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Monday, 12 October 2015
Page: 7381

Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (20:54): You are relitigating—and it is your right to relitigate—a number of the issues that you and I have already canvassed in previous amendments on this bill, but for the purposes of the record I will again state that your assertions that the changes put forward by the government will allow an employer to make an agreement without union involvement are incorrect. By virtue of what a greenfields agreement is it is not allowed to be done.

A greenfields agreement is an agreement, with no employees but a prospective workforce, between an employer and a union or unions. With all due respect, you can say it as many times as you like tonight in an effort to try to put some merit into the amendments that you have only put forward at the very last minute today. I note that the amendments that we are currently looking at you had not proposed three weeks ago when we had an extensive second reading debate on this issue. I only received them late this morning.

You continue to say that our amendments will allow an employer-only agreement. That is incorrect. It is wrong. The bill requires an employer to negotiate in good faith with the union or unions that are able to represent the industrial interests of the employees who are going to be covered by the agreement. The Fair Work Commission itself must note in its decision to approve the agreement that the agreement covers the union or unions that were bargaining representatives for the agreement. The changes that we are referring to maintain a role for unions in negotiating greenfields agreements.

You also have made assertions—again, that you have previously made this evening—in relation to the greenfields agreement making process that we are putting forward heavily favouring employers, and again we reject that assertion in its entirety. I again go to the words of the fair work review panel, which I remind the chamber is the review panel which the now Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, himself appointed. They themselves say:

… a significant capacity to frustrate the making of an appropriate greenfields agreement at all or at least in a timely way.

That is what the current framework has, effectively, conferred on the unions such that the current negotiations for greenfield agreements potentially threaten future investment in major projects in Australia.

Again, in terms of what we are proposing tonight, the existing agreement approval rules under the Fair Work Act are retained. The bill also—again, as I have already stated several times tonight in response to the same questions from you—says that, where agreement cannot be reached with the union, the union will be covered by any greenfields agreement approved by the Fair Work Commission to ensure that they can enforce that agreement on behalf of future employees. To the Fair Work Commission—and this is the fundamental difference between what is currently in the act and what we are bringing in—in addition to passing the better-off-overall test, or the BOOT, as it is known, we have added the additional layer that the agreement provides for pay and conditions that are consistent with the prevailing pay and conditions within the relevant industry for equivalent work.

I reject the assertions that you yet again make.