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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 8029

Senator HARRIS (11:03 PM) —I rise to indicate to the chamber that One Nation will support Labor's amendment. In a brief discussion that I had with the government prior to this bill starting its progression, one of the concerns that I expressed was about a particular situation in which both employer and employee find themselves in North Queensland in relation to the hospitality industry. I will make some remarks relating to that shortly. But in relation to the Workplace Relations Amendment (Fair Termination) Bill 2002, in November 2001 the Federal Court's ruling in Hamzy v. Tricon International Restaurants trading as KFC was handed down. The decision ruled that regulations that excluded short-term casuals from unfair termination remedies were invalid because they went further than the regulation-making power in the act. Mr Hamzy succeeded in his action by successfully challenging the validity of the regulations 30B(1)(d) and 30B(3) on the basis that their making was not authorised by section 170CC of the principal act. The instant effect of the court's decision was that casual employees were able to bring unfair dismissal claims in the Industrial Relations Commission unless they were subjected to an exclusion. That exclusion could have been a three-month qualifying period.

If we look at the Australian situation, Australia has one of the highest rates of casual employment in the OECD. ABS data shows strong growth in casual employment over the past 15 to 20 years. Figures cited in a recent Federal Court decision show that casual employment more than doubled from 848,300 in 1984 to 1,932,700 in 1999. That is an increase of 117 per cent between 1984 and 1999. In the same period, permanent employment grew from 4,509,990 to 5,372,500, which is a 19 per cent increase. We have the situation where the rate of growth in the number of permanent employees was 19 per cent during that period and the growth of casual employment was 117 per cent in that period.

During the Senate inquiry into this bill, it was argued that employees have changed their mind-set and that young people in particular have adopted a more casual employment outlook because of the market conditions. In actuality, One Nation disagrees with this. One Nation believes that the young people in Australia have a very strong work ethic and that the majority of them would prefer to access full employment rather than part-time employment.

Part-time employment has another downside to it. It is like an ever-spiralling decline, because the more people we have in casual employment the more people we have with less ability to invest in large infrastructure by way of a home or a motor vehicle—that is, substantive outlays. They cannot make substantive outlays because they do not have the income to be able to afford them. So they are left with an alternative, and that is to purchase what we call whitegoods, such as stereos or TVs, which are smaller articles that are generally imported. So the higher the level of our casual employment goes, the further the level of personal infrastructure and large commitments reduces. It has an adverse impact in that our imports are continually climbing.

I would like to give some examples of the hospitality industry that I mentioned earlier on. The industry comprises bar attendants, kitchen hands, housekeepers, laundry workers, apprentices, porters and receptionists. While many are casual by choice, there is an increasing number of others for whom this is the only type of employment available. The jobs created have, in the main, lower hour content and lower pay and are short-term and casual. As I said earlier, one of the things that inclines me to support the opposition's amendment is that in North Queensland our hospitality industry tends to work on around a nine-month period. So during the summer period the tourist numbers in North Queensland drop off dramatically. As a result of that, people in the hospitality industry are laid off. The following year, at the start of the season, a lot of them come back and work successfully for those same employers. But within all industries there are exceptions, and we should not penalise those workers whose employment is cyclical and not allow them to have any remedy at all. I believe that the opposition's proposed amendment to set that at six months would then assist not only those people in North Queensland who work in the hospitality industry but also those who work in our fruit-picking industry and our substantive cane industry—which also works for approximately six months of the year. This would assist all of those people.

There are many questions that need to be raised in relation to the long-term impacts of casual employment. These workers are seldom eligible for superannuation. So how do these people ultimately provide for themselves in their retirement? What are the long-term impacts of people in casual jobs, who receive very little training and have no opportunity for career advancement? And what is the long-term impact for workers who are unable to get a bank loan with that sort of insecurity of employment?

Official national statistics compiled since 1982 reveal that the number of casual employees in Australia has more than doubled. That is a phenomenon which is arguably the most dramatic development in the labour market in recent times. As I said earlier, the problem that we face is one particularly for North Queensland, and I believe that there are also similar circumstances in Western Australia and the Northern Territory as well.

I want to make the comment that the legislation we have before us now is a very important example of the separation of powers in our form of government. Under our separation of powers we have this parliament, the two houses, which produces legislation. It is administered through the executive government and the departments and then we have, totally separate, the judiciary, who implement the legislation. Here is a situation where the decisions of the judiciary are actually out of step with those of the parliamentary infrastructure.

It is very interesting, and I believe it shows the strength of our Australian Constitution that we have this situation where we can, as representatives of the people, redress an issue where we may believe the judiciary is out of step. I am not saying that the judiciary is out of step in all cases, but the government obviously believes in this case that it is. That is the difficulty this legislation brings—finding that balance between the rights of the casual employee and balancing those very carefully to ensure that those who employ them have a reasonable basis on which to carry out their businesses. As I said earlier, because the Labor amendment very clearly addresses one of the major issues that I have with the bill, I indicate One Nation's support for the amendment.