Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2011 Week 10 Hansard (Thursday, 22 September 2011) . . Page.. 4307 ..
asked the attorney how it is that compelling a court not to give reasons, other than in the public interest, for maintaining the confidentiality of information is incompatible with the essential functions of a court.
The attorney responded to these matters, explaining the background and providing case law precedents. Importantly, the attorney intends to table a revised explanatory statement. I thank him for making an advance copy available. The revised explanatory statement goes to some length to address the extent to which the bill engages the Human Rights Act. I wonder why the original statement did not do that. But further, it is regrettable that the scrutiny of bills committee has not had the opportunity to consider the revised explanatory statement prior to debate today.
As mentioned earlier, I note that the bill preserves the existing requirement that an applicant obtain information about workplace rights and responsibilities from an employee organisation. We objected to that provision when it was introduced last year. Our objection to this provision continues.
There are two issues of concern here, and they are the same as we expressed last year.
Firstly, this requirement amounts to compulsory unionism. The questions are quite simple. What union would give workplace information to a non-member? Is it not the case that an applicant employee seeking information from a union is effectively a captive audience for the union? What is to stop the union from applying some encouragement to the captive audience—the applicant employee—also to sign up as a member either before or at the same time as providing the workplace information? I noted last year that the scrutiny of bills committee had concerns about this aspect. The committee asked whether this requirement for a person to obtain information from a union amounted to a breach of privacy and whether it amounted to “arbitrary interference” by the government. The attorney failed to address those concerns last year and he failed to address them in this bill.
Secondly, the commonwealth’s Fair Work Act 2009 already requires employers to provide employees with a fair work statement outlining their rights and obligations. Section 124 of that act requires employers to give new employees a fair work information statement that is prepared by the Fair Work Ombudsman and allows further information to be prescribed by regulation. The statement prepared by the ombudsman includes a wide range of information, which I outlined in detail last year so I will not repeat it here today. Suffice it to say that this information largely duplicates the information that would be required to be given by the union under this bill.
I note that the attorney is required to review the operation of this aspect of the legislation after its first year of operation and report to the Assembly in 2013. With this timetable in place, the Canberra Liberals will allow this provision to stand, but ACT Labor now should consider itself on notice. Should it be in government at that time, which I certainly doubt, the Canberra Liberals will be scrutinising that review and the associated report very closely indeed.