Mr D O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) (12:46): I am pleased to rise to say a few words on the Child Employment Amendment Bill 2022. From what I can see from the legislation, looking at the second-reading speech and the work done by the member for Ferntree Gully on the legislation from the opposition’s point of view, this is largely sensible legislation that does certainly attempt to streamline and reduce red tape, and I think that is a good thing. I guess I contrast that with some other pieces of legislation we have seen over the years, where this government has made things too difficult both for workers and for employers. But this does seem to strike the right balance from what I can see, with a couple of riders that I might put on that a little bit later.
This bill, I guess, reflects as best it can a modern working arrangement while maintaining the ability for children to get employment. We are thankfully well past the days of sending six-year-olds down the coalmines, at least in this country, and that is definitely a good thing. But as previous speakers have indicated, the importance of children being able to get experience in the workplace is vital. I can only reflect on my own experience as a teenager getting my first couple of jobs. They were critical—although I might add that perhaps the very first one that I got highlights the need for some of the safety measures in this bill. My older brother was a stock agent, and my first pay cheque ever was going to help him out in the saleyards on sale days with cattle sales—
A member interjected.
Mr D O’BRIEN: In Sale, yes; that is right. I went to help out in the school holidays in the saleyards. You get up at 4 o’clock in the morning, weighing cattle, moving them from pen to pen. It is hard work; it is actually dangerous work. Indeed despite the warnings from the other stock agents about making sure that you hold the gate with both hands when you swing it behind the pen of cattle, I still got whacked, as they often do. Some steers kicked the gate as I tried to close it, and the gate collected me right on the noggin and sent me across the other side of the race, which I guess highlights the importance of having some risk-based arrangements in this sort of legislation to ensure that where there is a higher risk children are protected. I was fine, of course, but to my great surprise in doing that casual work in my school holidays, which I just thought was for a bit of fun, I actually got my very first pay cheque from a man by the name of Peter Foster, who was a great fella. He gave me a receipt, a pay invoice, which to this day I have still got. It was for $70 for casual wages, and as about a 14-year-old boy I thought all of my Christmases had come at once—that I had got this first pay cheque. It was just fantastic. It was not a pay cheque, it was cash. It was 70 bucks, and it was the best thing—
Mr Riordan interjected.
Mr D O’BRIEN: I think it did come in a little brown envelope, member for Polwarth. I think it actually did. It was great.
A member interjected.
Mr D O’BRIEN: No. In those days of course you measured value in CDs, so it was how many CDs you could buy. I could get 2.2 CDs for my 70 bucks or something.
A member interjected.
Mr D O’BRIEN: I am a young fella, yes. But it was a great experience, and it led not long after to getting a part-time job at Pizza Hut in Traralgon. The Traralgon Pizza Hut literally was the busiest in the state—with what was called London Stores down here in Bourke Street Mall. For that period of time it was one of the busiest in the state.
A member interjected.
Mr D O’BRIEN: Well, of course, the oil on the pizza has ruined all my good looks, because the acne was terrible—but anyway. Working at Pizza Hut was a fantastic experience. I know people have varying experiences working in a fast-food store as a teenager, but mine was just brilliant. We had a great crew of people. I would work probably two or three nights a week and then a Friday or a Saturday or a Sunday afternoon shift. It was always a contest to see who got the most hours each week. But it was a great experience teaching me, as the member for St Albans said a moment ago, and giving me the ability to see more of my community and how it works, the ability to learn a bit of responsibility, the confidence that it can give someone in getting their first job and learning about teamwork. At Pizza Hut we had several different teams—front of house, back of house—and I was making pizzas. It is about learning direction from a boss, learning how chains of command work and all of those things. And of course having your own money as a teenager is obviously the main reason that young kids do it. I certainly enjoyed that time.
I think making sure that we have the balance right between protecting children, enabling businesses to employ children where necessary and where appropriate and then making sure that children are protected in a workplace safety sense but also in an industrial relations sense is really good. I must say, in reading this bill I was not surprised that the research that the government undertook indicated that there was a widely but wrongly held belief that children are able to be employed from 14 years and nine months, because since the time I was employed at Pizza Hut that is what I thought the rule was. So it was interesting to hear that and to know that that has changed. What the bill does with respect to the child employment permit system is, I think, a positive. At the moment you have those businesses that want to employ someone under the age of 15 having to have a permit for each individual child. The bill is changing that to a licensing system that allows them to be licensed and to have two different people in two new key roles: the nominated officer and the employer representative with respect to the entertainment licence. This is going to make things a lot easier. There will be businesses who will have dozens, if not hundreds, of permits now for individual children, and being able to get a licence for their business will make things easier. Maintaining a general industry licence so that you have the entertainment and the general industry licence will be a good thing.
The bill also updates the definition of ‘employment’, which provides some greater clarity, noting that the way children are employed and remunerated often is different to those in the wider workforce, so that is good. Importantly there is no change to the ability of children to work in a family business—that remains important—including on a family farm. They continue to be able to do that without needing a permit or licence provided they are directly supervised. The one change in this respect in the legislation is to ensure that the minimum age of a person supervising a child under 15 must be 18, and that is appropriate. There will be circumstances, I appreciate, where an older teenager might be able to run the milk bar with their younger sibling, so that will cause a few issues, but they will be minor. Generally having an adult around to supervise in those low-risk sectors in particular does make some sense.
The other aspect where I think this is a good change in the legislation is with respect to compliance and basically providing new authorised officers—so substituting child employment officers with authorised officers is the change intended in the bill—with the expanded opportunity to issue compliance or infringement notices. While normally you would not find us supporting strengthening those things as a general principle, in the circumstance where the only option now for child employment officers is to undertake a prosecution, this is actually a good move forward because it allows for a less costly approach and a less confrontational approach not just for businesses but for the government as well. That is a good thing. A less adversarial process and the opportunity for infringement or compliance notices to be issued is a good step, so that is a positive. As I said, overall in this bill that is good.
The only issue that I will raise as a potential concern is, as I mentioned, the risk-based changes with respect to licensing systems. The devil will be in the detail of that, and I think we need to make sure that there is not an onerous amount of red tape or paperwork in doing that, particularly for those lower risk industries. I appreciate the intention is to make sure that there is an easier process with less requirements in the lower risk industries and sectors, but I would hope that it is not over the top. That is where I have probably one cause for concern, or reserve the position I guess, to see how that comes out. But overall, I agree with the minister’s comments that there are clear social benefits and clear economic benefits for children to be in the workplace, and I hope that this bill does indeed strike the right balance.