SOUTH AUSTRALIAN EMPLOYMENT TRIBUNAL BILL

Ms CHAPMAN (Bragg—Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (12:52): I rise to speak on the South Australian Employment Tribunal Bill 2014 introduced by the Attorney on 6 August 2014. It is a bill proposing the establishment of a tribunal with jurisdiction to review certain decisions that will arise from the return-to-work scheme, which is a new scheme to be established with the passage of the preceding bill. The government has pointed out that it needs to have a tribunal to deal with what is currently under the Workers Compensation Tribunal, that is, dealing with claims for workers compensation under the Workers Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1986. However, they claim that it is necessary to establish a new return to work scheme, requiring a fresh approach to the resolution of disputes arising under that scheme.

Accordingly, they then promote, under this bill, the establishment of an employment tribunal very similar, they say, to the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act model, which is there to absorb multijurisdictions to deal with administrative decisions and reviews over a period of time; and that is underway. That act passed in 2013 as the umbrella legislation. We currently have before the other place a bill covering the first tranche of jurisdictions being considered to be transferred and to come into operation over forthcoming months.

The government, however, has chosen to establish a separate tribunal for this jurisdiction and not bring it under the same umbrella as the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (SACAT). They say publicly, in response to briefings and, in fact, during our earlier House of Assembly debates on the SACAT Bill, that it is necessary to establish a distinct and separate tribunal, even though it is to be of a similar model to the government's new SACAT proposal, because of the time frame of implementing this jurisdiction from 1 July 2015 with the passage of the new scheme. They say that that would place too much pressure on being able to transfer that jurisdiction over.

Let me say this: firstly, I do not accept that; and, secondly, the SACAT Act (as it now is) is almost word for word exactly the same model as is currently presented. There is a slight difference. For example, there is a hierarchy of presidents, deputy presidents, magistrates and the like, and there is provision for the inclusion of the appointment of assessors under the SACAT Act, who have a function, obviously at the administrative level, under that legislation. Under this bill currently before us, instead of having assessors, we have conciliation officers.

If any member were to take the time to have a look at the SACAT umbrella legislation and compare it with the bill we are currently considering, except for that, this bill before us is almost exactly word for word as per the tribunal. They will have the same model. They will have the same structure. They have the same powers to compel to give evidence, to enter land, to call for expert reports and the like—all exactly the same. It is the new model, the inquisitorial model, which the government promotes. The other aspect is that, as members are probably well aware, our current specialist industrial court and commission, including the Workers Compensation Tribunal, and in fact a couple of other jurisdictions that have been added on in the time that I have been here, covering dust diseases, licensing court jurisdictions and the like all reside in one place just down the road here on North Terrace. Just as the Guardianship Board has discrete premises at the ABC building at Collinswood and the Residential Tenancies Tribunal is set up in Grenfell Street, they have a dedicated facility and they get on with their individual jurisdictions.

I mention those two jurisdictions because they are the current two under consideration by the parliament in another place now in that first tranche of jurisdictions to be dealt with. It is not intended that they have to be uprooted out of the ABC building or out of Grenfell Street, or if we were to move the industrial commission and courts from North Terrace, and move them all into some big massive premises. No, that is not intended at all.

Apart from the advertising of positions, which has already taken place for those jurisdictions—and the contract has been drawn up to reappoint a number of them— and the transfer of employment of the staff of those agencies, frankly, not much is to change come late October, which I think is still the anticipated date, where some or all of those jurisdictions will actually continue under SACAT. What will happen is that they will change the sign out the front of the Residential Tenancies Tribunal building, on the lift and as you go into the courtrooms. They will have a big, new, flash sign: 'South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal'. I put a plea in here: I hope they have the full name. I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Adjourned debate on second reading

Ms CHAPMAN (Bragg—Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (16:07): Geographical location is no impediment to the Workers Compensation Tribunal becoming part of SACAT and remaining in its current premises, where it could continue its operation. Even if the government decided that it wanted to relocate the industrial court and/or the commission and/or the Workers Compensation Tribunal, with or without the dust diseases practitioners and Licensing Court jurisdictions, to move it to its own headquarters, it would be in exactly the same position, whether it is an employment tribunal or part of SACAT. There is no justification on the grounds of geographical or physical location of the premises, and it could do as exactly as is proposed by the government for the purposes of residential tenancies and/or Guardianship Board matters.

There is obviously also the question of cost if it is a separate court, which the Attorney conceded in our SACAT debate in this house was a similar model; in fact, as I say, it is almost exactly the same model. There is obviously some synergy for the purposes of it coming together with their message; that is, we need to have a multifunction jurisdiction administrative court similar to other states, and this could be achieved.

Another aspect, of course, is the question of whether the industrial tribunal's advisory group or any subsidiary—either individual judges or the registrar of the commission and/or court—have been consulted by the government, and I would be keen to hear from the Attorney as to what has taken place in that regard. The industrial tribunal's advisory group actually meets weekly to deal with all sorts of internal management and policy matters, so I would be interested to know what their view is.

I indicate to the Attorney that, between the houses, we on this side of the house are more than happy to meet with current members of the Workers Compensation Tribunal and/or the court, given that the court is to be, at the very least, an appeal court under this proposed bill, and a lot of these personnel overlap. For members' benefit, I place on the record that the Industrial Relations Commission, the Workers Compensation Tribunal, its appeal tribunal, some other tribunals dealing with some other jurisdictions and the Industrial Relations Court of SA are all situated at the Riverside premises.

I move to what I think is really the pressing issue here and that is the personnel who will administer the future workers compensation disputes in South Australia. At present, as I say, substantially these are dealt with by the Workers Compensation Tribunal—

The Hon. J.R. Rau interjecting:

Ms CHAPMAN: I am just going to read a few names. Presently the Industrial Relations Court has its senior judges: His Honour Bill Jennings; and the judges sitting underneath as members of that court are judges McCusker, Parsons, Gilchrist, Hannon and Farrell. It is my understanding, as indicated by the Attorney, Judge Parsons has now retired, so on the electronic website we now have Mr Lieschke—

The Hon. J.R. Rau: He's a magistrate.

Ms CHAPMAN: Magistrate. I will come to him in a minute. I had a more updated list from the annual report but perhaps I will correct that in committee. My understanding is that a number of the industrial magistrates who are still there are Magistrate Michael Ardlie and Stephen Lieschke. There is an auxiliary appointment still of Mr Hardy. In any event, the Industrial Registrar is Mr Correll and there are, separate to that in the Industrial Relations Commission, the president who has a different role, Judge Peter Hannon; Deputy President Judge McCusker; and I think Judge Parsons also left that area but, in any event, similarly they have some commissioners to do support work.

In the tribunal, these judges who sit on the court, from that group we have president for the Workers Compensation Tribunal, Judge Bill Jennings and judges McCusker, Gilchrist, Hannon, Farrell and Lieschke, who is not a judge of the District Court but is, as I understand it, a deputy president of the tribunal. They all have different roles but they all, essentially, have been developed and amended over even some of the years I have been here to deal with—

The Hon. S.W. Key: Not any women?

Ms CHAPMAN: No—the industrial disputes whether they be pay disputes, entitlements, workers compensation, etc. I do not have to go into all the areas that they cover. In a way there is a bit of a multifunction aspect there. There is a separate Workers Compensation Appeal Tribunal at the moment and that comprises the president, Judge Jennings, and the deputy presidents, I think, are Mr McCusker and Mr Gilchrist.

Obviously, they do not appeal their own determinations but they are co-located, and they work pretty well I think, as best as I understand it. I was not familiar with that jurisdiction but we get an annual report from them to the parliament. Whilst a big chunk of their work was removed as a result of the government's decision, ultimately endorsed by the parliament, to transfer industrial disputes in the independent sector across to the Fair Work Commission, which is the federal structure, we still deal with issues obviously at a state government and local government level and that is quite considerable.

The question is: what is going to happen to those? As I indicated with SACAT, positions in a traditional sense were advertised. Presumably, there was some process of assessment of them for consideration. As we know, His Honour Judge Greg Parker, Supreme Court judge, took the senior position as president, Judge Cole from the District Court is deputy, and a registrar has been appointed, etc.

The staff from a number of proposed areas were assured in the transfer that they would be given an opportunity to continue employment in the new SACAT from whatever jurisdiction they came. Those who had a role in the determinations, whether they were bond disputes and rental payments in the tribunal, or for those who are working in administration and mental health areas and the Guardianship Board, largely had an opportunity to apply for positions (there was no automatic transfer), and then selection took place. The head of the Guardianship Board is not quite in the same category because, of course, we have a new president and deputy president.

What will happen to these people, these judges, many of whom are District Court judges as well as industrial court judges (they have significant status) if they do not have their own independent structure and they are brought into SACAT? I suspect there will be some issues about what other work they will be given, given their tenure arrangements are different to those who will be employed.

If we are really standing here considering establishing a new tribunal, separate from SACAT, to absorb this industrial relations responsibility, including workers compensation disputes, into a new structure so that we can give existing judges a job or a continued role, then I think we will have many more questions to ask about how that is going to operate.

It should have been disclosed by the Attorney during the course of these debates that obviously there is a connection between Mr Lieschke and the Premier. During their working life in the legal firm from which they come, Mr Lieschke was a former partner of the Premier. I make no disparaging remark about that per se. There is no reason that Mr Lieschke cannot seek the opportunity to achieve a judicial office, like anyone else, but I frankly think that it should have been disclosed during the course of the second reading contribution. It may be why, when I woke up one day—

The Hon. J.R. Rau interjecting:

Ms CHAPMAN: It may be that we will have a completely independent structure— which, I suggest, is unnecessary and a costly addition—which could be accommodated with the SACAT tribunal in situ, with the same model and personnel, especially if they are just going to be transferred and given some other tenure arrangement. There is absolutely no reason that these people would not be experienced enough in the work they are already doing to be able to continue in that role, albeit a slightly different model of application as of 1 July 2015. I do raise reservations about that.

I conclude by saying that, whatever the model, wherever it is, whatever they are going to call it, I ask the government to make sure about one thing that I think is concerning. We as members of parliament receive letters about people who feel they have been badly done by by a legal process. That is inevitable; of course we all get those. In this area, I have to say, most often the concern is not that they might have missed out on an entitlement they think they should have under workers compensation, because largely they are massaged through it and generally the agencies do quite a good job.

What they have a problem with—and this ought to be noted by the government—is the delay in respect of payments. I have had case after case, but a more recent case concerns settlement arrangements for a police officer who, from 2005, with posttraumatic stress disorder matters, went through the process of receiving fortnightly payments and making an application for redemption arrangements, with psychiatrist reports pulled in and all the usual processes. Sure, the negotiations took some time, but from the time the Crown Solicitor received, on behalf of the government, the terms of settlement between the parties in March this year, finally this week the applicant has received their money.

I could not believe, when I came into this place, how the delay in respect of payment of moneys by government agencies to other government agencies and/or to civilians (the latter being more pressing) occurs. I find it unconscionable, the delays we have had from payments from the Public Trustee and other agencies like that when there is no apparent justification. I find it appalling. The government needs to get the message that even though it is in charge of billions of dollars, people rely on getting those moneys in a timely manner. I just ask that, whatever structure they have, they give some attention to making sure that once the deal is struck and the payment is going to be made they do not drag the chain and leave somebody waiting for their money six months after the agreement.