Tuesday 02 December, 2014

Mr TARZIA (Hartley) (11:28): I have a hypothetical question to start off my submission today: what does one have to do to get the sack under this government? I am happy to support the second reading of the bill in this house, but we on this side of the chamber will reserve our position on possible amendments and the third reading until after the bill is reintroduced in February next year.

In regard to Stephen Brennan, it is fair to say that the Office of the Employee Ombudsman has been mired in disgrace in recent times. The office was supposed to protect workers who were not members of unions in the private sector. What did the Labor Party do? It appointed a former union boss, Stephen Brennan, to run this particular office, and he was appointed not only once but twice by the government—once in 2006 and then in 2012.

The Labor Party, through its support of the commonwealth's Fair Work Act and Mr Brennan's alleged corruption, has certainly undermined the public's faith in the role of this ombudsman. It was supposed to be such an important role and do fundamental work for the transparency of this area.

What has Mr Brennan done? He has been charged with not one or two but 67 counts of fraud-related charges—67—and received a salary of some $140,000 or so while in that role, and I believe he is still being paid. Taxpayers' money is being frittered away. It is being frittered away on Mr Brennan while he faces criminal charges.

It is not as if he is unwell or otherwise unable to perform his duties as a public official: he is simply, it is fair to say, a Labor stooge looked after by his Labor mates. Mr Rau has asked Mr Brennan to consider resignation, but I understand that as he has not been convicted of these offences there has been a refusal to sack him, despite 67 counts.

I note here that a number of stakeholder groups have backed the bill, including the Law Society. In relation to the composition of the full commission, the Law Society actually supports the proposed amendments, as it says it will assist in providing access to justice for litigants as greater flexibility will be available to the president of the commission to allow for the full commission to be more easily constituted.

In relation to the Industrial Relations Commission, the bill allows the government not to reappoint another commissioner to the commission after the retirement of David Steel this month. It is crucial that the composition of the new IRC has a commissioner from an employer group in order to provide balance to the IRC; it is important that balance is provided for. I note that section 39 has been vehemently opposed by groups like Business SA. I understand that the president of the IR Commission has close connections to the Labor Party, and I understand from what I am told that Karen Hannon was the Labor candidate for Adelaide in 1998.

The SPEAKER: You are correct.

Mr TARZIA: Thank you, sir. Sometimes, sir. The bill seeks to abolish the Office of the Employee Ombudsman and also to make changes to the requirements for constitution of the full commission to the IR Commission. The function of the ombudsman was, as I was referring to, originally designed for the former industrial relations system, where the state still had responsibility over the private sector. The intent was for that ombudsman to protect the interests of those workers in the private sector who were not members of unions. It is important that we protect workers who are not part of unions, as well as those who are.

Since the transfer of responsibility for the private sector to the national industrial relations system, the Employee Ombudsman has only had responsibility for the public sector and, I believe, local government. The budgeted cost for the Office of the Employee Ombudsman in 2014-15 was some $507,000, for 5.3 full-time employees. At this stage, several stakeholders have responded in relation to consultation on this bill, and I note that Business SA, WIA, AHA, MTA and the MBA stakeholders support the abolition of the position currently.

The current Industrial Relations Commission is comprised of the president, two deputy presidents and two commissioners. I am told that one of the two commissioners, David Steel, is retiring in December 2014. I commend the bill to the house, but I do note that we will on this side of the chamber reserve our position on possible amendments and the third reading until after the bill is reintroduced in February next year.