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Thursday, 31 October 1996
Page: 4943

Senator MARGETTS(6.17 p.m.) —On the running sheet, the note says that government-Democrats amendment No. 11 is in conflict with Greens (WA) amendments Nos. 6 and 10. I am not sure that they are in conflict. I think they might relate to each other; our advice is that they do not conflict with each other. But this is a further extension. I seek leave to move my amendments Nos. 6 and 10 together.

Leave granted.

Senator MARGETTS —I move:

(6)   Schedule 3, item 2, page 8 (lines 15 to 20), omit section 83BC, substitute:

   83BC Independence of office

The Employment Advocate is not subject to control or direction by the Minister.

(10)   Schedule 3, item 2, page 9 (lines 12 to 13), omit subsection 83BF(2).

It is the Greens' belief that, if the Employment Advocate is to be effective, it must be independent of government and ministerial direction. In the aftermath of this move to individual contracts, an effective independent source of advice and assistance is absolutely essential.

Industrial relations law is complex even for those with a reasonable grasp of law and the industrial relations system. If an illiterate worker is given a contract by a prospective employer, they need to have the confidence to turn to an organisation such as a union or the Employment Advocate for advice that is seen to be independent of government interference. This was highlighted by the National Pay Equity Coalition in their submission to the committee. They stated:

The Employment Advocate is not independent. The Employment Advocate can be directed in carrying out his or her functions by the minister and the staff are public servants provided by the secretary of the Department of Industrial Relations.

We received what were intended to be assurances by the parliamentary secretary who said, `Don't worry; they will be from the Department of Industrial Relations.' But I do not think that necessarily helps. The provision that the Employment Advocate can be sacked for `incompetence and inefficiency' is another control mechanism. The submission concludes the section about the independence of the Employment Advocate by stating:

The role can have no credibility while it is subject to direct ministerial control and direction

Amendment No. 6 simply omits section 83BC and replaces it with a new section 83BC `Independence of office' which simply states:

The Employment Advocate is not subject to control or direction by the Minister.

Amendment No. 10 is a consequential amendment which deletes the reference to annual reporting of ministerial directions under section 83BF. If our amendment No. 6 is successful, the minister will not make any directions and therefore will not need to be reported to. I think it is reasonable if there are firm statements of goals for an Employment Advocate that that office is able to carry out those functions. I do not think it will be necessary for the minister to say, `Operate in this office or operate in that.' If there are firm functions, then, as a so-called independent advocate, it should be possible for that responsibility to be taken, providing those goals are clearly stated, and the need will direct the operation, I would assume. I cannot see that ministerial directions in this sense, or having people operating under the direct control of the minister, will be of assistance in creating that independence which I think will be necessary.