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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2006 Week 3 Hansard (28 March) . . Page.. 676..


MS GALLAGHER (continuing):

Work Choices changes are "rather like going back to the old Soviet system of command and control, where every economic decision has to go back to some central authority and get ticked off".

Cheerleaders for the Howard government like Mr Evans have been forced to these admissions because industrial experts and lawyers are in universal agreement: it is impossible to quickly and easily make sense of these changes. The chief executive of the Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia has rightly questioned how small businesses will be able to digest these changes when they were only given a week before the release of the regulations and the commencement of the changes. These changes create a raft of new obligations for business, which include making sense of the rationalisation of awards.

Work Choices practically destroys Australia's unique system of awards under which employers and employees could easily determine minimum employee entitlements by reference to a single document. The folly of the Howard government's ideological attack on this system is evidenced by the mess the award review task force finds itself in in attempting to shoehorn the previously well-established and fluid award system into the stagnant "fair pay and conditions standard"created by Work Choices. The discussion paper that accompanied the formation of the task force recognised that any decision made by the task force on how best to deal with this rationalisation is fraught with dangers. Recognising the challenges it faces, Mr Andrews has pushed out its deadline for its interim report until the end of the month. I do not think this will be the last time the timetable needs to be changed back for the work of this task force.

I turn to payslips. The new rules on keeping and drafting a payslip are such that some employers will need to consider completely revising their payroll systems to comply with the legislation. Further, all records must now be retained for a period of seven years.

On interpretation, the boom in productivity and strong growth in the Australian economy, coupled with low unemployment, were due in part to our settled and well-understood industrial relations system. Until the myriad court challenges and precedents under Work Choices are set, employees and employers alike will be in the dark as to what large sections of this legislation actually mean. Such confusion for business will clearly have an impact on the Australian economy. Federal Treasury admitted as much in a briefing note to the Treasurer last year, which suggested productivity increases would be smaller under the Work Choices changes.

In short, these changes are an ill-thought-through, ideologically driven quagmire which will choke the Australian economy as employers and employees alike grapple to come to terms with them.

MR GENTLEMAN: I have a supplementary question, Mr Speaker. Minister, are you aware of whether this legislation has already had an impact on industrial negotiations?

MS GALLAGHER: I again thank Mr Gentleman for that question and, unfortunately, we have to say already that the answer is yes. Yesterday, the Sydney Morning Herald reported how staff in two Salvation Army aged care homes in Canberra will be amongst the first to feel the brunt of these changes. These nurses have been negotiating with the Salvation Army since their EBA expired a year ago. The parties had reached apparent


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