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Monday, 25 June 2012
Page: 7597

Mr RAMSEY (Grey) (10:13): I rise to speak on the advisory report of the Fair Work Amendment (Better Work/Life Balance) Bill 2012 as proposed by the member for Melbourne. The coalition members—the members for McPherson, Aston and I—of the Standing Committee on Education and Employment support the recommendation of the committee and recognise the views of some, at least, who gave evidence to the committee that they support some action in this area. We were keen to point out that, whilst supporting the recommendation, we do not necessarily endorse the general thrust of the legislation, which is to pass further enforceable responsibilities onto the employers. Further, we are of the opinion that better results will be achieved if employers are encouraged to work in a cooperative fashion with their employees rather than engaging in an environment of confrontation by government regulation enforcing particular outcomes.

To that extent, we took some note of the evidence given by the Australian Industry Group where, firstly, they discussed the conditions in the economy that are affecting business and placing many under strain at the moment. Australian industry perspective business conditions are very tough under the two-speed economy. Mr Callahan went on to say:

Costs of doing business are highly significant at the moment. In the context of this bill before the parliament I think it is important that members take that on board from the perspective of our concern, in particular, that other jobs are potentially under threat at the moment and it is a very difficult time for doing business in Australia.

He went on to say:

The right to request provisions, in their current form, are a very important feature of the act as they encourage cooperation though open dialogue between employees and their employers about achieving meaningful flexibility in the workplace that works on both a personal level for the employee and an operational level for the employer. Unfortunately, the bill as it currently stands would undermine this very important principle and purpose.

The coalition members were concerned that this bill may bring about further confrontation in the workforce and, in that case, be counterproductive to a good outcome. Mr Callahan went on to say:

We believe that the right to request flexible working arrangements as it currently exists under the Fair Work Act is effectively fulfilling the government's intention and we have not identified any problems necessitating a change to the act in this regard.

He also said: 'It would convert a facilitative mechanism that encourages open dialogue at the workplace into an adversarial mechanism.'

We also took evidence from Carers Australia which would somewhat confirm this opinion. In fact, the possibility of this legislation becoming a new point of conflict between employers and employees was conceded by Carers Australia, who showed a preference for a cooperative approach rather than compulsion. They said that, if the legislation is passed, it may become an effective disincentive to employing people from groupings more likely to have caring responsibilities.

We do support the recommendation, because it defers action at this stage, but the driving force behind that is that we do not necessarily accept that this is the correct way to engage with carers, and the people they care for, for the employers. We do not have a special confidence in the Fair Work review. Our concerns with the Fair Work review are that it will not go to some of the things that are affecting conflict in the workplace at the moment in a broader view—not, in particular, with this situation with carers but that the Fair Work review may have some deficiency. But we are more than prepared to wait and see what it says and what the government's reaction to that review is.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ): The time allotted for statements on this report has expired. Does the honourable member for Kingston wish to move a motion in connection with the report to enable it to be debated on a future occasion?


That the House take note of the report.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: In accordance with standing order 39, the debate is adjourned. The resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting. Does the honourable member for Kingston wish to move a motion to refer the matter to the Federation Chamber?