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Monday, 15 June 2009
Page: 6011

Mr KEENAN (5:44 PM) —I want to move on to another area within this portfolio that we have been very interested in, which is the area of award modernisation. When I have had the opportunity to ask the Deputy Prime Minister questions about this in the past, her answers have been wholly inaccurate. What I am hoping for is that we would have a chance to go through some of the problems that are associated with the award modernisation process and get some sensible responses to how she feels that business, in particular small business, will be able to address some of the cost increases that she is going to impose, particularly in certain sectors.

I would like to start by referring to a letter that I received recently from a supermarket owner just outside of my electorate in Shenton Park. He talks about the new general retail industry award. Under the award modernisation changes he will need to pay his casual workforce working on a Sunday $39.48 per hour. So that is almost $40 an hour he will need to pay his casual workforce on a Sunday. He is a small supermarket owner; clearly he cannot sustain that increase in wage costs. He says in his letter to us that he is going to have to shed his casual staff. He has asked us to try to do something about it through the legislative process. We will do so during the transitional bill in the other place, but I would be very interested to hear how the minister responds to his queries and what she thinks he can do to stop getting rid of those staff once his costs base has increased substantially.

I want to put another few questions on the record for the minister to respond to. Clearly when the minister made the award modernisation requests, she asked the Industrial Relations Commission to do what most would consider to be impossible—that is, to not disadvantage employees but also to not increase the cost base for employers. Clearly when you are dealing with these sorts of issues, you are dealing in a zero sum game. If you are taking away from one and adding to the other, it is literally impossible to implement that promise accurately. No matter what the commission does, there is really no chance that they could conform to the wishes and the request of the Deputy Prime Minister. I think that is clear to anyone who has any understanding about what this process entails.

And so I ask the minister: does she stand by her promise that no employee will be disadvantaged and that her award modernisation process will not increase the cost to business? I have asked her in this place before about advice that she has received about what the award modernisation is going to do to the labour market, and I would be interested in any advice she could share with House about what sort of information she has received from her department about how the award modernisation process is going to impact on the labour market. If she has not asked for such advice, then I would ask why she has not, as that would seem like a pretty basic aspect of due diligence when you are making such a major change. I would also like to know what she thinks will be the result of these massive increases in wage costs. If you are a small business owner and you are faced with a substantial increase in your wage costs, you could be operating on very tight profit margins. What does she expect the proprietor of these businesses to do?

I also ask that isn’t it the case that under the minister’s current arrangements the five-year phase-in period that she often talks about is only an option that is available to the commission to transition the new awards in? When we raise these issues about award modernisation, the minister will always respond by talking about the five-year phase-in period, which in itself is a reasonable option. The reality is of course that that is really up to the commission; the minister does not have any power to direct them to transition these awards in over that period. I also ask the minister to guarantee that the transition to modern awards will not cost one Australian job. Finally, I ask her why the jobs of workers in retail, aged care, horticulture and all the many other sectors that are going to be adversely impacted by this process are not as important to her as those in restaurants and cafes. The minister varied her award modernisation request to ask the commission to do a separate award arrangement for workers within that sector. Clearly that is an acknowledgement that this process has gone off the rails and when she was faced with the evidence that those changes were going to cost up to 8½ thousand jobs within that industry, she varied the request. Why won’t she do so for other sectors?