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Speech: South Australian Employment Tribunal

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: I rise on behalf of the Greens to speak in support of the Statutes Amendment (South Australian Employment Tribunal) Bill. SAET is the independent umpire for workplace disputes. Timely court proceedings are critically important where maintaining workplace relationships and contracts is in question.

With each case, SAET aims to reach a fair and just outcome as quickly as possible, either through agreement at a conference, conciliation or mediation, or by a decision at a hearing, acting with little formality and technicality to minimise costs to parties involved. It is essential that the tribunal remains an efficient and effective mechanism for resolving and determining such workplace disputes in our state.

Between 5,500 and 6,000 applications are lodged with the tribunal each year, surpassing the total number of originating civil proceedings lodged in the Supreme Court and District Court combined. SAET is dealing with one of the largest case loads in the state while also maintaining resolution time frames faster than other civil jurisdictions.

The purpose of this amendment bill is to fix some of the technical and procedural issues which arise from the South Australian Employment Tribunal Act 2014 and other related legislation. Specifically, SAET itself has identified issues regarding conciliation time frames, prohibition on mandatory injunctions against the Crown as an employer, monetary thresholds under the Work Health and Safety Act and monetary orders made by the tribunal.

While it is clear that SAET is quite efficient—in their most recent annual report, SAET reported that, aside from a 19 per cent increase in applications received in the Return to Work Act jurisdiction, they had achieved a clearance rate of 99 per cent—the governing legislation needs to reflect the reality of tribunal hearings. Conciliation time frames concluding in six weeks are not realistic due to external influences such as doctors' reports, and it is no use to set a time frame which, nine times out of 10, will be unable to be met. Amending the time frame to 10 weeks will help manage resourcing and set better targets and outcomes for all parties.

The bill also amends section 51 of the SAET Act to allow for legal professional privilege to cover communications between non legally qualified representatives and members in proceedings. Given the heavy involvement of employees and industrial associations, including business associations representing their members in industrial proceedings, this amendment is appropriate to meet broader privilege requirements for third parties under the Australian Solicitors' Conduct Rules.

SAET's vision is to be a leading employment tribunal which promotes the best principles of decision-making and resolves disputes fairly, efficiently and transparently. One of SAET's strategic objectives is to be a 'modern, innovative tribunal with straightforward processes and contemporary systems' and this legislation will be an appropriate step in ensuring that they continue to perform as well as they have.

I note that the Law Society, in their submission to this bill, have flagged concerns; I imagine they will be raised in clause 1 of the committee stage by either the Greens or other members of this place. With that, I commend the bill.

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