Zali Steggall speaks on support of Fair Work Bill

2 December 2022

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I thank the Minister for Industrial Relations for the process that has emerged in relation to this bill and the amendments in relation to what has been achieved in the other place. Since the bill was first presented to this place - and I was quite vocal about the concerns I have as the rushed nature of aspects of it, and I do remain incredibly concerned that there will be unintended consequences about this bill in relation to small business, and I'll get to that in a minute. With the benefit of a couple more weeks, ironically for such drastic legislation, I've had the opportunity to get some feedback from my community, which ultimately is the most important thing for me.

There's a lot of partisan approaches that happen in this place, and you just have to listen to the rhetoric to see the polarisation around these issues. If my feedback is anything to everyone here, it's communities don't want the ideology. They want to cut through the spin, cut through the rhetoric of Labor versus coalition, and they actually want to know whether this is going to work. Is sensible? Is it going to work for business as well as employees? So the feedback I've -- Is it sensible? The feedback I've received is pretty much evenly split between those supporting the bill and the principles and the broad hope that it will increase wages. And then there is also... (INTERJECTIONS) A bit of respect, please. Then, on the other hand, I've had feedback from the community supporting amendments, supporting that it be improved, concerned about the unintended impact. So to that end, when I look at the amendments that have come back from the other place and how they relate, I think it's important for those in this place to actually appreciate the nature of all the amendments.

So for me, it was about amending the definition of 'small business'. And whilst it hasn't moved to where I think it should have in terms of 50, I do acknowledge that government has amended that 'small business' is now to 20, excluding seasonal workers and irregular casuals. There are safeguards for businesses with fewer than 50 employees wanting to exit a multi-employer agreement. On balance, while that is still concerning for small businesses, and I have questions for the Minister for Small Business that I'll get to in a minute, I do appreciate that that is a shift and a small improvement. I also moved an amendment in relation to 1-year grace period after the expiry of a single business EBA. That has been agreed to be amended to nine months. I appreciate that movement. The obligation to consider the relative size and scope of employers' enterprises and the scope to which they collaborate collaboratively rather than competitively is part of the commission, and there is a new comparability threshold into the common interest test.

I think that's an important test and amendment that has been agreed to. I did advocate for updated awards to accelerate increases for lowest-paider because I think a lot of claims have been made about the effect of this bill, and I'm concerned it won't directly deliver increased wages in the way that an award can in a much faster way. And so I appreciate the commitment from the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations to review the modern awards. I know my colleague the member for Wentworth moved it for the review after 12 months after the passage of the bill, and there's been an undertaking for that be no later than two years after passage of this bill. In relation to that, I would ask for the Minister for Small Business to regularly report back to this House what engagement she undertakes with small business in how the provisions of this bill are impacting small businesses.

I remain incredibly concerned, in particular in relation to areas of childcare - they are not operating with major profit margins and, whilst I absolutely support that that sector see wage increases, I have concerns of who will ultimately pay for it. And if that ends up being families and parents, then we have not progressed the issue of affordable childcare. So I appreciate that, in that sector, it may well be that the government table has a third party at the negotiations and, I ask that there be a regular report that it is the government meeting those increased costs and not Australian families. In relation to - there was also additional amendments moved by the member for Mackellar that I very much supported as well in relation in particular to there being a veto right to an agreement between unions by allowing the Fair Work Commission to put to a vote of employees an agreement reached. I appreciate that that has been changed as well.

So, on balance, I have grave concerns and I will continue to liaise with the government about them. But I will hear my community and support the bill.