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Monday, 4 November 1996
Page: 5013

Senator CHRIS EVANS(4.48 p.m.) —I appreciate Senator Murray's intervention and that of the parliamentary secretary. I will, however, make a couple of points, because I do not seem to be able to get the answers I want as to how this operates in practice. The first thing is that, from reading the report of the committee looking into the bill, I understood that those concerns that were raised in evidence were the very concerns that led Senator Murray to recommend the separation of the offices to an advocate and an ombudsman's role to deal with that very conflict. I do not want to labour the point but, again, we do not see that contained in the legislation or the agreed amendments.

The second aspect is that one of the reasons these workers are at a disadvantage is that they are being discouraged and prevented, in some instances, from collectively bargaining. We are not giving any encouragement to collective bargaining, so in many cases they will be negotiating these agreements individually and relying on the employer to explain to them their rights. Anyone with any modicum of experience in industrial relations knows that there is potential for abuse.

The other point I make is that, from my experience of the Western Australian system, there are allegedly protections in terms of people having agreements explained to them, along with the workplace commissioner allegedly protecting people's rights. The reality of the experience is quite different from that. The commissioner merely seeks some acknowledgment from the workers that they have some idea of what they are signing, then does no more. A number of documented cases were presented in evidence to the committee about how unsuccessful that has been.

The other reason for my cynicism is that the last time the coalition had a go at industrial relations legislation at the federal level, they introduced a similar clause in the charter of the Industrial Relations Bureau which called for a particular focal point on non-English speaking workers. That, quite frankly, was an unmitigated failure. They never achieved any of their objectives in looking after those people disadvantaged by an inability to speak English. It really is, in my view, a sop. We have not had any proper explanation of how someone can advise an employer and, at the same time, take some proactive role in trying to redress the disadvantaged bargaining position that the legislation recognises. It is a nonsense. There is no explanation, and that is why one has not been presented.