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Monday, 22 September 2008
Page: 8071

Mrs D’ATH (2:41 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Education, the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, and the Minister for Social Inclusion. How will the Australian government’s National Employment Standards and new workplace relations system benefit working women, and what obstacles are there to implementing these new standards and policies?

Ms GILLARD (Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for Social Inclusion) —I thank the member for her question. I know that she has been deeply concerned about fairness and balance in Australian workplaces, particularly the circumstances of working Australian women. As these statistics show, Work Choices has been a disaster for working women. It is beyond doubt—from information from the Australian Bureau of Statistics—that under Work Choices women did worse. The ABS data shows very clearly in its wages and earnings data series that women working full time on Australian workplace agreements took home on average $84 a week less than women working on collective agreements. And the data for women working part time and casually was even worse; the rip-offs per hour for women working casually—and many working women do because they want to combine work and family life—was even worse. A woman who was on an AWA who was working as a casual for an average amount of time could expect to earn $94 per week less than her counterpart who was on a collective agreement. The Rudd Labor government has already ended these rip-offs by ending the making of Australian workplace agreements and ensuring that all working women and working men have the benefit of a fair safety net.

Last week I announced further details of the government’s Forward with Fairness changes, and they include a set of additional protections for working women. Of course, the foundation stone of Labor’s fair and balanced industrial relations system is a safety net that cannot be stripped away. As well as the dollar rip-offs that working women faced, even after the last government’s so-called fairness test, a working woman could have stripped away from her the protections on changes of shift and changes of roster inherent in her industrial award. For example, instead of being given a few days notice that she was going to be moved to night shift—notice so that she could make new arrangements for the care of her children—a woman could have that protection stripped away and be given half an hour or an hour’s notice of a change of shift, which could have left her children without care. The government, in making sure that the safety net is there for everyone and that it cannot be stripped away, has fixed that and will make sure working women do not have that fear for the future.

The government’s National Employment Standards also include a new era of flexibility for working women—making sure that women can sequence unpaid maternity leave with the unpaid paternity leave of their partner, giving working families the option, if they choose, to have a parent at home for the first 12 months of a child’s life. Our National Employment Standards include a new era of flexibility, enabling working women to have the right to request an extended period of unpaid maternity leave and a right to request a return to work on a part-time or flexible basis if that would enable them to put together work and family life in a more cooperative way.

I am asked about obstacles to the implementation of the government’s plan. Of course, shadow ministers in this place seem to come and they seem to go, but the more things change—

Mr Albanese —Some just go!

Mr Tuckey interjecting

Ms GILLARD —Some actually just go, it is true. And very curiously some backbenchers seem to move across further and further out of sight.

Mr Tuckey —So that I can see you better!

Ms GILLARD —In all the coming and going and moving back and forth—and the member for O’Connor moving curiously along—what we know is that the more things change, the more things stay the same.

Mr Pyne —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. One wonders how any of this has any relevance to the question that the member was asked. I would ask you to bring her back to the question that she was asked.

The SPEAKER —I am sure that the Deputy Prime Minister understands that she has to return to the question, which did include obstacles to the legislation.

Mr Tuckey interjecting

The SPEAKER —I can inform the member for O’Connor that, whilst I almost need over-the-horizon radar to pick him up, I can still hear him—and he will sit there quietly. The Deputy Prime Minister.

Honourable members interjecting—

The SPEAKER —I am not commenting on the present arrangement.

Ms GILLARD —I am commenting on an obstacle to the implementation of the government’s plan. I understand that the member for Sturt may consider this obstacle to be irrelevant, but the name of this obstacle is the Liberal Party. The Liberal Party is standing in the way of the government’s plans because the announced position of the Liberal Party at the moment is that unless we bring back the Australian workplace agreements that ripped off working Australians, including working women, then the Liberal Party will not pass the government’s bills. It will prevent the government delivering Forward with Fairness.

As the chairs are reshuffled over there, and we get a new spokesperson on workplace relations, the signs are not good, because in October 2006 the new shadow spokesperson on workplace relations said this:

Work Choices is a continuation of the Howard government’s proud record on women and work.

Could anybody be more out of touch? Could anybody be more delusional about what Work Choices meant for working women? This is the attitude of the Liberal Party. Shadow ministers may come or go, but the one thing that the Liberal Party stands for, will always stand for and clearly stands for under the new shadow minister is Work Choices pure and simple—with all of its rip-offs.