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Tuesday, 16 June 2009
Page: 6093

Mr KEENAN (3:25 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. Minister, I refer you to this letter from the proprietor of the local IGA supermarket in Shenton Park in Western Australia. He outlines his concerns that, under the government’s new general retail industry award, his small business will be required to increase the pay of casual employees to almost $40 an hour. Under these changes, this proprietor says that he will have no choice but to sack staff. Minister, how many jobs will your award changes destroy?

Ms GILLARD (Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for Social Inclusion) —I thank the shadow minister for his question, because it gives me the opportunity to clarify some misrepresentations that have been made in the public debate about award modernisation. Point No. 1: award modernisation has been sought by employers in this country for decades. They wanted a simple, modern award system. Indeed, I recall, when the Howard government was in government and the member for Menzies was the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, he would come into this parliament and his daily sight gag was to hold up an award and to go through clauses that he viewed as archaic or overly complex.

Mr Andrews interjecting

Ms GILLARD —He is nodding and saying that that did happen. When we came into office, despite statements by members opposite and ministers in their governments that they would do something about award modernisation, what in fact we inherited was Work Choices—a system where the award system was slated for a slow and painful death and a system of individual statutory employment agreements which were about ripping off working Australians, particularly those most at risk. I thank the member for Higgins for reaffirming in his press conference today that he is still a supporter of individual statutory employment agreements. Maybe, with him raising the issue, the Liberal Party will be forced to come clean about what it will support at the next election about individual statutory employment agreements and about a return to Work Choices.

On award modernisation, what the shadow minister knows—and he does not always say it—is that the independent industrial umpire is engaged in an almost two-year process of award modernisation. The independent industrial umpire is working on transitional provisions that will take a full five years to come into effect. Those transitional provisions will therefore enable a smoothing of award modernisation. We understand that when you are modifying awards you are coming off different circumstances in different states. The industrial umpire is working through those issues and working through them well. The five-year transitional provisions are still to come. What the shadow minister also knows is that from time to time I have amended the award modernisation request if I have been persuaded that there is a significant issue that needs to be addressed. I did that recently in relation to the restaurants and hospitality area. We are obviously in continuing dialogue with employer groups, other stakeholders and individual employers as the award modernisation process works its way through.

What I would say to the shadow minister opposite as well is: if he was being very clear with this parliament he would acknowledge that the Liberal Party voted for this award modernisation process in the first piece of industrial legislation I presented to this parliament. What he would also acknowledge is the amendments that he is moving in the Senate would put the employers that he is talking about at risk of a sudden drop, a sudden change of standards, at the end of five years instead of a phased-in, gradual transition. We support fairness and decency in Australian workplaces. We support less red tape for employers. We support simple modern awards. We support a system of sensible and measured transition. And, of course, this is the side of the parliament that supports economic stimulus in supporting jobs.

Mr Turnbull —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order on relevance.

The SPEAKER —The Deputy Prime Minister has concluded.