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Amendments: Mutual Recognition Amendment Bill 2021

Estimates & Committees
Mehreen Faruqi 12 May 2021

Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (12:14): Minister, what is being done to address the concerns of electricians that this bill will undermine the work health and safety of electrical workers?

Senator CASH (Western Australia—Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (12:15): At all times, the relevant law of the state or the Northern Territory must be obeyed. If a state government has an issue with electricians, under the scheme it is actually able to exempt them itself.

Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (12:15): As I said in my speech on the second reading, the teachers are really concerned about the implications of this legislation, which is being rushed through. Teachers have raised concerns about the different curriculums in each state. What is being done to ensure that teachers are aware of the various curriculum requirements of each state and are being supported to teach them when they're teaching in a state they are not registered in?

Senator CASH (Western Australia—Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (12:15): Under mutual recognition, a teacher can teach in another state, but, again—and I know you will be moving an amendment in relation to teachers—my understanding is that, based on the feedback, teachers were supportive of this bill. But, again, under the bill you are able, as an individual state, to exempt a category of industry.

Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (12:16): Minister, have you read the submission from the Australian Education Union?

Senator CASH (Western Australia—Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (12:16): The bill received broad support. There will always be those who don't necessarily support a bill. But, as I said, the bill itself has received broad support. But, in any event, to go more specifically to the issue that you have put on the table: if a state believes that teachers should be exempt, it is able to exempt them.

Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (12:16): In the AEU submission, the teachers have raised concerns that this bill will effectively cut funding for state teacher registration bodies because they will have to divert funds to the burdensome parallel registration obligations under this bill. Has the government analysed the cost this bill will bring for teacher registration boards?

Senator CASH (Western Australia—Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (12:17): I will again go to the comments that I made in my summing-up speech. This bill has been agreed to by national cabinet, the Council on Federal Financial Relations and officials from the Commonwealth, state and territory governments. As a result of that agreement, this bill has been brought forward.

Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (12:17): That doesn't answer my question. Has the government analysed the cost this bill will bring for teacher registration boards?

Senator CASH (Western Australia—Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (12:18): I am advised that the Commonwealth government has not done that, as we do not have that level of detail from the states. But, again, what I would say is that the bill is the culmination of efforts by national cabinet, the Council of Federal Financial Relations and officials from the Commonwealth, states and territories, and, as a result of that work, this scheme has been agreed to, and they have agreed that it will be implemented as of 1 July this year.

Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (12:18): Minister, could you explain the effect of the government's amendments that were circulated just half an hour before this bill came on for debate?

Senator CASH (Western Australia—Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (12:18): Senator Faruqi, I assume that you are referring to the amendments that I referred to in my summing-up speech, when I said that the government is moving minor and technical amendments to the bill that will ensure that the scheme will be implemented as intended. We are simplifying the exemption provisions to provide greater certainty to workers, business and regulators and to ensure a smooth transition. Removing the word 'particular' from the criteria for a five-year exemption will clarify that conditions causing a significant risk do not have to be unique to the state declaring a registration to be exempt.

Businesses will also have greater clarity during the transition period, with state ministers no longer required to renew a temporary exemption declaration six months into the rollout. The government is also proposing technical updates to definitions in the bill, to ensure consistency with state legislation relating to the Mutual Recognition Act 1992 and to allow time for the legislative processes to be completed. The government is updating the commencement date to be a day fixed by proclamation. As I said to you, though, they are minor and technical amendments.

Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (12:20): Minister, you're giving up on your own July 2021 deadline through these amendments—that's what I understand. When does the government anticipate the states will implement this?

Senator CASH (Western Australia—Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (12:20): I am instructed, from 1 July this year.

Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (12:20): Minister, what is being done to address the concerns of construction workers that this bill will undermine their work health and safety? I understand that you said that state laws apply, but their concern is that this bill actually undermines that.

Senator CASH (Western Australia—Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (12:21): Senator Faruqi, thank you for that acknowledgement of my previous answer in terms of state safety laws applying, and, should a particular state wish to exempt, in this case, construction workers, as you have put before the Senate, it is able to do so. But I also do have some additional information that I can provide to you. Automatic mutual recognition builds on and improves the existing mutual recognition arrangements by maintaining existing protections in place nationally and in each jurisdiction. Workers must hold a substantive registration in their home state. Workers must comply with the laws of the state they are working in and satisfy financial public protection requirements. Workers will face oversight and disciplinary action consistent with the locally licensed workers, which could include financial penalties and licence suspension or cancellation. Under automatic mutual recognition, a second state can also require workers to first notify the regulator that they intend to work in its particular state. This protection enables regulators to communicate expectations for interstate workers where needed. Where there remains a significant risk, state ministers—and I think we've already discussed this—can exempt specific registrations for a renewable period of up to five years from automatic mutual recognition.

This targeted approach ensures the economic benefits of automatic mutual recognition flow to workers, businesses and consumers, but, at the same time, addresses significant risks where they arise, and in this case you put before the Senate—construction workers. Automatic mutual recognition will also assist regulators to quickly share information with regulators in other jurisdictions, including where they actually take disciplinary action against licensed workers.

In terms of the funding, the Australian government have now announced $11 million over three years in the recent budget to support the initial implementation of the scheme. This includes $7.5 million in funding that is being provided through the Business Research and Innovation Initiative, to find solutions to information-sharing challenges faced by the states and territories. This fills a gap in the current arrangements with regulators so they'll be better able to target and manage their compliance and enforcement activities, focusing on high-risk occupations and activities. Businesses and consumers will benefit, as noncompliant workers will not be able to access automatic mutual recognition and, therefore, will not be able to work in another state. I hope that information assists you.

Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (12:24): Minister, just coming back to teachers for a couple of more questions: because automatic registration isn't listed on a typical register, this bill creates a situation where individual principals and school administrators will have to manually investigate whether there are any conditions or any red flags on a prospective hire's registration in another jurisdiction. I'm just wondering if that seems reasonable to you.

Senator CASH (Western Australia—Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (12:25): Senator Faruqi, I am instructed that local laws apply, so if there is, for example, a public teacher registration, another teacher would need to register on that.

Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (12:27): by leave—I move Greens amendments (1) and (2) on revised sheet 1285 together:

(1) Schedule 1, item 87, page 17 (line 30), omit "This Part", substitute "Subject to subsection (4), this Part".

(2) Schedule 1, item 87, page 18 (after line 5), at the end of section 42C, add:

Exclusions

(4) This Part does not apply to:

(a) a teaching activity; or

(b) a building, maintenance or construction industry activity; or

(c) an electrical occupation activity.

Note: A consequence of this Part not applying is that there is no automatic deemed registration under section 42D.

(5) In this section:

building, maintenance or construction industry activity means building, maintenance or construction work authorised to be carried on under an occupation that requires registration under State building, maintenance or construction licencing legislation.

electrical occupation activity means electrical work authorised to be carried on under an occupation that requires registration or licensing under State legislation.

teaching activity means teaching work authorised to be carried on under an occupation that requires registration under State legislation.

Senator FARRELL (South Australia) (12:28): I indicate the opposition supports the amendments moved by the Greens.

Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (12:28): I want to make a quick comment just to say again that the rushed nature of this bill is pretty despicable. There was absolutely no need to do that, but we have revised our amendments, given the very short period of time, to make sure that teachers as well as workers who are engaged in building, maintenance or construction industry activity or in electrical occupation activity are actually excluded from the operation of the mutual recognition processes established in the bill. This reflects workers' and unions' concerns with their inclusion in this government's slapdash scheme.

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