Page 3441 - Week 11 - Wednesday, 21 September 2005

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In contrast to other misleading union claims, unions will still have the right to negotiate collective agreements. Union right of entry to workplaces will continue to exist; the industrial relations commission will continue to play a role in the resolution of industrial disputes in the determination of awards; and we will see simpler minimum standards. For the first time ever under the federal system, a common set of minimum terms and conditions will apply to all employees. Unlike the current system, which consists of thousands of different awards, all of which must be updated to reflect any safety net wage rise—a process which takes months and sometimes years—a single minimum wage system will cover all employees.

If anyone has worked in an industrial relations environment—and several of us in this chamber have—you would know the incapacity of ordinary employees and employers to fathom their way through the myriad rules that make up the award system. It is not a system with any modernity in it, it is not a system which people can cope well with. The improvements and the simplification of the industrial system will be welcomed by employees and employers alike and will lead to an improvement in our economic performance.

The other thing is simplicity and accessibility. In contrast to the old system, which was characterised by awards of several hundred pages, it will be possible to enter into rather straightforward agreements that do not require expert advice to understand. I know that is bad news for employer associations and employee organisations that have not really done their homework. But for those that are effective and efficient and look after their own members, there will be a future, as there will be for unions that take the task seriously. We will see simplification. This will make it easier to ensure compliance, enforcement and understanding by all parties concerned.

The awards will also be further simplified from the current 20 allowable matters to 16. The four matters being removed are already protected in other legislation, such as long service leave, superannuation, jury service and notice of termination. Conditions contained in current awards can also be included in agreements. As for the barb that this is at the behest of the Business Council of Australia, the Business Council of Australia had far more radical proposals on the table. I have certainly never benefited from their financial largesse, and I am very doubtful that anyone in the Liberal Party has.

The fact is that the business council are a lobby group with their own economic agenda. They write to me, and possibly other members, regularly. Their views were considered along with all the others. I would urge my colleagues opposite, instead of ignoring the system and standing outside the tent, to get involved in the process and make contributions to the minister, who is more than happy to listen to constructive suggestions. He invited Mr Hargreaves, when he was wearing the industrial relations hat, to take that up. If he had had the capacity to make that decision himself, he probably would have been able to do it.

AWAs have been subject to a great amount of debate. The secret individual contracts that the ALP disparage—and I use their term—have, in fact, been of huge benefit to workers. Workers on AWAs currently earn, on average, 13 per cent more than those on collective agreements and 100 per cent more than those on awards, the ALP’s preferred alternative. Almost 750,000 AWAs have been entered into since 1997. This probably

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