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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 10 Hansard (29 August) . . Page.. 3665 ..

Bill, as amended, agreed to.

Sitting suspended from 6.01 pm to 7.30 pm

Parental Leave (Private Sector Employees) Amendment Bill 2001

Debate resumed from 8 August 2001, on motion by Mr Berry:

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

MR SMYTH (Minister for Urban Services, Minister for Business, Tourism and the Arts and Minister for Police and Emergency Services) (7.33): Mr Speaker, this is a very important issue and the bill complements the government's present policies and attitudes in relation to family friendly and life balance matters. But we do have some concerns about the speed at which this legislation has been brought on and the lack of consultation that has taken place. So it will be the government's intention this evening to support the bill at the in-principle stage and then adjourn further consideration so that appropriate consultation can take place.

Mr Speaker, at present casual employees are specifically excluded from the parental leave provisions in the Workplace Relations Act and most federal awards. The government will be taking action to ensure that the new parental leave test case standard, as provided for in the bill, will be extended to the public sector. Subject to further analysis and policy development, this will be by way of either an award simplification and rationalisation program or an amendment to the public sector management standard.

We believe that the new entitlements for casual employees, the eligibility for which is defined in the legislation, will have a negligible cost impact. But the government believes that it is an important matter and it may have a dramatic impact on ACT business. In fairness to ACT business, in our view an appropriate way forward is for the suggested changes to be progressed by an award variation. The Chamber of Commerce has raised this concern. I think members would have seen documentation in which the chamber suggests that this is not a matter for the ACT Assembly and that it should be left to the tribunals or the judiciary to make sure that these changes are contained in awards. We would be in agreement with that.

In view of inability of members to respond appropriately and intelligently because of the haste with which this legislation has been brought on, we believe that we should agree to the bill in principle and then adjourn debate so that further consultations can take place.

MR BERRY (7.35), in reply: Mr Speaker, nothing surprises me about Mr Smyth when it comes to employee benefits. In 1992 I introduced the Parental Leave (Private Sector Employees) Bill, which took up a 1990 decision of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission covering maternity leave, paternity leave and adoption leave. At that time I said:

This bill applies the national standard for parental leave to those workers in our private sector who are not covered by awards, or who are covered by awards which make no provision for parental leave and do not preclude such an entitlement.

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