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Tuesday, 3 December 2002
Page: 7018

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer) (4:27 PM) —I table a revised explanatory memorandum relating to the bill and move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

The Workplace Relations Legislation Amendment Bill makes a number of mostly minor and technical amendments to various pieces of legislation within this portfolio.

The bill presented today is an amalgamation of the original bill introduced into the House of Representatives, and Government amendments that only made additions to the bill as introduced, and did not change any of the initial provisions. The bill as amended received bipartisan support in the Lower House.

The first set of provisions, which comprised the whole content of the original bill, contains changes to Commonwealth workers compensation legislation.

Workplace health and safety is an important responsibility of the Commonwealth and promotion of injury prevention and good occupational health and safety practice is a key focus of this Government. The Commonwealth is responsible for two workers' compensation and occupational health and safety schemes. The purpose of this bill is to make amendments which will ensure the effective operation of both schemes.

The Seafarers Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1992 (the Seafarers Act) and the Occupational Health and Safety (Maritime Industry) Act 1993 establish a rehabilitation, compensation and occupational health and safety scheme (the Seacare scheme) for certain seafarers. This scheme is administered by the Seafarers Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Authority (the Seacare Authority). The Safety Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 (the SRC Act) and the Occupational Health and Safety (Commonwealth Employment) Act 1991 establish a workers' compensation and occupational health and safety scheme for Commonwealth employees. Comcare provides operational support for the Commonwealth employees' scheme. Comcare is the major provider of workers compensation management and OHS advice and expertise in the Commonwealth sphere, while the Seacare Authority provides a specialist service to the small industry-specific scheme.

Administrative support for the Seacare Authority is currently provided by the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations. The main amendments in this part of the bill will authorise the relocation of administrative support for the Seacare scheme from the Department to Comcare. The amendments will therefore provide the Seacare Authority with the benefit of Comcare's skills and expertise.

The amendments will require Comcare to provide assistance to the Seacare Authority in the form of secretarial or other resources, including staff, to enable the Seacare Authority to undertake its responsibilities to seafarers. The bill also proposes related technical amendments, including changes to delegations under the Seafarers Act.

Consequential amendments to reflect that the Seacare scheme will be administered by Comcare are also proposed to the Seafarers Rehabilitation and Compensation Levy Collection Act 1992 (the Levy Collection Act). These amendments are similar to those proposed to the Seafarers Act.

Some other minor amendments to the SRC Act are included in this bill. One amendment will remove the requirement for Ministerial approval of contracts involving the payment or receipt by Comcare of an amount exceeding $500,000. The Government considers that the current requirement is unnecessary.

The bill also includes a technical amendment to the SRC Act to correct a drafting error which occurred during the passage of amendments to the SRC Act last year. The amendment restores the original intention of those amendments that the Chief of the Defence Force may delegate his or her powers and functions as a Rehabilitation Authority under the Act in the same way as the Principal Officer of a Government Department may delegate his or her powers.

The remainder of the provisions, all of which were added by Government amendments in the House of Representatives, involve minor matters such as the correction of drafting errors, clarification of various terms, implementation of better administrative procedures and updating language and named entities to reflect current custom and practice.

Amendments to modernise the operations of the National Labour Consultative Council will change the name of the Council, update the purpose and membership provisions and include a regulation-making power to allow setting of rates of travelling allowance for members.

The bill requires the Rules of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to allow for the electronic lodgement of certified agreements with the Australian Industrial Relations Commission. Further amendments involving the Commission will clarify its power to arbitrate in respect of an application for equal pay orders during a bargaining period for a certified agreement; provide a mechanism for the Commission to refer certain entitlements matters, including equal remuneration matters, to a Full Bench; and provide for the regular provision of operational data by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission.

There is also an amendment to transfer responsibility for determining the rate of travel allowance for members of the Commission to the Remuneration Tribunal.

Amendments to the Defence Act 1903 to clarify membership provisions in relation to the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal and to remove sexist language from that Act are proposed. Definitions of the terms `responsible minister' in the Equal Employment Opportunity (Commonwealth Authorities) Act 1987 and `higher education institution' in the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 1999 will be amended, and references to the Parliamentary Service Act 1999 where the Public Service Act 1999 is mentioned will be inserted into the Workplace Relations Act 1996.

A drafting error in the Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business Legislation Amendment (Application of Criminal Code) Act 2001 is to be rectified, to reverse previous amendments that possibly had the unintended effect of decriminalising three offences in the Industrial Chemicals (Notification and Assessment) Act 1989. Offences regarding ballots will also be clarified in light of the passage of the Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business Legislation Amendment (Application of Criminal Code) Act 2001. Cross-references in the Workplace Relations Legislation Amendment (Registration and Accountability of Organisations) (Consequential Provisions) Act 2002 will also be clarified.

The Industrial Relations Court of South Australia will be made a `court of competent jurisdiction' for specified purposes in the Workplace Relations Act 1996, and lastly a number of minor typographical and drafting errors in that Act will also be made.

Ordered that further consideration of this bill be adjourned to the first day of the next period of sittings, in accordance with standing order 111.