19 November 2020

Ms TRISH DOYLE (Blue Mountains) (11:43:38): I make a brief contribution to debate on the Government Sector Employment Amendment (Teleworking) Bill 2020. It is undeniable that the pandemic has turned our lives upside down. Impacts across the globe have been vast, prompting the world to look at life in a very different way, be it socially, economically or emotionally. Albert Einstein once said, "In the midst of every crisis lies great opportunity"—and the member for Barwon has found it. Whilst this pandemic has tested our resilience, and still tests our resilience every day, we are slowly coming up for air and now find an opportunity to analyse this past year, to take stock, to look at what worked and what did not.

The teleworking bill calls on the need to facilitate the use of flexible working arrangements for government sector employees. In my electorate of the Blue Mountains, the opportunity to work from home has had what I believe to be an incredibly positive effect on our community. Teleworking on the whole was introduced as a short‑term solution, but as the months roll by it is becoming more firmly entrenched in communities across our State. The effects of this move to working from home need to be properly acknowledged and considered and ultimately introduced as an integral part of our framework for employment. Moving to a flexible workforce has been a necessity during COVID-19, but the pandemic only accelerated what we have believed for a long time: flexibility is a natural extension of the acceptance of diversity. Balancing the freedom that a flexible workforce affords with the necessity for improved productivity brings challenges, but none that is insurmountable.

In simplified terms, the advantages of working from home include improved work-life balance; reduction in stress due to daily commutes—and I can tell members they are long commutes from the Blue Mountains—reduced turnover of staff and the retention of valuable employees; the support of the collaboration of employees residing in different locations; improved inclusivity; and the potential for positive environmental impacts. Recent research has shown that Australians like working from home. They are more likely to stay longer with their employer should their desire for flexible working arrangements be fulfilled. This is particularly true of women with children.

On that note, I emphasise this for all of the working mothers across this State: The contribution women make to the workforce is vital but their ability to participate is often limited by their parenting responsibilities. A move to teleworking creates an increased capacity for mothers to work, reducing barriers to their participation as well as going some way towards addressing the clear gender gap at the highest levels of the New South Wales public sector. We still live in a culture that sees the disproportionate allocation of domestic and caring roles allocated to women. Personally I would like to see this change, but in the current absence of that change a move to support teleworking arrangements would surely see a reduction in the disadvantages faced by women in the workforce.

This excellent bill is not just about creating jobs in our remote communities but also addresses the need for an examination of gender employment inequities in New South Wales. NSW Labor cares about jobs. NSW Labor understands the need for flexibility, particularly at a time like this, to keep workers happy. Happy workers are productive workers. Happy workers stay in their jobs and willingly contribute to their roles and the companies or departments for which they work. This bill is a win-win for the employees of this State and for the economy of this State. A move to the teleworking space for the government sector is a move towards the long‑term sustainability of a productive, economically resilient workforce. This is not rocket science. If we allow a greater capacity for employment for those in rural and regional New South Wales we inevitably enhance the prospects for those regions. The economy improves and the community's ability to be self-sustaining improves markedly. Surely those two factors alone illustrate why Labor wholeheartedly supports this bill.

The New South Wales Government has an appalling track record of cutting public sector jobs. Members have seen it with cuts to NSW National Parks and Wildlife staff and massive cuts to our emergency services personnel. This Government has knowingly contributed to the demise of employment in regional locations through mergers and its love of privatisation. This is not only problematic in terms of rural and regional economies and community wellbeing but in the cases of NSW National Parks and Wildlife and the emergency services it is dangerous. While today members speak more specifically to teleworking, it must be said that the overarching issue of government employment in varying sectors in rural and regional New South Wales is crucial both to our prosperity and our safety. There is no longer any room for this urban-priority thinking. It is outdated, limiting and discriminatory and it is not progressive. It does not serve the people of this State.

We do not know what the coming years will bring. If we have learnt nothing else this year, we have learnt that we need to keep an open mind and be prepared for anything. One of the best ways to do that is to create a foundation that supports workers and creates a space where they feel valued, not just financially but for the needs that exist in their lives outside of their employment. Working remotely allows those living in rural and regional communities to pursue more diverse careers. Teleworking enables the embracing of inclusion, the hiring of people from all walks of life and people from different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. Allowing employees to work from home supports diversity, community and family. Teleworking also creates an opportunity for those who may otherwise struggle to find employment on site, such as people with a disability or caregivers who rely on flexible work schedules so that they can remain in paid employment.

The bill calls on the Government to do better and to get its head out of the sand. Conservative thinking has no place here. The future of work in regional Australia is not without its challenges but that should not be a reason for failing to tackle the issue head-on. Well-designed, targeted and systematic responses to the generation of employment, particularly through teleworking, will lead to significant multifaceted improvements in our regional communities. I thank and, with deepest respect, pay tribute to the member for Barwon for introducing such an excellent bill. Labor stands with the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party on teleworking. I commend the bill to the House.