alternative Care and Foster Care Service; Mount Isa Youth Shelter; North Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Aged and Disabled Care; Queensland Advocacy; the Refugee and Immigration Legal Service; Silky Oaks Children's Haven; Baptist Union of Queensland Community Services Group; Wwild, a sexual violence prevention association for women with intellectual disability; the Wesley Mission in Brisbane; and the Yarrabah Aboriginal Corporation for Women.

This is a disaster that must be addressed by these governments and we hope that by bringing it to the attention of the Senate we will get support from other senators to do so.

Senate adjourned at 19:43