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Monday, 15 June 2009
Page: 6013

Ms GILLARD (Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for Social Inclusion) (5:53 PM) —I will respond to the questions that have been put to me. The response to the question asked by the shadow minister for employment and workplace relations is, I think, very clear. The government is engaged in a profound reform with award modernisation. I know that the Liberal Party does not really believe in safety nets. That was represented by its Work Choices legislation, where all aspects of the safety net could be stripped away apart from five minimum conditions which, when you held them up to the light, did not guarantee much at all. So I know that safety nets are not part of the Liberal Party’s ethos because it believes in statutory individual employment agreements that can strip the safety net away. But, even driven by that profound belief, in government the Liberal Party used to pretend that it was interested in the major reform of simplifying and modernising awards. It had a few goes at it and all of them were spectacular failures because reform is not an easy thing to do. It is an easy thing to give an interview about—and some members opposite do that from time to time—but it is actually not an easy thing to do.

Remarkably, this government, in pushing on with award modernisation with the Australian Industrial Relations Commission and working hard on it, is working through these issues and working through them very well. If the shadow minister was being fair, he would acknowledge that, overwhelmingly, the award modernisation process undertaken by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission is going very well indeed. They have made a large number of new modern awards. The level of stakeholder engagement in the making of them and the level of stakeholder acceptance of them once they are made is very high. The shadow minister might, therefore, want to congratulate the Australian Industrial Relations Commission for that work at some point.

The shadow minister points to some areas where concerns have been raised. The position of the government has been clear: we have been prepared to listen to concerns and to respond to them as necessary. I have varied the award modernisation request on more than one occasion. That is because I have responded to concerns from union stakeholders in relation to one variation and to concerns from employer stakeholders in relation to the restaurant and catering area that he raised. We are still in a process of engagement and dialogue about a series of other areas that he raised.

The shadow minister refuses to acknowledge that the commission not only has the task of making modern awards; they also have the task of making the five-year transitional arrangements. Many employer stakeholders are there at the commission, pressing to put a case about the nature of those five-year transitional arrangements and the commission is getting on with the job of making those transitional arrangements. We are allowing the independent umpire to do that work. I know that the Liberal Party does not believe in independent umpires in workplace relations, but we do. We are allowing the independent umpire to do that work. We will continue to keep it monitored and continue to have dialogue with employer stakeholders as necessary.

I know that from time to time the shadow minister says different things about award modernisation. On some occasions, he goes out and represents publicly that everything will change for employers on 1 January 2010. He knows that is not the case because there are the five-year transitional arrangements. Separately, on other occasions, he says that things should be frozen for the five years and that there should be a sudden, drop-dead date at the end of the five years. Both things represented by the opposition are ludicrous. It is not true to say that all things will change on 1 January 2010 with no transition or phase-in and it would be ludicrous to have a drop-dead date in five years time. I know workplace relations excites those opposite because they are there crying for Work Choices, but we will continue with this reform, which is in the interests of working people.

On the questions raised by the member for Blair, it is good to have a member here who knows the details of his local schools. Some opposition members may want to study his example, given some of the ludicrous claims that are made by opposition members about local schools. Can I assure the member for Blair that, despite publicity and opposition claims to the contrary, the $75,000 for Dinmore State School under the National School Pride Program is going to the continuing school, which is Riverview State School, so it will be there to benefit students. There have been publicity and claims by the opposition that were meant to give people the impression that revegetation and the construction of a fitness track at Bremer State High School are somehow being done at a school site that is closing. That publicity and those representations by the opposition are completely untrue. That is being constructed at the continuing school—the new school—and will be there for the benefit of students and I think that is terrific.

He has raised many issues associated with the Amberley school. It has been a major issue in his electorate and, obviously, that school is being moved to facilitate arrangements relating particularly to RAAF personnel and the study of their children. Of course, the money that the government is allocating is going to the new site where those students will continue to study happily and well—hopefully—for a very long period of time to come.