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Wednesday, 30 November 2005
Page: 44

Senator ADAMS (12:18 PM) —Firstly, I do not consider myself or my colleagues doormats, as referred to by Senator McEwen. We are here to support legislation we believe in, legislation which will give all Australians choice in their many and varied workplaces.

As a Western Australian farmer, I intend to speak from a rural perspective in support of the Workplace Relations Amendment (Work Choices) Bill 2005. Virtually no sector in the Australian economy or community has undergone more change in the last 30 years than the agricultural and pastoral sectors, and I would venture to say that no sector of our community understands better than the Australian farming community that Australia now competes on a global basis for export markets. For primary producers, the proposed industrial relations changes are both necessary and vital to the ongoing viability of Australia’s agricultural and pastoral industries, and there is widespread support amongst industry bodies such as the National Farmers Federation for the passing of the Work Choices bill.

There are several points which need to be understood in terms of how this legislation may impact on the farming community. Firstly, approximately 90 per cent of farms are either partnerships or sole trader entities, which would not have access to the new system unless they became an incorporated entity. For such non-incorporated primary producers, the government has put in place a five-year transition period which will allow each farmer ample time to understand the implications of the legislation on his or her individual business. During this time, they may decide that it is worth while to incorporate part of their business for the purpose of employing people, by setting up a separate incorporated entity. I note that the National Farmers Federation is recommending that farmers establish a company for employment purposes so that the remainder of the farming business may seek to maintain its tax benefits under the Farm Management Deposit Scheme.

Ultimately, it will be up to each primary producer to make a decision about whether or not their business needs to become incorporated, either wholly or in part, to fully access the benefits of the new industrial relations system. The government will undertake a comprehensive educational process for the farming community during the five-year transition period in order to ensure that all primary producers are fully aware of the implications of the new system for their particular enterprise. Much also depends on whether or not the state in which a farming entity operates refers its industrial relations powers to the Commonwealth. Victoria has already gone down this path, so Victorian farmers will have access to the new industrial relations system as soon as it becomes law, as will those in the ACT and the Northern Territory.

Western Australia, my home state, has signalled that at this stage it is unwilling to cede its industrial relations powers to the Commonwealth. The five-year transition time gives WA farmers ample time to decide on their best business option if the Western Australian state government maintains this position—a position, I might add, that shows just how much deference is paid to the wishes of the union movement by the Gallop Labor government. That they are prepared to pander to the unions by retaining—

Senator George Campbell interjecting—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Chapman)—Senator Campbell, you know that interjections are disorderly and contrary to the standing orders.

Senator ADAMS —an outmoded, clumsy conglomeration of state industrial relations laws rather than move ahead under one simpler, fairer system beggars belief. Farmers in Western Australia will no doubt be hoping that for once the WA state government will put the farming community’s interests to the fore by referring its industrial relations powers to the Commonwealth so that farmers can remain unincorporated and access the Work Choices system.

Any employment relationship should be based on trust, mutual respect, understanding, flexibility and fairness. Wages and conditions should be negotiated and agreed to at the enterprise level, taking into account the unique circumstances of that business, be it a workshop, supermarket or farm. Fairness is best ensured by a system which is easily understood so that both employers and employees know what they need to do. Rural Australians and the Australian economy have adapted well to workplace changes over the last two decades. Economic reform has produced benefits. The experience of the last 10 years is a testament to this. Since 1996, Australia has achieved 1.7 million new jobs, the lowest unemployment in almost 30 years, and real wage growth of 14.9 per cent compared to 1.2 per cent in 13 years of Labor.

According to the National Farmers Federation, many farmers are currently required to work under two industrial instruments and they are paying high costs just to keep up with the compliance aspects of the current system. This in itself is not fair. However, the Howard government’s Work Choices bill offers a true choice to both employees and employers to attempt to solve this problem. Employers and employees will be able to remain under the award system if they choose to do so or if it is a less costly option than moving to a new system—an important consideration for those farmers who employ workers on an irregular basis where there is no cost benefit to negotiating a workplace agreement. This flexibility in workplace relations will allow farmers in Australia to choose a system that suits them—one where they can minimise costs according to their own unique set of circumstances.

The Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA, who were debating the industrial relations reforms at the National Farmers Federation Conference in Launceston yesterday, have also indicated that they will support reforms which encourage small business operators to live and work in rural, regional and remote Australia. These small business people need a simpler system of industrial regulation which makes it easier for them to employ and retain people—a system that is easy to understand and interpret, gives certainty to all those party to agreements or contracts, is easy to administer and does not add unnecessarily to the cost of doing business. I commend the Workplace Relations Amendment (Work Choices) Bill 2005 to the Senate.