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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 8033

Senator ALSTON (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) (11:25 PM) —Both Senator Harris and Senator Collins seem to be proceeding on the mistaken apprehension that the court in the case that they referred to found that 12 months was too long a period.

Senator Jacinta Collins —I did not say that.

Senator ALSTON —I am glad that has been clarified; I hope no-one else thinks that. Presumably, you would also agree that the court found, on a technicality, that the regulation went beyond the regulation making power in the act, but it did not decide on whether 12 months was a short period and it did not indicate that six months was the appropriate period. The reason the government opposes these amendments is that, if the exclusion of casual employees from making claims for unfair dismissal is reduced from 12 months to six months, it will place an extra burden on businesses, particularly small business, by forcing them to rearrange their employment practices and leaving them open to termination of employment claims for a large number of casual employees. The expected duration of a job—and this is a very significant point because it is assumed that casual employees are only employed for a relatively short period of time—currently held by a casual employee has been estimated to be approximately 4.6 years. In this context, 12 months is a relatively short period of time. I know it is an article of faith— certainly on the part of the Labor Party, which take their riding orders from the unions, as we know. And the unions hate casual employment because almost, by definition, casual employees do not join unions.

Senator Jacinta Collins —That's not true.

Senator ALSTON —I said that overwhelmingly they do not join unions.

Senator Jacinta Collins —Not in my sector.

Senator ALSTON —I do not know why you are objecting then. Again, the assumption is that people are forced to work on a casual basis against their wishes. I have not heard any evidence, apart from Senator Collins's assertion—

Senator Jacinta Collins —Look at the ABS stats.

Senator ALSTON —The stats do not show you anything. They show an increase in the level of casualisation, but that is equally consistent with employers wanting more flexibility and employees wanting more flexibility. And you know that as well as I do, but it suits your purpose to continue to assert that this is some huge social evil, that no-one should be working in casual employment, that they are forced to do it against their will and that you can do something about it. The stats that you quoted go back to well and truly the Labor years. As the lights have gone out, we have gone back to 1975 at least! That is when we `turned on the lights'—don't you recall? I hope we can deliver this time.

We take the view that the filing fee must be retained permanently as it discourages frivolous, vexatious and speculative claims against businesses. Provisions in the regulations for waiver of the filing fee in cases of hardship and refund in cases of discontinuance would be preserved. The Senate Regulations and Ordinances Committee has expressed concern at the constant extension of the sunset period for the filing fee. This proposal honours the government's election commitment to making the filing fee a permanent requirement. Currently, it is set out in the regulations that the fee will cease operating on 31 December. Filing fees exist in a number of other jurisdictions, including New South Wales and Queensland.