Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 13 Hansard (7 December) . . Page.. 3811 ..
MR OSBORNE (11.48): Mr Speaker, I present Report No. 6 of the Standing Committee on Justice and Community Safety, entitled "The Agents Bill 1998", including a dissenting report, together with a copy of the extracts of the minutes of proceedings. I move:
That the report be noted.
Mr Speaker, members will be aware that in June this year Mr Berry's amendment to the Agents Act 1968 was referred to the Justice and Community Safety Committee for consideration. The Agents Act regulates various categories of agents, such as real estate, stock and station, travel and business agents. It does so through an Agents Board and a Registrar, licences, inspectors, required qualifications, codes of practice and complaint procedures. Mr Berry's legislation adds employment agents to this list of agent-related industries.
The majority of the committee, after considering the arguments put forward by Mr Berry, found them convincing. There is now an identified need for regulation of this industry, partly due to changes introduced by the Howard Commonwealth Government. These changes include job cuts to the Commonwealth Public Service, leading to significant numbers of unemployed people looking for jobs in the ACT. Further changes require the unemployed to access private employment agents rather than, as under the old system, register with the CES. These changes mean that the market in which employment agents operate has changed significantly over the past few years.
Mr Berry highlighted the lack of regulation in the ACT to ensure the unemployed are not exploited. He stated the that, while employment agents on the whole would be good operators who would care about their clients, this is an area ripe for exploitation; it is an area where people who are at their weakest point can be exploited by unscrupulous operators. Mr Berry made the point that the types of workers who might be affected by this legislation include aged blue-collar workers, women seeking to re-enter the work force after some years of absence to raise children, part-time workers, students, and new migrants who are barred from receiving social security benefits for their first two years in Australia.
I would like to point out that the committee did not receive specific complaints about the behaviour of employment agents in the ACT. However, we did hear anecdotal evidence of complaints about the behaviour of employment agents across Australia. On balance, the majority of the committee became convinced of the need for this type of legislation and have recommended accordingly.
It is of note that the government member on the committee, Mr Hird, has dissented from all of the committee's recommendations. The Government made it clear during the inquiry that they would not support Mr Berry's Bill in any form, and I am sure that that is why Mr Hird will shortly rise to his feet and explain his reasoning.