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Tuesday, 27 November 2012
Page: 9906

Senator CASH (Western Australia) (18:20): I rise to speak on the Fair Work Amendment Bill 2012. Whilst the coalition has some serious concerns with this bill, as Senator Abetz has advised we will not be opposing it, albeit Senator Abetz will be moving amendments during the committee stage. The coalition supports a majority of the recommendations from the fair work review. However, we note, in relation to this bill, that the government has yet again failed to stand up to the union bosses and is only implementing non-controversial recommendations from the fair work review in the short term. That is hardly surprising to anybody on this side of the chamber. Why would the government want to stand up to the people who are their best mates? In relation to the fair work review itself, the coalition believes that the terms of reference deliberately excluded the vital ingredients of productivity, flexibility and union boss militancy and were clearly, without a doubt, skewed towards a predetermined outcome.

Coalition senators understand, as do the majority of the Australian people, that when a Labor government that is made up of former union bosses, and held accountable only by and to its union mates, makes changes to the industrial relations system in Australia, those changes are never about increasing productivity. They are never about, as Senator Sinodinos so eloquently said, furthering the Australian economy and they are never about what is truly fair for the average worker or for the person who is employing the average worker. They are only ever about Labor delivering on a promise that it has made to one of its union mates. That is hardly policy that has been made in the national interest.

Despite the review being a disappointing document on so many levels, we do note that in relation to certain issues there is no doubt that the reviewers, albeit that they were hand-picked by the Labor government, were without a doubt mugged by the reality that the current system is just not working. I take the Senate to some of the recommendations that the fair work review panel made: that Fair Work Australia and the Fair Work Ombudsman should actively encourage more productive workplaces through the promotion of best practice model productivity clauses for modern awards and agreements; changes to the individual flexibility agreements to make them more attractive to both employers and employees, including an increase in the minimum term from 28 days to 90 days; changes to the way in which greenfields agreements are reached and provisions for protracted negotiations; and changes to the good faith bargaining provisions of the act to rectify very serious problems that were identified in the JJ Richards case.

The recommendations that I have just read out, which were made by Labor's own fair work review panel, are recommendations in relation to issues that the coalition has for some time now been drawing attention to and that, I note, both the Labor Party and the union bosses have consistently attacked us on. However, what do we have now? We have Labor's own hand-picked review panel picking up on the issues that the coalition has been highlighting for some time and making recommendations in that regard. One can only hope that, after the government has once again freely spent a million dollars of taxpayers' money and now finally has a review in its hot little hands, it may at some point in the future decide to give consideration to what are very good recommendations coming out the review going forward.

In relation to the bill itself, we are yet again disappointed that the government has rushed through the relevant committee a significant bill that will affect each employer, each employee and each independent contractor in Australia without, once again, the parliament being able to undertake a fulsome inquiry. The bill was introduced into the House of Representatives at 4.30 pm on 30 October. The bill was then called on for debate the next morning, on 31 October, and a vote was taken later on that day. To date, the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations has given no explanation to the parliament as to why there is a critical need to pass this legislation without subjecting it to the scrutiny to which it should be subjected. In that regard, I echo the comments of Senator Sinodinos, whom I am following in this debate. If one looks at the speakers list on this exceptionally important piece of legislation, you would actually think that the only people who care about industrial relations in this country and who are concerned about the negative impact that this bill may have are coalition senators. There does not appear to be anyone other than the minister on the Labor side of the house who is prepared to come into this place and justify why the government is not implementing more of the recommendations from the fair work review.

One might say that perhaps those on the other side are a little embarrassed that one of the things that this bill will do is create two additional jobs for their mates. In fact, maybe their mates have already been hand-picked and they are just waiting for the announcement. I can only assume that those on that side do not care about industrial relations in this country or do not care about the negative impact this bill may have on productivity going forward, or perhaps they are just too embarrassed to come in here and explain why, contrary to evidence given to a Senate inquiry, they are going ahead with creating additional jobs for their mates.

The bill itself purports to implement the first tranche of 17 recommendations arising from the government's review of the Fair Work Act. The bill also seeks to make changes to the internal architecture of Fair Work Australia and provide the Fair Work Australia president with further powers. In addition, the bill implements the government's response to the Productivity Commission review into default superannuation arrangements in modern awards. This response will see the continuation of the process where conflicted parties within Fair Work Australia will continue to select default super funds under modern awards.

The coalition has a longstanding position in relation to this and we believe that any MySuper compliance superannuation fund should be eligible for selection as a default fund. For the Labor Party, though, it is all about their mates in industry funds. In fact, when the Prime Minister said, 'There'll be no carbon tax under a government I lead,' she would perhaps have been better off saying, 'There'll be no competition in relation to superannuation funds under a government that I lead,' because that is exactly what we are seeing as a result of this legislation. The coalition is deeply disappointed that the government has introduced legislation into parliament which, instead of ensuring genuine competition—but the government does not like competition; it does not like competition because it might be shown up—will impose an additional layer of government intervention in the default fund market. The coalition is also extremely concerned that Minister Shorten has been so desperate to protect the vested interests of his friends in the union movement that he has actually lost sight of his responsibility as a minister of the Crown to act in the public interest.

I alluded to the fact that this legislation is creating further jobs for Labor government members' mates—jobs for the boys; jobs for unionists. Well, it does. The bill also contains the creation of two additional vice-president positions at Fair Work Australia, two of the highest officers in the organisation. Minister Shorten has completely failed to explain to the parliament why these positions are necessary or justified, apart from the department's submission that the President of Fair Work Australia sought the additional roles. These two positions would slot into the second and third most senior officers of the tribunal. Since the announcement of these two additional positions, there has been widespread community concern, including from within Fair Work Australia.

Debate interrupted.

Sitting suspended from 18:30 to 19 : 30