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Wednesday, 31 October 2012
Page: 12785


Mr NEUMANN (Blair) (13:07): I speak in support of the Fair Work Amendment Bill 2012. The member for Bradfield overnight has not had a road to Damascus conversion experience, because he, along with his colleagues and comrades opposite, opposed protecting worker entitlements last night and here he goes again, railing against the representatives of millions of Australians in the workplace. There is no doubt about it: the coalition instinctively votes against or opposes every bill with the word 'fair' in it. Last night, we had the situation in which we passed legislation to protect the entitlements of workers who were at risk due to the liquidation or bankruptcy of their employers. The coalition opposed that.

Here today, in response to the independent review panel and the Productivity Commission, they are still responding in a negative way, recklessly opposing this legislation—or that is what people listening to the member for Bradfield would believe. If you listened to the member for Farrer before, she was saying that they will pass it through the House. So you have to wonder what their position is. But their position has been a negative one since the electorate had a look at them in 2007 and voted down their position on Work Choices. We on this side are in favour of Fair Work; those on that side are in favour of Work Choices. It is clear from listening to speeches like that one by the member for Bradfield that that is what they are all about.

The background to this particular legislation is that we have been crystal clear about workplace reform, our policies and our plans. What about the coalition? The Leader of the Opposition is currently in witness protection on that particular policy, because he does not want to talk about it at all. What we are talking about here is making changes recommended to us by the Fair Work review panel following consultations with unions, small business, large business and a range of other stakeholders. Many of these changes in this first tranche of amendments are technical, structural, procedural or clarifying changes to the unfair dismissal framework. For example, these changes give Fair Work Australia the power to strike out award variation applications not made in accordance with the act if they are frivolous or vexatious. Any tribunal, court or quasi-judicial body should have that power. They are also given the power to make amendments to applications made by parties to vary or revoke a modern award to make sure that, if there are ambiguities or uncertainty in those applications, they can be changed by Fair Work Australia.

These changes also better align Fair Work legislation with other laws relating to unfair dismissal, extending the time period to 21 days, another sensible provision. They will give the president of Fair Work Australia the power to require applicants to provide more information about the circumstances of dismissal—further and better particulars. That is an important change also. These changes will also make sure that, if a lawyer or a paid agent misbehaves or does the wrong thing after they have been given leave by Fair Work Australia to represent a party, costs can be ordered against them. This bill also changes the name of Fair Work Australia to the Fair Work Commission. That is important as well.

Ms Ley: That's a big one!

Mr NEUMANN: There are a lot of amendments here that are important and that those opposite belittle. But industry in fact supports these changes. On many occasions, representatives from industry have been party to consultation undertaken by the minister. They have been at the table when these amendments have been discussed and have made submissions to the panel that have been adopted in whole or in part. There are also amendments putting in place the recommendation to appoint acting deputy presidents and acting commissioners for specified periods. There are many changes that provide pathways for judicial complaint, similar to what we see in courts such as the Federal Magistrates Court or the Family Court. This bill makes many sensible changes that will have a big impact.

If you listened to speakers opposite, you might come to the belief that there are a very small number of people associated with this system. But we are talking about Fair Work Australia having approved 16,000 enterprise agreements covering 2.2 million employees. About seven million Australians are currently protected from unfair dismissal. Those provisions were brought forward by this side of politics and were steadfastly opposed by the Liberal Party, because it is in their blood and bones to oppose these sorts of things. More than 810,000 jobs have been created under this government's watch.

We have brought forward reform after reform in workplace relations to protect the entitlements of workers and to assist them. These include reforms to protect those working in the textile and clothing industry and reforms to the road safety remuneration system. We have acted to particularly protect the 120,000 women who work in the social and community sector, who will now get wage award increases of between 23 per cent and 45 per cent in the next decade. But those opposite have consistently opposed every reform that I have talked about. We are lifting up Australian low- and middle-income workers.

We said that we would undertake a review into the Fair Work Act. Guess what the panel decided? I bet that you will not hear this from those opposite, but the panel, which extensively approached industry and small and large businesses, found that the Fair Work Act is working well and meeting its objectives. The economic outcomes under the Fair Work Act have been favourable to Australia's continuing prosperity. There has been no dramatic wages blowout and no drastic increase in industrial disputes. The IR armageddon predicted by those opposite has not occurred. Notwithstanding that, the panel recommended 53 changes, and the government has taken up the response to that, and this is what the legislation before the House is.

We have also picked up the Productivity Commission's inquiry into the superannuation industry. The Productivity Commission found that existing default fund arrangements resulted in net returns generally exceeding those for non-default funds. Over the eight years to 2011, default funds in modern awards have on average an after-tax return of 6.4 per cent, compared with 5.5 per cent on non-default funds. So, what we are doing here is making some changes.

Mr Fletcher interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Mitchell ): The member for Bradfield will stay quiet and is warned.

Mr NEUMANN: But those opposite leap, moan, carp and whine and undertake some sort of anti-union, anti-worker tirade, like you heard from the member for Bradfield.

Under the changes in this bill all funds under a generic MySuper product will be able to apply for selection as a default fund, on an equal basis. Those opposite seem to take the view, constantly, that workers should be dictated to by bosses, that workers' superannuation should be dictated to and that their wages and conditions should be entirely set without negotiation. The expert panel looked into this—an expert panel within the Productivity Commission. I wonder why those opposite say they support the Productivity Commission sometimes and they oppose it on other occasions?

An expert panel within the Fair Work Commission will assess funds on the basis of the legislative criteria, which are based on those proposed by the Productivity Commission. The Productivity Commission is not a bunch of bleeding-heart, left-wing, socialist ideologues. The Productivity Commission is full of people who those opposite would probably think were on their side of politics when it comes to economic issues. A full bench of the Fair Work Commission will then determine what particular funds from the default superannuation list are best suited for inclusion in each modern award, with the best interests of those employees covered by that particular award as their overarching consideration.

This process will occur every four years to align with four-year reviews of modern awards. What we are going to do in relation to this particular legislation is respond in a positive way, not like those opposite. We have heard the member for Bradfield go on and on in a typical Work Choices tirade against unions—they are naming people and constantly going on like this. That is one of many speeches we have heard in the last few years and will continue to hear from those opposite in relation to this.

This is good legislation. It responds to inquiries. It responds to the Productivity Commission. It responds to the expert review panel. It takes up the reforms and it makes a difference. It is legislation that should be supported, and I note that those opposite, despite what they say today in this debate, will actually pass this legislation. I look forward to seeing whether or not they will call a division on it, because the member for Farrer forecast the fact that they would support it.