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Thursday, 11 October 2012
Page: 12065

Mr ANDREWS (Menzies) (12:30): I rise to speak on the Social and Community Services Pay Equity Special Account Bill 2012 and the Social and Community Services Pay Equity Special Account (Consequential Amendments) 2012. At the outset I indicate that the coalition is concerned that the government are trying to rush through this legislation through the House after this bill was introduced into this place just yesterday. Late last night the government contacted the opposition to request that we assist them in facilitating its expedient and urgent passage through the House. Normally, a bill is introduced, a week is allowed for the opposition parties to consider the bill and to take it to opposition committees, the party room and to the shadow cabinet. That is the normal process which applies and which has applied, whoever has been in government in this country, for many decades.

Despite the alleged urgency of this bill, departmental officials that met with opposition advisers this morning could not provide any substantive reasons for the urgent rush. Indeed, the 1 December start date was suggested by the government in its joint submission to Fair Work Australia and it first committed funding for this in last year's MYEFO, released almost 12 months ago. The handling of this bill is symbolic of the shambolic nature of this government and its contempt for the parliament. Indeed, if I can say it, if we had a Prime Minister who spent less time playing the victim and more time getting on with governing this nation then this parliament might act in a better way.

The coalition welcomed the finalisation of the long-running case involving the social and community sector. Given the important role played in and services provided to our communities right throughout Australia by this sector, care must now be taken to ensure that these services are not reduced or jeopardised and that jobs are not lost. The government must ensure that community service organisations do not close or reduce services as a result of any cost pressures that this decision may cause. Equal remuneration is important, but so is the maintenance of the significant services that organisations in almost every community across this country provide. Indeed, in the Australian newspaper today we have seen concerns being raised in the community that this funding:

… will lead to job losses and service cuts to programs for the nation's most vulnerable.

Indeed, the full bench of Fair Work Australia expressed concern about the impact of this decision on some parts of the sector that provide services for which costs cannot be recovered or receive any government funding.

The coalition continues to harbour some serious concerns that the Gillard government's plan to fund pay rises in the community sector will change the workplace landscape and fuel further wage pressures across the economy. Indeed, to date the government has refused to provide the details of how the funding will be met. Just earlier this week, the Prime Minister dressed up an announcement of $2.8 billion in funding for the social and community services sector workers who will be receiving pay rises courtesy of a Fair Work Australia decision. This is not just old news; it is a $300 million cut in Labor's promise. Further, Ms Gillard announced $2.1 billion, then an additional billion, before reducing it back to $3 billion, and now today it is right back to $2.8 billion. So the question is: what is the amount of money which the Commonwealth is committing to this venture?

On the other hand, Labor continues to dish out millions of dollars in grants to union bosses. Ms Gillard and Mr Shorten, the responsible minister, today need to explain why they seem to have broken yet another promise. Further, the government cannot even tell us if the $2.8 billion has been set aside today or will be drawn down from future budgets. It is also worth noting that the government, ahead of putting its submission to Fair Work Australia, only consulted the unions—not the providers, not the state governments and not the employees on the ground. And today we see the Victorian government already expressing its concerns about how this is going to operate into the future and about the legislation.

Unlike the government, the coalition genuinely believes in supporting low-paid workers but also, in the parliament, operating in a proper and ordered manner. We are disappointed that the government are once again using this place as their plaything so that the Prime Minister and the ministers responsible can go and hold a doorstop. If the government were genuine about supporting low-paid workers they would scrap the carbon tax, stop the borrowing and cut the cost of living for ordinary Australians.

In summary, the government have had 12 months to introduce this legislation. They have not done so until yesterday, and now they now want it expedited through this parliament within a period of 24 hours. The government introduced the bill yesterday and they want a vote today, something out of the ordinary so far as the normal processes of this chamber and indeed this parliament operate. A briefing provided today about the proposed legislation has raised more questions than answers, and there is no guarantee that the government will be able to give us the necessary further briefings even today.

There has been chopping and changing about the amounts promised. For example, the $2.1 billion amount, then a further $1 billion, thus a total of $3.1 billion and now apparently $2.8 billion. The coalition has had little chance to speak with stakeholders or to consider practical implications of the bill. There is a good reason that in a democracy like Australia there is normally at least a week's space between the introduction of legislation and the debate on that legislation. It is to enable the opposition parties—the non-government parties—and indeed the government backbench to go out and consult with people in the community, particularly those most affected by a piece of legislation, to ascertain what the effects of that legislation are. How can we do that with less than 24 hours notice in relation to this particular proposition?

As I said, even people in the sector are out in the media today saying they have concerns about it. We have at least one state government expressing concerns about it within the space of 24 hours. The ability to do that is therefore being denied in this chamber. Obviously, there will be an opportunity in the Senate to do that but surely the people's House should have an opportunity to examine legislation in a proper manner, something which this shambolic government is not allowing.

The government is asking us to consider a $2.8 billion spend with less than 24 hours to do so—the hallmark of the Labor government's lack of due care or diligence for $3 billion of taxpayers' money being spent. It may well be appropriate that $3 billion be spent in this way but surely this House and, indeed, the members of this House have some responsibility to each of their constituents to make an assessment about the appropriateness of the expenditure in this manner.

Finally, parliament should not be forced to consider a bill just to impress the Australian Services Union because they happen to be in town. Let us not forget the other occasions on which the government has rushed large spending bills quickly and they have ended up being total disasters, such as the BER, which will remain a hallmark of the inefficiency and the infamy of this government. The coalition will not oppose the bill but we intend to have a fulsome consideration with the wider community prior to this bill being debated in the other place.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. DGH Adams ): Order! I understand that it is the wish of the House to debate this order of the day concurrently with the Social and Community Services Pay Equity Special Account (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2012. If there is no objection to that the Chair will allow that course to be followed.