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Thursday, 26 June 2014
Page: 4044

Senator WONG (South AustraliaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (13:27): I rise to speak on behalf of the opposition on the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2014 and related bills. I want to make some brief comments and I also wish to flag—which I flagged with Senator Cormann—that the opposition will be moving a single amendment in relation to this legislation.

This legislation, which commences operation on 1 July 2014 this year, will replace the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 and the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act 1997 as the primary financial framework legislation of the Commonwealth. The PGPA Act, which is one element of what was known as the CFAR, the Commonwealth Financial Accountability Review reforms, which Labor undertook when we were in government and whilst I was minister for finance, will consolidate in one piece of legislation all of the governance, performance and accountability requirements for Commonwealth government entities. This legislation aims to improve transparency and consistency across Commonwealth operations. It is designed as an evolution to the existing financial framework, containing new elements which are designed to improve the quality of public financial management in the Commonwealth.

I should make the point to the chamber that notwithstanding that we have facilitated passage of this legislation there has been a very considerable amount of consultation, consideration and scrutiny of this legislation. The original act, the PGPA Act, was subject to a two-year consultation and consideration process prior to being passed by the parliament last year. The PGPA Act sets out the principles of a coherent financial framework for all Commonwealth entities and aims to create a framework where Commonwealth entities have the flexibility and incentives to adopt appropriate systems and processes to achieve their objectives both efficiently and effectively.

We on this side of the chamber recognise that the amendments contained in these bills facilitate the transition from the existing financial framework, which is governed by the FMA Act and the CAC Act, to the new framework which will be governed by the PGPA Act from 1 July, 2014. In fact I note that there was a deliberate process, from the passage of legislation in the parliament last year to the commencement of the PGPA Act on 1 July this year, to ensure sufficient time for the development of supporting rules and to give effect to the operation of the PGPA Act and an assessment of any consequential amendments required to the legislation. The primary bill before the chamber, the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2014, is a result of this process. That bill: replaces references to the FMA and CAC Acts with the equivalent provisions in the PGPA Act; simplifies enabling legislation where the provisions of the PGPA Act cover a matter which was previously dealt with in that enabling legislation; and amends enabling legislation to clarify which matters, and to what extent, are covered by the act, and which matters, and to what extent, are covered by the enabling legislation. Examples of this are disclosure of interest arrangements. There are amendments to over 250 Commonwealth acts to ensure the proper implementation of the PGPA Act. This is a substantial legislative exercise.

The main bill also has provisions to provide clarity in relation to provisions in the act which would commence after 1 July 2014 and provisions within the existing financial framework which would continue to operate beyond 1 July 2014. An example of that is that entities with existing requirements to produce a corporate plan will continue to do so for the 2014-15 financial year under the requirements of their enabling legislation before those provisions cease to have effect. Similarly, provisions in relation to the presentation of audited financial statements and annual reports will continue to apply after 1 July 2014 in relation to matters for the 2013-14 financial year until those reporting obligations have been met.

There are of course other bills associated with this bill and they relate, in part, to amendments to the appropriations bills to ensure that Commonwealth entities have access to the funding approved by the parliament. As the chamber would be aware, funding in the appropriation bills is appropriated to Commonwealth entities on the basis of their status as FMA Act or CAC Act bodies, and the appropriation acts require amendments so such funding can be provided under the new framework. We hope that the amendments in the bills being debated before the chamber ensure a smooth transition to a new financial framework which was commenced whilst we were in government and developed in part. Before I move to the cleaners issue, I would like to recognise the work of the very many officials in the Department of Finance, some of whom are here today, in both the consultation and development of this legislation and financial framework that has been undertaken.

However, Labor does have concerns about the impact of some specific items in this bill, in particular items 28, 29 and 30 of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2014. We understand that the combined effect of these items, the repeal of section 64 and 65 subsection 2 of the existing FMA Act, means that the legislative basis for the Commonwealth Cleaning Services Guidelines is removed. I have one or two questions in committee, and I will ask the minister about that. These cleaning services guidelines were introduced whilst I was Minister for Finance, and removing the legislative basis for these guidelines would represent an attack on some of the Commonwealth's lowest-paid workers—the people who clean our offices and clean this building. We say that it is a clear indication of the values of the Abbott government that it seeks to attack low-paid workers in this way. The Senate may recall the hype around 'repeal day'. All those amendments that the government boasted about had examples including an act that stipulated that the owner of a mule or a bullock 'required for naval military purposes' shall furnish it for such purposes and the owner may have to register it from time to time, or removing the hyphen from the word 'email', or changing the phrase 'facsimile transmission' to 'fax'. But in the middle of these relatively harmless changes there was one substantial change, and that was the move to abolish the Commonwealth Cleaning Services Guidelines under the guise of red tape. Axing these guidelines which regulate the minimum pay and conditions for cleaners employed under Australian government cleaning services contracts is unjustified—completely unjustified.

This government tried to bury this attack on minimum conditions for cleaners—some of Australia's lowest-paid workers—amongst some other 8,000 regulatory changes. This attack on the wages and conditions of some of the lowest-paid workers—certainly in this place—in this country, cleaners, came without any warning. In fact, it was done very quietly. There was an announcement on the Department of Employment's website saying that it would be done. Now, with the introduction of these bills, we see how these guidelines will be abolished from the government's perspective.

People might recall prior to the election the Prime Minister said he would not touch workers' pay and conditions. He promised he would not cut wages or penalty rates. Well, cleaners in this place and cleaners under these guidelines stand to lose up to $344 per week because of this government's decision—a cut from the Clean Start rate of just over $22 per hour to the award rate of $17.49 per hour. This hit to cleaners, who we know are already some of Australia's lowest-paid workers, under the guise of removing red tape, shows just how ideologically driven this Abbott government is. We already know that this government's first budget has acted to hurt many low- to middle-income Australians, and now through these bills the government is seeking to cut the pay of some of Australia's lowest-paid workers. I recall the Prime Minister standing in the other place on Monday, 16 June, and saying that there were no cuts to cleaners' pay. He said:

I want to make it absolutely crystal clear that no cleaner's pay is reduced… This government has not reduced the pay of any cleaner full stop, end of story. This government has not reduced the pay of any cleaner.

Senator Abetz: That's right.

Senator WONG: The Leader of the Government in the Senate is at the table, and he says that is right. Those opposite may not understand that going from a pay rate of $22.02 an hour to a rate of $17.49 an hour under the award is a reduction. But, let me tell you, the cleaners and their families understand that.

Labor will continue to oppose any abolition of the guidelines that apply to cleaners working for Australian government agencies and contractors. We will not support that move, including in the bills that are before the Senate today. And, as I flagged, we will move an amendment when these bills are considered in committee—an amendment that seeks to protect the guidelines from being abolished as a consequence of the adoption of the new legislative framework from 1 July 2014.

We understand—and I want to confirm this in a minute with the minister—that inserting this section into schedule 2, part 2 of the PGPA (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill will mean that through the operation of item 60 of the bill the guidelines will not cease to continue to be in force. That is, this amendment ensures that the guidelines will not be abolished as a result of the passage of this legislation. If supported, the amendment would allow for the continuation of the guidelines due to the operation of item 60.

I look forward to the government's support for the maintenance of these guidelines into the future. Labor will support these bills at the second reading and will support their passage subject to agreement to the amendment that I will move in the Committee of the Whole.