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Thursday, 1 June 2000
Page: 16836

Mr SNOWDON (12:31 PM) —It gives me great pleasure to rise to speak in this debate on the Workplace Relations Amendment Bill 2000, not because I take any pleasure in the legislation before the House but because I take pleasure in the position which was adopted by my leader in this parliament this afternoon. I want to point to one anomaly which illustrates aptly how the government deals with some of its own employees who do not have the benefit of the representation of a trade union. It is appropriate that they do not because they are members of the Defence Force. You will be aware, Mr Deputy Speaker Adams, that under our awards people who live and work in the Northern Territory have had for a number of years issues such as remote locality leave, special provisions for leave entitlements, because of where they live. They are designed in part to compensate for isolation and distance from their families.

This is true also of Australian Defence Force personnel. Recently the Defence Force negotiated a deal with Qantas so that Qantas is its carrier. It had been the case that all Defence Force personnel in the Northern Territory, for example, were entitled to the equivalent of an economy class airfare to Adelaide as remote locality leave travel. They could use that leave fare in a number of ways. They could actually take it as cash and drive their families to wherever it was they wanted to go or they could use it to fly to Bali or elsewhere. What has happened, as a result of this deal between the Defence Force and Qantas, is that entitlement has been reduced to 68 per cent of its normal value, because the deal that Qantas has given to Australian Defence is that they provide them with a fare that is 68 per cent of the economy fare from Adelaide to Darwin. So there was a unilateral reduction in this leave fare entitlement, this remote locality travel entitlement, for Defence Force personnel who live in northern Australia. It has been reduced by 32 per cent as a result of a commercial arrangement between Australian Defence and Qantas without any discussion, negotiation or by-your-leave with these Defence Force personnel.

This applies also to Defence Force personnel who live in Townsville, because they are entitled to a similar fare to Brisbane. They will suffer a similar cut, as will those who live at Curtin air base in Western Australia or anywhere in those northern Australian regions. This is an indication of how this government believes it should treat its workers who do not have the entitlement of being represented by a union. They are not involved in formal discussions or negotiations about their terms and conditions and, by and large, Defence Force personnel accept that because they understand that the Defence Force has special arrangements for them. We recognise those special arrangements, on the one hand, in that we treat them as people who defend Australia, who can be sent off to do such things as represented by East Timor—and do it so well. But, on the other hand, we believe we have the right to reduce their terms and conditions of employment arbitrarily without as much as a by-your-leave.

There are other issues about pattern bargaining which are important to us. We heard the previous speaker talk about maternity leave, et cetera. There is also an important issue for me in northern Australia: the question of ceremonial leave. One of the issues which affect Aboriginal people who are dispersed workers right across northern Australia without any high level of organisation is the question of the traditional rights that they would argue for ceremonial leave. What the government is proposing here is that they should be subject to individual negotiation at the workplace right across northern Australia. We all know what will happen, because history has shown us what has happened. There are numbers of Aboriginal people that I know who work, for example, in the pastoral industry and who are crippled and got no compensation because they have no entitlements and no rights. It is extremely important that we reject the proposals put forward by the government, support the amendments put forward by my friend Mr Bevis and support the words of our leader today. We must reject these proposals put forward by the government. It needs to learn to deal with its workers in a far more appropriate, fair and equitable way, particularly in this instance of members of the Defence Force.