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Thursday, 14 November 2002
Page: 9164

Mr CADMAN (10:20 AM) —The objective of the Workplace Relations Legislation Amendment Bill 2002 is to transfer the responsibility of compensation and occupational health and safety from a seafarers specific organisation to Comcare. I think it is a very sensible proposal, brought into being partly because of the difficulties that have been experienced by the Seacare Authority in providing effective insurance for some of their activities. Moving into Comcare will allow effective coverage. The insurance arrangements for employees under the SRC Act were in doubt. The Seacare Authority commented in an issues paper that the Seafarers Act is largely modelled on the SRC Act. Many of the 2001 amendments to that act are also potentially necessary and relevant to the Seafarers Act. So there are a number of changes that are necessary to the seafarers act relating to insurance provisions.

The Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations has advised the authority that there are three reasons for the new arrangements. Firstly, there are sound operational and governance reasons for this decision to locate the Seacare Authority with Comcare. To me that makes a lot of sense because they basically do the same thing. We are putting seafarers within the Comcare ambit. I guess that is partly because Australian seafarers travel to international waters and so it is pretty hard for an authority or an effective mechanism to extend the reach of the Commonwealth to provide protection under Australian law. Comcare can do that. I think that is sensible. The second reason the minister has given for the changes is that the current arrangements are inefficient because there is a small departmental secretariat involved and that small secretariat has to provide the full range of occupational health and safety coverage necessary for seafarers. Thirdly, the minister's advice is that there is a natural synergy between Comcare and seafarer schemes. Both are industry based. The administration of occupational health and safety and compensation rehabilitation programs are all part of the daily process of Comcare.

I think this is good legislation. Having been involved in the Ships of shame inquiry—the significant inquiry that was done by a committee of the parliament to establish some of the working conditions of seafarers, both foreign and Australian—my view is that the legislation removes some of the special treatment that seafarers have had but does not reduce their entitlements in any way. So it makes a lot of sense. This is part of a package of sensible reform on which the government has embarked. In the last financial year of the Labor government real wages growth was zero. Over the life of the accord there was a five per cent decline in real wages. That is not acceptable.

This government has been able to bring people employee entitlements. When companies have gone broke, the government has been able to increase real wages. Over the life of this government the lowest paid workers have received safety net increases of $82, a 7.9 per cent increase in real terms compared with the 14.9 per cent reduction in real average wages over the term of the Labor government.

This legislation for seafarers fits in well with a package of changes made by the current government and I know that there are more changes planned. Even the Employee Entitlements Support Scheme, which is so strongly criticised by members opposite, has provided $360 million for employees under entitlement protection schemes. It has never happened before. The Labor Party had 13 years to get it right but did not. It took an incoming coalition government to solve the problem and provide almost 80 per cent of eligible workers with 100 per cent of what they are owed. Good stuff; they had no alternate schemes on the horizon. The legislation will bring seafarers within the ambit of Comcare, which is another sensible change. This will provide them with all the protection they need, solve the difficulty of insurance for employers and ensure that employers and employees are protected by that process. So what we will have in Australia will be a much fairer system.

Looking ahead, I am pleased to see that the Democrats have agreed to the changes that we needed to have. The fair dismissal bill has also been finally acknowledged by the Democrats, so there are more changes there. The prohibition of compulsory union fees is something that the government is keen to introduce; it is very sensible legislation. The following changes have produced positive results and great benefits to the average working person in Australia: secret ballots for protection, a genuine bargaining bill, a fair termination process, the transmission of business and giving the IRC power to order certified agreements that do not transmit with a business, registration and accountability of organisations, improved remedies for unprotected action, simplification of agreement making and even some of the past activities and simplification of a number of matters that may be taken into account as part of an award. I compliment the government for the changes they have made. In the area where I live and work there is great activity at the moment and that can be sheeted home not only to a very buoyant economy but also to a more sensible working environment.

It is sad to see that the Premier of Victoria wants to change that process and go back to the past. Even a member of the Grollo family—everybody in this place knows that the Grollo reputation of doing deals with the union movement is legend—has said, `We do not want to go back to those bad old days. We want to stick with the changes that have been achieved as they are much more sensible.' The final straw that broke the camel's back was the building unions recently deciding that they were going to go on strike because a couple of casual workers were terminated under the process that was outlined in their employment agreement. They were casual employees on 24 hours notice, but when they were put off in the appropriate manner a strike was called.

Coming up to an election I guess the Premier of Victoria is vulnerable, but with his vulnerability he is gutless and will not stand for the things he should. He knows what is right. You can say what you like: we have not had trouble on the waterfront, nor have we had trouble with the Seamen's Union in any way, because sensible things have been done. The sensible things include changes like this one that we are dealing with today that is moving the whole of the seafaring authority administration across to Comcare. That is one of the benefits of the changes by this sensible government, and it is time that the Australian Labor Party understood that, because they are out on their own. Even the 50 per cent rule will not change anything. It will not change the control by the union movement of the Australian Labor Party.

Opposition members interjecting

Mr CADMAN —You can identify how much control there is by the reaction we are getting in the committee today. It is almost a pavlovian response: you say something critical of the union movement and they respond to the bell ringing.

I am concluding my remarks by saying that this is sensible legislation. We have all agreed to it. It is a great shame that the Australian Labor Party cannot bend a little to see what the majority of Australians want—that they should fail to take their orders from the union movement, the CFMEU and that bunch that are so active in Victoria, and come to this parliament to bring about changes that benefit the workers they claim they represent.