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Monday, 26 November 2012
Page: 9656

Senator WATERS (Queensland) (11:19): I rise to speak in favour of the Fair Work (Transfer of Business) Bill 2012. The bill ensures that employees will retain the benefit of their existing workplace arrangements and instruments if their employer changes and their work stays the same, such as when their previous employer transfers assets or outsources work or undertakes corporate restructuring. That will bring the system into line towards a more nationally consistent approach, and the Greens support that on that basis.

Hopefully, in my home state of Queensland, this will mean greater protections to outsourced or privatised workers. It will bring those Queensland workers up to the same level of protection as they would get under the Fair Work Act. That has been the case in other states for some time and it is appropriate to bring that towards national consistency. The Greens will be supporting this bill because it is a small step in the right direction, but, sadly, it does not go anywhere near far enough to deal with the absolute slaughter that we have seen of the Public Service in Queensland.

It also saddens me that we see this legislation coming from the federal Labor government, which itself has a program, through efficiency dividends and program cuts, of slashing in the order of 12,000 federal public servants. I want the record to reflect that we are quite displeased with that approach from both sides of politics at the federal and state levels.

This bill will provide some assistance if workers are outsourced but, sadly, it will not help them if they are sacked. In Queensland we have just seen Campbell Newman slash 14,000 public sector workers. The threat of redundancy would usually preclude such mass sackings were this to happen in the private sector, but the LNP government in Queensland is simply driven by ideology for small government and blow the consequences. Never mind the cost of redundancies; they are just putting people on the scrap heap. Unfortunately, the Premier has forgotten that those public servants actually provide a public service. Who would have thought? These are teachers, nurses, policemen and women, emergency service workers and transport workers who keep our state running. Sadly, they have been tossed aside by the Premier.

This bill, while it seeks to address this situation, as I have said, unfortunately will not help those people who have been sacked. What the bill does is to really highlight the lack of parity, of equity, between state public sector workers and federal public sector workers. The Greens would like to see that rectified under the Fair Work Act. In Australia state public sector workers have less protection than their federal counterparts, and that seems illogical and certainly unreasonable. The best example of that is probably the Queensland Premier's recent amendment of state laws—the Queensland Public Service and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2012—which was passed earlier this year. It actually rewrote some of the agreements between employers and employees. It declared some elements of those agreements void—employment security, contracting out, organisational change—which was simply outrageous. We have never seen this before, to my knowledge, where legislation has intervened in the agreement between private parties and simply declared parts of that agreement invalid. I would expect all sides of this chamber would be up in arms if that approach were taken in any other context. Sadly, because they are public servants, both of the old parties see fit to ignore them.

My concern is that that legislation itself is potentially in breach of our international labour obligations. That would enable the federal government to intervene. I think it is a very interesting question as to what part of our Constitution we should be using as the basis to regulate industrial relations. We have moved from the dispute settlement, conciliation and arbitration basis head of power to the corporations head of power and I think it warrants exploration as to the unintended consequences of that move. That is why the Greens are moving today in the other place for an inquiry into these sorts of issues. That is why we will be urging the government and the Independents—even the coalition if they do decide they care about workers—to support this inquiry. It would look into the ability of the federal government to intervene to assist state public servants, to uphold those ILO obligations and to lift the standards for Queensland workers so that they get the same level of protection as federal public servants. My colleague the member for Melbourne, Adam Bandt, will be moving that tonight.

The inquiry starts off noting with great concern the massive job losses from state governments around the country—particularly in Queensland—and it asks that the Standing Committee on Education and Employment look into and report on the conditions of employment of state public sector workers and the adequacy of protection of their rights—in particular, whether current state industrial relations regimes provide state public sector workers with fewer rights and less protection than it does for workers to whom the Fair Work Act applies. We have seen an indication already that that is the case: all the more reason to get some facts on the table.

It would also examine whether or not those interventions by the Queensland parliament to remove clauses within employee/employer arrangements are in breach of the ILO conventions. Likewise, it would examine whether the rendering unenforceable of those elements of those collective agreements is in breach of the ILO conventions. Importantly, it would look at what legislative and regulatory options are available to the Commonwealth to make sure that all Australian workers, including those in the state public sectors, have adequate and equal protection for their rights at work. I think that is a laudable goal.

Whilst we will be supporting this bill for the small increase in protections that it will provide it is important that members in both this place and the other place support this inquiry, and that we start to look at how we at this level of government can help workers everywhere. When we have seen 14,000 Queenslanders tossed on the scrap heap with no warning, and with the Premier assuring everybody before the election that that would not be his course of action, it is all the more important that we in this place do everything we can to try to help those workers. Likewise, I repeat our concern and dismay at the approach of the federal Labor government with its efficiency dividends and program cuts to see the jobs of in the order of 12,000 federal public servants slashed and put on the scrap heap as well.

We will be supporting this bill, but we will be urging all sides to back the inquiry that the member for Melbourne, Adam Bandt, will be moving in the House later today.