Debates Day 2 - Wednesday 14 February 2007
Parliamentary Record 12
Debates for 10th Assembly 2005 - 2008; 10th Assembly 2005 - 2008; Parliamentary Record; ParliamentNT
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Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory
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Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory
DEBATES Wednesday 14 February 2007 3834 Madam Speaker, a worker who signs an AWA with this provision will miss out all together. The Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act limits the industrial relations powers of the Northern Territory. For this reason, Territory workers are exclusively covered by the federal industrial relations system. Northern Territory workers do not have a choice. The so-called WorkChoices legislation is unfair and this government opposes it. Every day, we learn more about the full effect of it. Territorians deserve a decent safety net of a minimum pay and employment conditions. Without these checks and balances in place, Territory workers face reductions in pay, conditions and protections, and employers face an increasingly conflict-based industrial environment. Long service leave is the latest in the long list of rights to be taken away. The Northern Territory government believes the long service leave entitlement is an important tool for Territory business to attract and retain employees in a very tight labour market. The latest data from Canberras Office of the Employment Advocate shows that 1266 Territory workers signed an AWA in the period October to December 2006. Because the Commonwealth has stopped publishing details of the content of AWAs, we do not know how many of these may have displaced a long service leave entitlement. This issue is a slow burn. Many workers may not realise the situation until they try to claim long service leave. It may have acted as a disincentive for others to work longer term in the Territory. I do not suggest that the vast majority of Territory employers are intent on eroding entitlements such as long service leave. However, it is clear that Canberras laws could encourage this activity by allowing a minority of disreputable employers to take advantage of the legal gap created by the WorkChoices regime. This, in turn, could place pressure on other employers to follow suit in order to compete. The Northern Territory government is committed to fair, harmonious and productive workplace practices in the Northern Territory. I have written to the federal Workplace Relations Minister, Joe Hockey, and I have asked him to reinstate the right of Territory workers to long service leave entitlements. I have done this because this parliament has no legislative power to change the situation. WorkChoices legislation subverts the intention of the Northern Territory parliament to provide a minimum enforceable long service leave entitlement for employees. We have learnt from bitter experience with the nuclear waste dump legislation that Canberra is happy to override our laws whenever they feel like it. On this issue, the Solicitor-General advised The inferior position of the Territorys legislature vis-a-vis the Commonwealth legislature has been the subject of many advices from these Chambers. Once it is concluded that the AWA has the force of Commonwealth law, there is no question of amending Territory law to circumvent the Commonwealth law. It cant be done. I foreshadow that before Question Time, I will give notice of a motion calling on the Howard government to immediately reinstate the right of Territory workers to long service leave. Madam Speaker, I table a copy of the Solicitor-Generals advice. Mrs MILLER (Katherine): Madam Speaker, when I was first elected to this parliament in 2003, I had not experienced the parliamentary procedure of having ministerial reports for five minutes first thing in the morning without any material issued to the opposition to indicate what the reports will be about. It is a way of presenting something that you want to get out in the public domain without giving us any prior warning, which means we cannot have a debate about it. Workplace relations is obviously a very hot subject around Australia and will, this year, be pursued by the Labor government with instructions from Canberra in the lead-up to the election. I thank the minister for his report, but two minutes is certainly not long enough to half address this. I thank him for tabling the Solicitor-Generals advice. Mr WOOD (Nelson): Madam Speaker, I am not necessarily a great fan of anything that is in the WorkChoices arrangements. I support AWAs to some extent, but I have always said that, especially where you are dealing with young people, there should be adequate protection to ensure people do not sign under duress. There are two things that concern me about the ministers report. One is that he is going to give us a fairly complicated legal document to debate without really giving me or other members any time to determine how truthful or otherwise it is ... Ms Martin: It is our Solicitor-General, Gerry. Mr WOOD: Well, sorry. Is it a case of trust the minister? Mr Henderson: No, it is trust the Solicitor-General. Madam SPEAKER: Order!