Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 4 Hansard (20 June) . . Page.. 928..
MR WHITECROSS (10.36): Mr Speaker, as I said in my opening remarks, this amendment serves two purposes. One is protecting the public interest and giving the public confidence about the values, principles and management practices of a public organisation which all members of the public have an interest in. The second is continuing the frameworks which have been established over time, which have been carefully considered by this Assembly as good procedures for protecting the interests of staff of government-owned organisations, and ensuring that their interests are properly looked after. Mr Speaker, Mr De Domenico has said, "The unions do not want these protections". It is not my understanding, from talking to the unions, that they do not want these protections. In fact, my understanding is that they have said, "Here is a long list of things we want protected", and a lot of these things are the things which are in clause 7.
This is very much the second-best solution. The reason why we have this long list of things in clause 7 is that they were taken out of the Public Sector Management Act. It just does not seem to me that that is the right way to go about things. The explanation that I have heard for ACTEW being taken out of the Public Sector Management Act harks back to the last enterprise bargaining round, where ACTEW, with the rest of the ACT Government, was locked into a whole-of-government bargaining approach. ACTEW management and some ACTEW staff organisations have said to me that they think that it is not a very appropriate situation for ACTEW to be locked into a whole-of-government bargaining approach. But, Mr Speaker, that is history.
In the negotiation of the Public Sector Management Act last year, changes were made to the framework under which ACTEW operates which ensure that ACTEW is not locked into a whole-of-government bargaining approach, which say that ACTEW can conduct its own negotiations with its workers under enterprise bargaining, and which give ACTEW independence from the commissioner on a whole range of matters under the Public Sector Management Act. Those discussions were had last year. Allowing ACTEW, as a commercial organisation - a commercially-oriented statutory authority - to have that level of independence was negotiated and was incorporated into the Act last year. So, harking back to the last enterprise bargaining round does not do anything to persuade me that things have changed.
The other thing that I wanted to pick up is this issue of flexibility. I have great confidence in the capacity of unions to look after the interests of their members. We, in the Labor Party, believe that unions perform an important role in looking after the interests of their members; that there should be appropriate frameworks for them to be able to do that; and that, within those frameworks, they can do it very well. If, in the spirit of flexibility, unions in ACTEW go to management and say, "We would like to get some amendments to the award to change the structure of classifications" - as is going on at the moment with hydraulics workers, for instance - they can do that. There is nothing to stop them from varying the award. It is a recognised practice. All over Australia, there is reform going on in the structure of classifications, multiskilling and moving to payment based on competency, not on arbitrary classifications. This sort of move towards more flexible structures of employment is happening all over the place, and there is no reason why unions in ACTEW cannot negotiate similar agreements with ACTEW, as has happened in the past. We have seen it in the public sector. We have seen it in the private sector. There is no reason why it cannot happen in ACTEW.