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Thursday, 14 February 2008
Page: 381

Mr ADAMS (2:15 PM) —Thank you, Mr Speaker, and let me congratulate you on your election to that role. I have enormous faith in you.

The SPEAKER —There have been suggestions from my left about sending flowers instead of congratulating me. I would be a bit suspicious if you had done that on Valentine’s Day!

Mr ADAMS —Thank you, Mr Speaker. I do have another Valentine in my life.

Honourable members interjecting—

The SPEAKER —I feel I am now losing control of the House! The member will get to his question.

Mr ADAMS —My question is to the Deputy Prime Minister. How important to fairness in the workplace is a safety net that cannot be stripped away?

Ms GILLARD (Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for Social Inclusion) —I thank the member for Lyons for his very well put question and the associated remarks. Can I join with the Prime Minister in indicating that the government today has taken another important step forward in the delivery of fairness and balance in Australian workplaces. We have released an exposure draft of our 10 new National Employment Standards. Under Labor’s industrial relations system, these will be protections that every working Australian can rely on—protections about hours of work, annual leave, public holidays, personal leave, long service leave and a new category of community service leave. There will be rights to parental leave, including a new right—

Mr Hockey interjecting

The SPEAKER —The member for North Sydney will cease interjecting. The Deputy Prime Minister should ignore these interjections.

Ms GILLARD —Once again, the former Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations is showing his complete ignorance. There will be a right to parental leave, including a new right to sequencing leave, so that the mother and father of a child, if they choose, can sequence their unpaid maternity and paternity leave so that they can have the first two years of a child’s life with a parent at home. It includes a new right to request flexible and part-time work, a right to have information about employment law, and a right to notice of termination and redundancy pay.

These provisions have been produced as an exposure draft to enable public commentary. We will not make the same error made by the Howard government when it put out its Australian Fair Pay and Conditions Standard, which it did without adequate consultation, and it had to issue version after version with increased complexity and red tape for Australian businesses. We care about making these provisions work. That is why an exposure draft is here, with a public commentary period. This is one part of Labor’s safety net for working Australians.

The second part of Labor’s safety net is a modern, simple award system for employees who earn $100,000 or less. That modern, simple award system will be created by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission. The modernisation request was contained in the explanatory memorandum to our Workplace Relations Amendment (Transition to Forward with Fairness) Bill, which was presented to the House yesterday.

What is very important about this safety net under Labor is that, under Labor’s workplace relations system, the safety net can never be stripped away. Never again will an Australian walk into a workplace not knowing if that is the day that they will have an Australian workplace agreement thrust into their hands which strips away aspects of the safety net. We will not allow that to occur in Labor’s system. There will be no Australian workplace agreements and no individual statutory employment agreements. This is in stark contrast to Work Choices and the industrial relations extremism of the Liberal Party. What they gave us was Australian workplace agreements that can strip the safety net away—including, today, stripping away redundancy pay and basic protections like a notice of change of shift.

It is important for this House and the Australian people to note that, when the Leader of the Opposition said to them that Work Choices is dead, he did not tell them the truth. Today in the Senate the Liberal Party has voted to keep Work Choices going. Today we asked the Liberal Party to process our transition bill, which will mean there will be no more new Australian workplace agreements. We asked them to process that bill in exactly the same time frame that the parliament processed the last industrial relations changes of the Howard government. That is, we asked the Liberal Party to apply their own standards to themselves. Faced with that proposition of applying their own standards to themselves—something that they must agree is fair, something that they must agree is proper, given that it was brought into the parliament by the former Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, who is now their guardian of parliamentary practice as the Manager of Opposition Business—they must concede that that is a fair time frame in which to process legislation. The only reason they did not agree to it is that they want Work Choices to continue as long as possible. Notwithstanding the words of the Leader of the Opposition, they believe in Work Choices and they believe in industrial relations extremism. Any Australian who has put into their hands in this time period an Australian workplace agreement that takes away a basic condition that they rely on should look at that Australian workplace agreement and say to themselves, ‘This agreement is in my hands because the Leader of the Opposition is not a truthful man, and the Liberal Party believe in Work Choices and industrial relations extremism.’