Chapter 2 - Education, Employment and Workplace Relations portfolio
This chapter summarises areas of interest and concern raised during the
committee's consideration of the Additional Budget Estimates for the 2007-2008
financial year. This section of the report follows the order of proceedings
over both days of hearings and is an indicative, but not exhaustive, list of
The committee heard evidence on 20 February from Senator the Hon. Kim Carr,
as the minister representing the Minister for Education, Employment and
Workplace Relations and from officers of the department. On the 21 February the
committee heard evidence from Senator the Hon. Penny Wong, as the minister
representing the Minister for Education, Employment, along with officers of the
department and related agencies, including:
- Australian Building and Construction Commission;
Australian Fair Pay Commission Secretariat;
- Australian Industrial Registry;
- Workplace Authority; and
Senators present over the two days of hearings were Senator Marshall
(Chair), Senator Watson (Deputy Chair), Senators Abetz, Allison, Bernardi,
Birmingham, Boswell, Boyce, Brandis, Carr, G. Campbell, Fielding, Fifield,
Fisher, Heffernan, Humphries, Kemp, Mason, McEwen, Nash, Nettle, Parry, Patterson,
Ronaldson, Sterle, Wong and Wortley.
Department of Education, Employment and
Senator Mason—as the shadow parliamentary secretary for education—opened
the questioning of the schools groups with background questions on the number
of current high school students. This led to an extensive discussion on the
government's policy document 'A Digital Education Revolution' and the provision
of computers and fibre-to-the-premises broadband for high school students. At
issue was the extent to which Commonwealth expenditure would cover ancillary
costs of computer installation, including maintenance.
Additional questioning by Senator Allison concentrated on the audit
currently being undertaken to determine individual school's requirements for
computers and broadband access and the cooperation arrangements between the
Commonwealth and State government, which was later taken again up by Senator Boyce.
The questioning on the digital education revolution policy concluded with Senator
Nash's questions on the logistics of providing broadband access to all remote
and rural schools.
Senator Bernardi led the questioning on youth issues, one of the newly
acquired portfolio responsibilities. The senator opened with questions on the
composition of the newly announced Australian Youth Forum, concentrating on the
forum's proposed costs and the consultations being undertaken to establish the
forum. Senator Bernardi also explored the differences between the new
Australian Youth Forum and the previous Youth Roundtable. Further questions in
this area focussed on the number of Departmental Liaison Officers in the
Minister for Youth's office as well as the consultations being undertaken on
student support services in universities.
Senator Allison followed with questions on the assessment and
interventions for students with learning disabilities and future
directions/issues for national benchmark testing.
Other issues discussed included the:
- National Asian Languages and Studies in Australian Schools
- Reading Assistance Voucher program;
- National School Chaplaincy program;
- flagpoles in schools;
- Summer Schools for Teachers program;
- trade training centres in schools;
- Investing in Our Schools program;
- National Curriculum Board; and
- the funding system for non-government schools.
Senator Wortley completed the examination of the schools groups with
questions on the Ipswich Careers Links organisation.
Higher Education Group
Senators Mason and Allison began the examination of this group with
questions on funding reductions for the Carrick Institute for Learning and
Teaching in Higher Education.
Further discussion within the higher education group included:
- the Higher Education Endowment Fund;
- the abolition of full-fee paying places at universities;
- the removal of higher education workplace relations requirements
and national governance protocols;
- the review of Voluntary Student Unionism (VSU);
- the current and future status of Australian universities and the
benchmarks they will be required to meet; and
- the fees charged by private education providers eligible for
Training and Education Groups
The examination of this group began on the topic of the Australian
Technical Colleges (ATCs). The Opposition's questions centred on the funding
guarantees from the new government as well as the transitional arrangements in
place after the current funding agreements end in 2009. Further questions on
the ATCs from Senator Wortley concerned the previous government's analysis of
the implementation of the program and the Australian National Audit Office's
report on the ATCs.
Senator Mason concluded with questions on the current government's
policy position regarding apprenticeship incentives for agriculture and
Indigenous Education Group
The first day's hearing concluded with questions from Senators Mason and
Patterson on indigenous education. The questions were focussed on commitments
given by the Prime Minister in his recent apology speech and included issues
such as early childhood centre access for every four-year-old, pay for
preschool teachers in remote communities and training opportunities for
indigenous early childhood teachers.
7 (Efficient and effective labour market assistance)
Outcome 8 (Increased Workforce Participation)
Senator Boyce began with questions on the Work for the Dole and Welfare
to Work programs. The senator was particularly interested the employment
outcomes for Work for The Dole participants and the review that was being
undertaken of the Welfare to Work policy.
There were further questions on the changes to this area of the
portfolio, as two of this portfolio's regularly questioned functions—the CDEP
and Disability Support Pension—now rest with the Families, Housing, Community
Services and Indigenous Affairs portfolio.
Other topics discussed included:
- Green Corps;
- Job Network review;
- Newstart payments;
- Financial Case Management;
- Social Inclusion Board;
very long-term unemployed beneficiary recipients;
- the withholding of welfare payments for non-school attendance in
the Northern Territory;
- STEP program; and
- Personal Support Program.
Outcome 9 (Increased workforce participation)
Questioning commenced with Senator Fisher inquiring into workers'
entitlements from the National Parts Pty Ltd insolvency and the General
Employee Entitlements and Redundancy Scheme (GEERS). Senator Fisher was
particularly interested in possible changes to the scheme under the new
government. The committee was advised that the Deputy Prime Minister currently
has no plans to reform GEERS.
Senator Fielding followed with questions on the proposed National
Employment Standards and their coverage of penalty rates and meal breaks. After
a lengthy discussion on this issue the chair requested that further discussion
would be more appropriately dealt with in the Senate. Senator Fielding
concluded by placing a question on notice with the department to ascertain
which employees may not be covered by awards. Senator Boyce later asked
questions on this topic but focussed on the consultations being undertaken to
develop the draft employment standards.
Senator Fisher requested the appearance of the Remuneration Tribunal in
order to ask questions about the recent government announcement to freeze
parliamentarians' wages for 18 months. This was a rare appearance for the
tribunal secretariat before the committee at estimates. Senator Fisher returned
to the issue of the salary freeze later on in the hearings asking questions
about the government's intentions to actively encourage other sectors to also
institute a wages freeze. Senators Boyce, Parry and Ronaldson also asked
questions on this topic.
In addition, senators asked cursory questions regarding the Workplace
Relations Amendment (Transition to Forward with Fairness) bill currently before
the committee. The chair reminded all senators that although some flexibility
would be granted, any questions specifically on the contents of the bill should
reserved for the inquiry currently being conducted.
Questions followed from Senator Fisher on the government's
implementation process of the Forward with Fairness policy. The committee was
informed that in January the department established a dedicated unit for
implementing a uniform national industrial relations system. Senator Fisher
also inquired into other aspects of the policy including flexibility in awards,
good faith bargaining and the creation of Fair Work Australia.
Final issues raised by the committee for this outcome included:
- Special Employee Entitlements Scheme for Ansett Group Employees;
- International Labor Organisation;
- Textile, Footwear and Clothing; and
- workplace reform secret ballots.
The Workplace Authority
Senator Abetz began the examination of the Workplace Authority with
questions on the transition from the Office of the Employment Advocate.
Senator Fisher followed with questions on the current rate of processing
of AWAs and the possible effect the new legislation, if passed by the
parliament, would have on any unprocessed AWAs.
The Workplace Authority also tabled several answers to questions on
notice from the May 2007 budget estimates hearings. These answers were tabled
at the request of the committee chair and outlined data collected on the
content of AWAs and the fairness test. The director of the Workplace Authority
noted that some of this information had also been tabled in the House of
Representatives by the Deputy Prime Minister.
The Workplace Ombudsman
Senators Abetz and Fisher asked questions on:
- the ombudsman's current targeted campaigns;
- the number of complaints received by the ombudsman;
- prosecutions launched against Tasmanian companies; and
- complaints regarding the signing and/or non-signing of AWAs.
Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC)
Senator Abetz commenced with general questions on the commission's
operations and the number of investigations and prosecutions undertaken since
the last annual report was published. The senator followed with questions on
specific prosecutions and the number undertaken in relation to the issue of
freedom of association. Senator Fisher briefly continued with questions on
industrial action in the construction sector.
The committee chair, Senator Marshall, followed with a lengthy
discussion on the guidelines of the national code and the reported request to
remove the Eureka Flag and other paraphernalia from work sites. Following this,
Senator Marshall asked further questions on:
- Cruse v Multiplex Constructions (VIC) Pty Ltd decision;
- the use of coercive powers under section 52 of the act and the
number of interviewees that had legal representation during an interview;
the measures undertaken to advise people of their right to
- the matter of Broad Construction Services of WA v CFMEU;
- the ABCC's plans to investigate sham subcontracting arrangements
in the building and construction industry;
- the number of referrals to the Workplace Ombudsman of breaches of
awards and under payments of wages;
the capacity of the ABCC to publish non-compliance reports;
- the future budget requirements of the ABCC; and
the process for conducting a coercive interview.
Australian Industrial Registry (AIR)
Senator Fisher asked questions on the proposed award modernisation
process to be undertaken by the AIR over the next two years as well as other
aspects of the Forward with Fairness policy.
Australian Fair Pay Commission Secretariat (AFPC)
Senator Fisher concluded by asking questions on the commission's
outstanding tasks leading into 2010 and what, if any, of its responsibilities
have been transferred elsewhere. The committee was informed that the
Industrial Relations Commission will now have responsibility for the general
review of pay scales for juniors and training wages as part of the wider award
The committee thanks the ministers, the Secretary of the Department of
Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, Ms Lisa Paul, as well as officers
of the various agencies, for their assistance and cooperation throughout the
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