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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 8 Hansard (7 August) . . Page.. 2441 ..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

I do, however, have a concern about the detail of the bill. I note that the new re-integration committee includes a so-called independent officer. In the past, these types of committees included a representative of the relevant union as the independent person, and I am concerned that in this bill the Liberal Party is applying an agenda of diminishing the role of unions in industrial relations. No explanation is provided of how this independent officer would be selected and how their independence will be ensured. I think a person should still have the option of having a union representative on the committee.

In the bill, the commissioner sets the procedures for choosing the independent officer and also nominates another person for the committee. So, in a sense, the commissioner is involved in the selection of two of the three people on the committee, which could reduce the independence and credibility of the committee.

I recognise that this part of the bill will affect very few people. In fact, I understand that currently only one adviser is directly affected. But there is an important principle here about union involvement and staffing issues which needs to be addressed, and I am aware that the government is proposing similar changes to the Public Sector Management Act. I will therefore be moving an amendment to the bill at the detail stage to address this issue.

MR HUMPHRIES (Chief Minister, Minister for Community Affairs and Treasurer) (11.35), in reply: Mr Speaker, I note the comments of members in this debate. I hope that the legislation is passed because I believe it is important for two reasons. It preserves existing entitlements within a new framework that does not rely upon repealed Commonwealth legislation or the support of officials from other jurisdictions. It also removes an uncertainty about the core employment conditions that apply to staff of members of the Legislation Assembly.

The current employment framework allows members and their staff to agree to the majority of employment arrangements through individual agreements. However, some core employment conditions, such as maternity leave, continue to be derived from the ACT public service. Since there are sometimes agency-level variations to these conditions, it is important to establish an appropriate benchmark. The Public Sector Management Act and management standards represent that benchmark and this bill establishes this link.

I am aware, Mr Speaker, that some member or this place and their staff have agreed to conditions that are almost derived from the ACT public service. For these staff it is even more essential, I believe, that clear and appropriate links are identified in relation to day-to-day conditions such as leave and more important issues such as the right to seek a review of employment-related conditions. I emphasise that without legislation like this we do not have that clarity provided in that relationship.

The bill has been developed in consultation with members, their staff and unions. The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance suggests that the proposed reintegration assessment panel should have a union representative. This has not been reflected in the bill, although provision has been made for the panel to include an independent officer.

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