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Thursday, 1 December 2005
Page: 173

Senator JOYCE (9:54 PM) —I have listened to the debate, and I appreciate what Senator Wong has said. I have been watching Senator Fielding and Senator Murray. There was a consensus in the government that iconic days such as Good Friday, Anzac Day, Christmas Day and Australia Day be protected. Within this legislation, not only those iconic days but also any other gazetted public holiday are protected. We heard earlier in the chamber about the issue of certain show days on the west coast of Tasmania. Under this legislation, those are also protected, because it specifically talks about gazetted public holidays in regions as well. It is a very encompassing move.

There is a proposition that has been put by many that this process can be somehow circumvented. That is not the case. It is illegal to put forward an AWA that contradicts section 170AF(4), which states that you cannot put in a workplace agreement a term that is contrary to the protection of iconic public holidays. Let us look at some of the reasonable reasons for refusal. One of the key ones that I like is paragraph (e), which reads ‘the employee’s personal circumstances, including family responsibilities’.

The proposition in the legislation is that under law the employee at home with their family gets paid for ordinary hours. As Senator Ronaldson has so rightly pointed out, our motivation is to protect these iconic days—not the day in lieu but the iconic days that we are speaking of. If an employer feels that it is absolutely essential to have an employee come to work and not be with their family during these iconic days, then there is no point them just offering what the employee is going to get at home in any case—ordinary hours. Let us say, for instance, that they are getting paid $20 an hour. It is no good offering somebody $20 an hour to come to work when they are getting paid $20 an hour to be at home. If you offer them $22 an hour to come to work, why would they come to work for $2 an hour? It makes no sense. You would have to offer up front something substantially more than ordinary hours, which is what they are getting for being at home.

Senator Forshaw —You’ve been doing it in the pastoral industry for years.

Senator JOYCE —If you do me the dignity of listening, you will hear the answer. It is up to the employer what they offer. They can offer a day in lieu; they can offer double the rate, triple the rate or whatever. The beauty of this legislation is that it is at the employee’s discretion to take it or not. The employee is protected by law, whether they decide to take it or not.

In fact, that is more protection than you get at the moment, because under the penalty system an employer can say: ‘Do you want a penalty? Do you want to bang on about a penalty? I’ll give you a penalty: I’ll give you 50 per cent above the award, so instead of $20 an hour it is now $30 an hour, but you must come—you have no choice. You must come away from your family and work at the local hamburger shop on Christmas Day because I tell you so. And if you do not turn up, you are sacked.’ There is nothing to fall back on. The government has gone beyond the current protection mechanism. It is absolutely ridiculous to harp on about the penalty rate as the great saviour of these iconic days. It is not. This amendment is the great saviour of those iconic days, because this amendment says that it is illegal to make the employee work against their wishes.

I acknowledge the great work that has been done by our Liberal colleagues—Senator Ronaldson and others—but this is driven by the National Party. We actually read the legislation. Hearing what some people on the other side of the chamber said tonight, it is quite obvious that they do not or that they are trying to mislead the Australian people.

They say that this is minor tinkering at the edges. It is amazing how much attention this ‘minor tinkering at the edges’ is getting. It is amazing how much of the debate this minor tinkering—this protection of iconic holidays—is getting. It is absolutely fundamental that they be maintained. To give us our due, the coalition have put in place greater strength than was ever there before, because you did not have the choice before. I would suggest that anybody who wants to get someone out and away from their family on Anzac Day, on Christmas Day or on Good Friday—the days that we are protecting—is going to have to offer substantially more than what might have been obtained under a penalty. We do not even have a definition of what a penalty is—a penalty could be anything.

Senator Forshaw —Read an award, you goose!

Senator Ronaldson —I rise on a point of order, Madam Temporary Chairman. Senator Forshaw should withdraw that remark. Senator Joyce is one of the people in this chamber who is making a contribution and a substantial one. He does not deserve that sort of response from Senator Forshaw and the senator should be forced to withdraw that.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Moore)—I hear your point of order, Senator Ronaldson. The term ‘goose’ has been used on several occasions in this chamber and I do not accept that as a point of order.

Senator Abetz —Madam Temporary Chairman, I raise an interesting point of order in relation to that. Calling somebody ‘Einstein’ has to be withdrawn but calling somebody a ‘goose’ doesn’t have to be. That is an interesting approach to the standing orders. I am willing to abide by them but I think there is a degree of inconsistency.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN —Minister, I hear what you are saying. My decision is on the basis of previous practice in this place. It is a common expression and I do not accept that it is a point of order at this stage.

Senator JOYCE —Thank you very much, Madam Temporary Chairman. I can understand that to refer to a senator on the other side as ‘Einstein’ should definitely be withdrawn, but to refer to them as poultry is quite all right.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN —Senator Joyce, are you actually reflecting on my judgment? I am just questioning whether that is what you are doing.

Senator JOYCE —No, I am not. So for my colleagues on the other side, I would like to conclude by saying: let us get this on the record. It is very important that the Australian people who are watching this tonight, both of them, see that to put something in an AWA which is illegal, and that is to ask them to work on public holidays, has been covered by the National-Liberal coalition at 170AF. A reasonable reason to not go to work, a reasonable refusal, can be that you want to spend time with your family. This is something that categorically lifts those iconic public holidays out of the mix and embargoes them as days to be spent with the family, days to reflect upon the greater nature of Australia, days to respect those who have died for our country. I am very proud to have been a part of the team with my National Party colleagues such as Senator Nash, and Senator Ronaldson to have given that to the Australian people and enshrined that in this legislation.