Industrial Relations (Fair Work Act Harmonisation No. 2) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill

Hon. GW ELMES (Noosa—LNP) (Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Multicultural Affairs and Minister Assisting the Premier) (3.32 pm): I was fortunate in a sense, I suppose, to be in the House to hear the honourable the Leader of the Opposition—

Mr Crandon: No, that was unfortunate

Mr ELMES: Well, I said I was fortunate after a fact. Once again we heard from the Leader of the Opposition a diatribe, which members of the Labor opposition continue to go on with, in terms of some of the macabre measures the government seems to have implemented when it comes to the Public Service. Again this morning a question was directed to the Premier with regard to the amount by which the Public Service has been reduced since the LNP came to power.

I really cannot let this opportunity pass me by. The Leader of the Opposition also said during her contribution that she was looking forward to going outside, probably in an hour and a half or two hours time, and standing in front of her union mates, the union bosses and the people who will ensure her preselection to explain to them all that we are bad and they are good. Well, prior to the election taking place the then Labor government had its own plan. That plan would have seen a reduction in the Queensland Public Service of a total of 41,753 people. That included around 13,800 front-line workers. Where do I get that information from? It comes from the Public Service Commission— department by department. It is all there. This was their plan—not ours; theirs—yet they have the gall to come into this place and seriously criticise the government about the responsible measures that it has taken in order to get the books of Queensland back into some sort of order so that this state can be the great success and financial powerhouse it used to be.

I find it a pity that what drives members opposite is not in the best interests of Queensland or Queenslanders. I also find it a pity that their main interest is not in making our workplace arrangements more efficient or responsive so that the state can be more productive. I also find it a pity that their industrial relations agenda is based on the interests of a few union boss mates.

The bill we have before us today reforms the industrial relations framework, particularly the Industrial Relations Act 1999 for Queensland. The bill responds to the recommendations of the Queensland Commission of Audit and the Blueprint for Better Healthcare in Queensland. I want to use my time today to reflect on how this bill will assist in the Newman government’s objective to make Queensland’s Public Service the best in Australia. That is what it is going to be: the best in Australia.

The Queensland government is committed to the goal of being the best Public Service in the nation, delivering value for money and achieving better outcomes for the public. That requires us to improve the way our Public Service is organised and the way our Public Service is managed. The framework set out in the bill is essential to providing for a modern, flexible and responsive industrial relations framework—a framework that drives improved service delivery, encourages the quick resolution of wages negotiations, avoids the public being caught up in prolonged disputes that disrupt the delivery of important public services and provides a safety net for employees. 

A decision handed down in the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission last week for ambulance officers highlights the importance of this bill. The commission granted ambulance officers a 2.2 per cent pay rise—the same amount as offered by the government but rejected by the union in August last year. Had the provisions of this bill been in place then, the arbitration process could have commenced much earlier and ambulance officers would have had their pay rise much sooner.

Another example is the core Public Service agreement that applies to approximately 50,000 employees of Queensland government entities. Negotiations commenced in approximately May last year. Had the provisions of this bill applied to those negotiations, employees covered by the core agreement would almost certainly have been guaranteed a pay rise no later than Christmas last year. Under current legislation, those 50,000 public servants could have to wait until at least the second half of next year before they get a pay rise through the arbitration process.

So far we have been opposed at every stage by the Together union, the people supposedly standing up for workers. The state government has been trying to give core public servants a fair and reasonable pay rise, but it is being blocked by Alex Scott, who will be outside saying that he is the worker’s friend, and the rest of his Together union mates. Two-thirds of core public servants are not even members of Together union, but they have been denied a say so far in what pay rise they should get and how quickly they should get it. Unfortunately for all of those hardworking public servants, the core negotiating process is outside the scope of this bill because it is already in train. The only hope for a resolution in the near future is for the Together union to see reason and return to the negotiating table to settle the core agreement in line with the decision to grant ambulance staff a 2.2 per cent pay increase.

The bill also introduces comprehensive legislated minimum employment standards, known as the Queensland Employment Standards, QES. The QES will provide a safety net of minimum employment conditions for workers, and consistency and certainty for employers operating in the Queensland industrial relations jurisdiction. The QES are based upon the existing state and federal standards and give a solid foundation similar to the National Employment Standards found in the Fair Work Act. The bill also establishes a process to modernise, rationalise and reduce the 84 current state and local government awards operating in Queensland. More than 50 of those awards apply specifically to the Queensland public sector.

The IR framework streamlines bargaining arrangements and specified time frames for agreement making and assisted conciliation and arbitration. No longer will we have protracted bargaining, conciliation and arbitration processes which last for more than a year. All of this means pay increases sooner for employees and more certainty for managers and their staff. The IR framework also allows for highly paid senior staff whose remuneration is above $129,300 to be employed under individual employment contracts. The income threshold ensures that lower paid workers will continue to be part of the award coverage system and bargain collectively. But for these high-income earners the bill provides for them to move to individual contracts, recognising the key skills that these high-value employees bring. The government’s goal is to reform and renew the Queensland public sector to be, as I said, the best Public Service in Australia.

The people of Queensland are entitled to a Public Service which provides the services they need, and the Public Service has the responsibility to deliver those services as efficiently and in the most professional manner possible. That is what they are getting from this government. This bill should be welcomed by all Queensland public servants because it means that they have the best of both worlds. This bill provides an opportunity for unions to get in and negotiate in good faith on behalf of their members to secure a timely wage outcome. However, they have the security that, if union leaders are being obstinate in delaying negotiations, there is a process to ensure that the matter goes to the independent umpire for arbitration within guaranteed time lines. This government is interested in the welfare of all Public Service employees, not just those who are union members. I commend the bill to the House.