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Tuesday, 5 November 1996
Page: 5090

Senator MURRAY(4.47 p.m.) —I concur with the opinion that Senator Sherry has to wear many things on superannuation and I am sure I will pick it up a little later. With regard to these amendments, I wish to comment on a number of them.

Amendment 1 seeks to require an objective of relevant, secure and consistent wages and conditions. It is our contention this is already picked up in 88A(a) in a similar form and also objective 6(1.1) in section 3.

Amendment 2 goes well beyond the requirements of the current labour act in requiring the AIRC to provide decent living standards through awards. This appears like a back-door way to pre-empt the AIRC's decision on the living wage claim and seems a little inappropriate to us in this bill at this time.

Amendment 3 we regard as very loose wording, referring to the ability to bargain collectively. As discussed earlier, we believe that this bill provides ample opportunity for collective bargaining. I am not sure who this provision is intended to pick up and, given that uncertainty, we feel it is inappropriate to insert that provision.

Amendment 4 seeks to attach a note. I am sure that the commission is well aware of its decision on the training wage and will take it into account. But given that that decision might be improved or modified over time, it seems inappropriate to us to lock that award into stone in the act by a note.

Amendment 5 seeks to insert a note referring to the supported wage decision. Again the commission, I am sure, will take account of this decision. But I would not want to rule out further development of the supported wage system in further decisions by confining it by way of such a note.

Amendment 6 we have discussed at length and that is the attempt to substitute pay for remuneration. I want to make a few points if I may. Some would conclude that the Labor senators' intention in entering this debate is either hot air or the desire to deal themselves into the debate. I do not take that view. I think the view is held sincerely and I acknowledge the approach you have taken. But I remind the Senate first that this is an addition to the act. The current directions to the commission on the exercise of its award powers in section 90AA do not include any such object of this part. So we are adding an express requirement on the commission to have regard for this provision.

I wish to further point out that 88B(3)(e) picks up the general prohibition against discrimination on the basis of sex as a factor which the commission must have regard to. At present, the only place that scores a mention in the present act is the 150A award modernisation process. So it is my view that the Democrats and the government have improved the current Labor act.

Given that these provisions are talking about award conditions and given the clear meaning that equal pay for work of equal value has held in the commission and its principles since 1969, it is appropriate that it be recognised up front here as still important. And it is important because in the last 10 years of Labor government women made no progress towards equal pay unless that progress was through the AIRC and non-political mechanisms.  You cannot even, as a party, do as well as the Liberals on women in parliament. There are only nine out of 28 of you sitting here. You have not got a particularly good record when it comes to advancing the cause of women even in your own representation amongst all these Labor senators.

In 1986 the differential between women's and men's earnings was exactly the same as it is now—in 1986, I say to Labor senators. And all these Labor senators carry on about the rights of women. In its industrial legislation your government failed to deliver any progress after the departure of the much esteemed Senator Susan Ryan. Not just that, but under your model of enterprise bargaining, the gap was widening. Women were recording lower rises on average than men and more pressure was being put on workers with family responsibilities, most of whom were women, due to longer hours and more stressful work. If you read the report from DIR tabled last month and the report from ACCIRT in Sydney or from Gillian Whitehouse in Queensland, you will see that your record is not a good one.

There was the great Sex Discrimination Act which Senator Susan Ryan and Senator Janine Haines steered through this place. But since then, in our view there has been very little progress. Australia, by world standards, through the equal pay for equal work principle in the AIRC, has achieved better female to male wage relativities than countries with more deregulated wage systems. But that was in the 1980s—and early 1980s.

Since 1986, the progress has basically stopped. And that progress was in your hands, so do not lecture us about equal pay.

Senator Mackay —How is it going to improve under this bill?

Senator MURRAY —I can see I am getting a rise out of you, and that was exactly my intention. Returning to the provisions—

Senator Jacinta Collins —Did the government write this brief?

The CHAIRMAN —Order! Senator Murray has the call.

Senator MURRAY —Thank you, Mr Chairman. Section 88B is not the objects of the part. They are considerations to which the commission must have regard in exercising its functions. Obviously, the functions it is exercising must touch on the principle: where the commission is dealing with work and payment for work, it must have regard to equal pay for work of equal value. It does so now.

Where, however, it is dealing with payments other than payments for work, it must have regard to (e), which is the need to eliminate discrimination on the basis of, amongst other things, sex and family responsibilities. The commission is also required to have regard to the objects of the act under section 90, which include expressly assisting workers to balance their family responsibilities and assisting in giving effect to their international obligations, which include the ILO conventions on equal remuneration and family responsibilities.

I really believe that, regardless of the sincerity of your views, you are barking up the wrong tree in this one. The commission is required by this legislation to give far greater prominence to equal pay, to family responsibilities, to anti-discrimination issues, than it was under your act.

Senator Jacinta Collins —That's not true.

Senator MURRAY —That is true and that is deliberate. If you refer to the general object, to the award's objects and functions, to the restored schedule 8 which we have put back in on part VIA, you will find that we have properly protected women.