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Thursday, 29 October 2009
Page: 7615

Senator STEPHENS (Parliamentary Secretary for Social Inclusion and the Voluntary Sector and Parliamentary Secretary Assisting the Prime Minister for Social Inclusion) (12:51 PM) —I thank Senator Brandis for indicating coalition support for the Long Service Leave Legislation Amendment (Telstra) Bill 2009. It makes a lot of sense, of course, to do so. As noted by the Deputy Prime Minister in her speech, the bill is designed to ensure the continued operation of the Long Service Leave (Commonwealth Employees) Act to Telstra employees. The bill is an interim measure designed to address the particular historical circumstances of Telstra, pending the development of a national long service leave scheme, and the discussion with state and territory governments on that has commenced.

The move to develop national long service leave arrangements is yet another example of this government’s commitment to building a truly national employment system for the private sector in Australia, and the government is well on the way to achieving this goal. Victoria, for example, has already referred workplace relations powers to the Com-monwealth. South Australia, Tasmania and Queensland have agreed to refer power and have introduced legislation into their parliaments to give effect to their decision. Last week the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations introduced the Fair Work Amendment (State Referrals and Other Measures) Bill 2009 to give effect to these referrals, and cooperative discussions are also occurring with New South Wales. Unfortunately, the Western Australian government has indicated that it will not refer powers, denying the benefits of a national system to employers and employees in that state. However, the government is also making considerable progress towards developing uniform national occupational health and safety laws, which will dramatically reduce complexity and red tape for businesses that operate in multiple jurisdictions.

In taking these steps, the government is answering the repeated calls by business to end the overlap and duplication of state and federal employment laws and to end the inefficiency, uncertainty and legal complexity for Australian businesses and employees. In the absence of the measures proposed in this bill, Telstra would need to transition its employees from the Long Service Leave (Commonwealth Employees) Act to multiple state and territory schemes when current transitional arrangements expire on 24 November 2009 and then back to a Commonwealth scheme when the new national long service leave arrangements are implemented through the National Employment Standards. The government agrees with Telstra and relevant unions that a sensible solution to the complexity and uncertainty that these multiple transitions would cause is to extend the existing transitional arrangements until the new national employment standard on long service leave is in place. This is a piece of legislation that supports the premise of common sense. I commend the bill to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.