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Thursday, 22 August 1996
Page: 2895


Senator MACKAY(10.48 a.m.) —I would like to make some brief comments on the quality of the government's minority report. Before I do, I would like to analyse briefly the breakdown of the submissions received by the committee. This committee received 1,398 submissions in total: 180 from unions, 90 from community groups and academics, 44 from employers and employer organisations, 14 from law firms and organisations made up of lawyers, and over 1,000 from individuals.

Of the 44 received from employers and employer groups, 39 supported the bill, three had major concerns about the bill and two opposed the bill. Of the 14 received from law firms, 12 opposed the bill, one had major concerns about the bill and one supported the bill. Of the 12 submissions received from academics, 10 opposed the bill, one had major concerns about the bill and one supported the bill—guess who? It was Judith Sloan.

Coming to community groups, not one supported the bill in total. Every single community group expressed major concerns with aspects of this bill. As you can see from what I have just said, this did not give the government much to work with when they sat down and prepared their minority report—but never let the facts get in the way of a good story. The government's minority report largely consists of great slabs of quotes from the small number of groups that supported the bill, not to mention great slabs of quotes from government senators—but I will come to that a bit later.

As I said before, 42 employer groups supported the bill. If you have only 42 submissions that are supporting you out of 1,398, you need to make maximum mileage out of what they said. Nobody could accuse the government of not doing that. Let's go through a breakdown of the government's evidence. The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry get quoted quite a bit—seven times in fact. Hamersley Iron are quoted quite a bit—also seven times. The Western Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry get a guernsey four times and the National Farmers Federation are also there four times. The Housing Industry Association get mentioned three times and the Business Council of Australia do a bit better with five mentions. The Australian Chamber of Manufactures and the Australian Hotels Association are mentioned three times and the Master Builders Association are mentioned twice.

The poor old MTIA only got a go once, probably because they had major concerns with aspects of the bill. The Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce were also mentioned only once, for the same reason, and we finish with the Australian Retailers Association which similarly get mentioned only once for their temerity in having concerns with the bill. This adds up to 42 out of 1,398 submissions—not enough, think the government. So what do they do? To substantiate their case and pad out the report they then quote—wait for it—the Department of Industrial Relations. The fact that the department, at the minister's direction, wrote the bill should not really bring into question their impartiality, according to the government. I suppose that if you are scratching around and clutching at straws, you do not have much option than to quote your own department.

However, never let it be alleged that this government does not think that the minority report is not balanced. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission gets an acknowledgment even though it had grave concerns with this bill. Women for Workplace Justice get two acknowledgments, although they also had grave concerns with this bill. Judith Sloan predictably gets two mentions. But that is still not enough, says the government. So what do they do? They start using the rhetoric of their own senators as evidence.

Let me give you a couple of examples. Let us look at supporting evidence for the fact that this bill will remove set hours for part-time workers. And who do we see quoted in evidence? We see Senator Chapman. Let us look at the extract of Ms Andrades, Spokesperson for Women for Workplace Justice. This is with Senator Chapman. I quote:

Senator Chapman —You also raised the issue of part-time work. Is it not a fact that under the current legislation we have the problem that part-time work is developing apace on a casual basis? Casual part-time workers will increase from about 17 per cent to 24 per cent, most directly because of the current restrictions that exist on permanent part-time work within the award structure. Instead of people moving into permanent part-time work where they get pro rata—

. . .

This is what we are talking about when we say that if you do not limit the number of part-time workers or casual workers, adverse consequences can follow.

Senator Chapman —On the contrary. That removes the restriction that currently exists on permanent part-time work. As a consequence of that current restriction, you are getting a massive growth in casual work. It has gone from about 17 per cent to 24 cent.

Ms Andrades —As far as I am aware, there is no restriction in the current act on numbers of permanent part-time workers.

Senator Chapman —There is in a number of awards.

Ms Andrades —That is a different question.

Senator Chapman —This legislation is removing those restrictions so that people can get permanent part-time work and get the pro rata benefits.

That extract was actually used in evidence to support the government's decision on part-time work. We will go to Senator Chapman again. Now just in case we missed it the first time around, Senator Chapman gets another go in the minority report, this time to Mr Michael Brown from the shop assistants' union. I quote:

Senator Chapman —You also raised the issue of part-time work. Is it not a fact that under the current legislation we have the problem that part-time work is developing apace on a casual basis?

This may start sounding familiar to senators.

Casual part-time workers will increase from about 17 per cent to 24 per cent, most directly because of the current restrictions that exist on permanent part-time work within the award structure. Instead of people moving into permanent part-time work where they get pro rata provision of benefits that full-time workers get, their work force has been casualised on a part-time basis and they are in fact thereby disadvantaged.

Blah, blah, blah.

This legislation will allow for greater scope for permanent part-time work and therefore the provision of those pro rata benefits to employees.

Mr Brown —That may very well be the case, but there are no part-time workers in my department. Certainly, we would be disadvantaged if we were to become part-time workers.

Senator Chapman —No-one is suggesting that you will become part-time workers. The intent of this of this legislation is that those people who are currently part-time workers on a casual basis will be able to become part-time workers with permanency and therefore with the pro rata benefits that apply to permanent part-time work which do not apply to casual part-time work.

Neither witness seemed to be particularly impressed, as you can see, with Senator Chapman's logic. However, Senator Chapman was not the only government senator to get a go. The following lengthy dissertation from Senator Crane gets used as evidence in relation to the setting of pay issues. These extracts are actually used to substantiate the government's position, the government's bill. They are using their own senators as evidence. This is addressed to Mr Stewart-Crompton from the Department of Industrial Relations. I quote:

Senator Crane —Thank you for clearing up that point. There is one last point that I want to raise on this, one that I have raised a number of times during the hearing. I would like to hear the department's view on this. It relates to—within the allowable matters—the responsibility of the Commission and Section 89A(2)(b) and onwards, which refers to ordinary time hours of work. Subsection 2(c) refers to rates of pay generally while subsection 2(d) refers to piece rates, tallies, et cetera. I will not read it all out because I am sure you are more familiar with it than I am—

and he probably would be because he probably participated in the drafting of the bill—

and everybody at this table has heard it a few times.

The point I am coming to relates to the underpinning of the various methods of employment provided in this Bill by those particular clauses from the point of view of wages or payment. We then go to 170LG, minimum conditions, which states:

Then he quotes that section. And Senator Crane continues:

Then it goes on and deals with a number of sections—170XF, 17010G, et cetera, which I will not go through. But it refers to pieceworkers, casual employers, casual pieceworkers, et cetera. As far as I am aware, looking at this particular Bill and each component of employment,—

and this is supposed to be a question, incidentally—

you go back to the underpinning of what they will be paid and back to those clauses there, which are set by the Commission in terms of negotiating or coming to that particular position.

Now wait for it; we are coming to the question:

I just wanted to get confirmation from you regarding my understanding—

in terms of what he had just said—

of the provisions as to setting of pay. Whether it be a casual worker, a piece worker, somebody employed under an agreement, a certified agreement, et cetera, it has to come back to those standards that are set to the relevant award.

Now that was the question. The answer from Mr Stewart-Crompton was:

This is correct, Senator.

Now what is the government's conclusion after all this? `In summary having considered the written submissions and the evidence given during public hearings, there is clear community support for the Workplace Relations and Other Legislation Amendment Bill'. (Time expired)

Debate (on motion by Senator Conroy) adjourned.