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Thursday, 11 October 2012
Page: 12069

Ms COLLINS (FranklinMinister for Community Services, Minister for the Status of Women and Minister for Indigenous Employment and Economic Development) (12:44): I want to address some of the issues raised in the debate on the Social and Community Services Pay Equity Special Account Bill 2012. Whilst I appreciate the House's assistance in getting this bill through, the timing was raised by the shadow minister and I just want to put on the record some comments in relation to the timing. The bill is obviously about making payments to organisations and to states and territories. This argument that we could have done this 12 months ago is indeed nonsense because the equal remuneration order by Fair Work Australia was not finalised until late June and the Prime Minister made an announcement in July that we estimated the additional cost from the ERO to be around $1 billion. We have had to go away and do our costings since that time and the total is $2.82 billion.

This bill will establish a special account under the Financial Management and Accountability Act, supporting the Commonwealth's contribution of around $2.8 billion to Australia's social and community services sector workers following Fair Work Australia's historic equal pay ruling earlier this year. As we have heard, workers in the social and community services sector make a real difference to the lives of many vulnerable members of our community, taking on some of the most demanding jobs, including counselling families in crisis, running homeless shelters and working with people with disability and with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. We know that around 150,000 workers in the sector have been affected by this equal remuneration order—approximately 120,000 of them, the vast majority, are women.

The Fair Work Australia order means that some of Australia's lowest-paid workers will benefit from pay rises of between 23 and 45 per cent to be phased in from December this year. Around $2.8 billion in funding will be delivered over the eight years to meet the Commonwealth's share of the costs of these pay rises for social and community sector workers in Commonwealth funded programs, including programs funded under agreements with and payments to states and territories such as the national partnership payments and national specific purpose payments. Eight Commonwealth agencies will be able to draw on funding from the special account to assist employers who are directly and indirectly funded by the Commonwealth, as prescribed under the new legislation, and who have employees who qualify for rises under the order.

The phased introduction recognised the complex funding arrangements in the sector and will allow community sector organisations delivering Commonwealth funded programs to pay the new rates without reducing services to the community. A significant amount of Commonwealth funding will be provided to the sector through states and territory governments for agreements with and payments to states and territories such as national partnership payments and national specific purpose payments. This bill will enable funding to be paid to the COAG Reform Fund established under the COAG Reform Fund Act 2008 for this purpose. This government expects that the states and territories to pass on the full amount of funding and to meet their own obligations by committing their share of funds.

Every day the social and community services sector delivers vital services to the hundreds of thousands of vulnerable Australians. We want to make sure the sector is strong and productive now and into the future. Not only are these workers deserving of a fair day's pay for a fair day's work but properly valuing caring work and providing decent wages in industries dominated by women is also an important part of keeping our economy strong and resilient.

The government will continue to work collaboratively with state and territory governments to ensure the historic Fair Work Australia order is fully implemented and fully funded for the benefit of workers in the sector. The government will also work with the sector to ensure the smooth implementation of the Fair Work Australia order across the states and territories.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Mrs Bronwyn Bishop interjecting

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.