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Tuesday, 16 September 2003
Page: 20167

Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service) (4:46 PM) —I move:

That amendments Nos 2, 3 and 4 insisted on by the Senate and the further amendments made by the Senate to the Bill be agreed to.

The Workplace Relations Amendment (Fair Termination) Bill 2002 as amended by the Senate constitutes a modest but significant change in the direction of a more rational and reasonable unfair dismissal regime for Australian casual workers. This bill restores the law as it operated for several years before the Hamzy case in the Federal Court disturbed our understanding of what the law was. As a result of the bill as amended by the Senate, casual employees will not be able to access unfair dismissal remedies unless they have been in regular and systematic employment for 12 months, with a reasonable expectation of continuing employment. However, the bill as amended by the Senate does significantly improve the situation of casual workers. Casual workers under this bill will have access from day one to unlawful termination, as opposed to unfair dismissal remedies. The bill as amended by the Senate will prevent businesspeople from avoiding the operation of the unfair dismissal provisions in respect of casual workers by ceasing to employ them and then re-engaging them prior to the 12-month qualifying period.

I would like to thank the Australian Democrats for giving the government a fair hearing on this bill. The Australian Democrats, as is well known, do not share all the government's objectives in relation to workplace relations but they are usually prepared to give us a fair hearing. I think this bill as amended by the Senate is a constructive compromise and deserves to be supported by the House.

Having sorted out this long-running problem created by the Hamzy case, we can now move forward and further improve the operation of Australia's unfair dismissal laws by extending the federal unfair dismissal regime from about 50 per cent of the work force, as at present, to about 85 per cent of the work force through the cover the field provisions in the termination of employment bill, which will shortly come before the parliament again. I believe the Democrats ought to be happy to accept for more Australians an unfair dismissal regime that they have been instrumental in putting in place for those currently covered by the federal unfair dismissal regime. This is good legislation and should be supported by the House.