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Thursday, 7 July 2011
Page: 4340

Industrial Relations


Senator GALLACHER (South Australia) (14:34): Mr President, my question is to the Minister of Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations, Senator Evans. Can the minister advise the Senate on the benefits of a national workplace relations system? Is the minister aware of any barriers to the achievement of a single set of employment laws for all Australian businesses?


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:35): I thank the senator for his question, his first question, and it is a good one. The Fair Work Act replaces over 100 years of fragmented workplace relations law with a predicted net benefit to Australian business of around $4.8 billion over the next 10 years. Also, all the indicators released so far show that the Fair Work Act is working well. Modern awards have been successfully implemented, creating huge savings for industry in terms of simplification and cutting red tape, and, as we know, industrial disputes are down, the number of agreements made is up and wages growth remains moderate and contained.

Unfortunately, not everyone is reaping the benefits of our national workplace relations system. Only one state prevents a truly national system becoming a reality. Businesses and workers in Western Australia still have to deal with the red tape and inefficiencies of working in two systems. However, the future for Western Australian business is looking brighter after a significant barrier was lifted yesterday. Yesterday, Premier Barnett announced the shelving of the radical agenda recommended by the Amendola report into Western Australia's workplace relations system. He decided to abandon the Work Choices approach, and the good thing about that, apart from the Liberal Party in Western Australia coming to their senses, is that there is now nothing standing in the way of Western Australia referring their workplace relations powers to the Commonwealth and enjoying the benefits that the Fair Work Act has created for the rest of the country. They can join the national system. They can take the advice of the Western Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the advice of business, and refer their powers to the Commonwealth and allow us to create one national industrial relations system, which this country has been chasing for many years now. It would be a great decision if Western Australia decided to refer their powers. (Time expired)


Senator GALLACHER (South Australia) (14:37): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister inform the Senate on efforts currently under way to harmonise occupational health and safety laws? Is the minister aware of any barriers to the achievement of a single set of harmonised OH&S laws for the entire country?


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:37): I am very pleased to advise that yesterday the federal government introduced the work health and safety bill into this parliament, and the parliament will get a chance to consider that in coming months. This is implementing the historic agreement signed by all Australian governments to create a national occupational health and safety framework, replacing the nine different acts and over 400 pieces of regulation. Other governments are moving to implement the harmonised laws: Queensland and New South Wales have passed legislation, South Australia and the ACT have introduced bills and the others are in the process of introducing bills.

Employers strongly support these measures, which Access Economics estimate will save businesses around $180 million per annum. However, the WA government has indicated that it intends to depart from the agreed model in several ways. This is despite the fact that all other states committed to introduce uniform laws, and it has the potential to undermine one of the most important reforms on the COAG agenda. (Time expired)


Senator GALLACHER (South Australia) (14:38): Mr President, I have a further supplementary question. Can the minister provide advice to the Senate on the key recommendations of the Amendola report commissioned by the Western Australian government? Is the minister aware of support for the reforms that were recommended in that report?


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:39): Many recommendations in the Amendola report will be strikingly familiar to senators. They included the reintroduction of statutory individual contracts, a weaken­ing of unfair dismissal laws, time off for public holidays to be excluded from awards and the removal of the better-off-overall test. These seem remarkably familiar concepts—concepts that were the key to the federal Liberals' Work Choices legislation.

This report had been sitting around for a year but, within days of the federal Liberals re-embracing Work Choices, Premier Colin Barnett said: 'Not for me. I'm not going to be associated with this; I'm not going down this path. The federal Liberals may be re-engaging with the Work Choices agenda but I don't want to wear that with the Western Australian public.' Mr Barnett said no to Work Choices. He is disassociating himself from the path the federal coalition is going down. (Time expired)

Senator Cormann interjecting

Senator Chris Evans interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senators Cormann and Evans, I am waiting to give Senator Joyce the call.