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Tuesday, 24 June 2003
Page: 17286

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP (2:43 PM) —My question without notice is addressed to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. Will the minister advise the House of the government's commitment to the rule of law in the Australian workplace? Will he also advise how the government plans to ensure that employers and unions fully adhere to all rulings from courts and tribunals alike?

Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service) —Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I can tell the member for Mackellar that the government is determined to uphold the rule of law in Australian workplaces. Lawbreakers must face consequences according to law, and no-one should be able to break the law with impunity in the workplace or anywhere else. Unfortunately, for many years in this area we have had far too much legalism and not nearly enough real justice. To give just one example, which is typical of many, last year there was a strike at the Patricia-Balleen gas plant in Gippsland for two months costing several million dollars. In continuing this strike, the strikers and their unions flouted no fewer than three Federal Court injunctions and two Industrial Relations Commission return to work orders.

I can tell the member for Mackellar that there is hope of improvement in the future. The Workplace Relations Amendment (Compliance with Court and Tribunal Orders) Bill now before the parliament will oblige officials of registered organisations to adhere to the law or risk losing their jobs, and the contempt of the commission bill to be introduced later this week will strengthen existing provisions making defiance of the Industrial Relations Commission a criminal offence. Members opposite—

The SPEAKER —The member for Bass will excuse herself from the House.

The member for Bass then left the chamber.

The SPEAKER —I remind the member for McMillan that he too will follow her if he thinks he has some sort of authority over who does or does not occupy a place in the House.

Mr Albanese —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I assume that standing order 55 is the basis upon which the member for Bass was excluded from the House and, therefore, the people of Bass are not represented during this question time. We had an organised chant before, over and over again, from everyone on that side.

The SPEAKER —The member for Grayndler will resume his seat! Let me remind the member for Grayndler that any reflection on the chair is highly disorderly. I sat here during an exercise which was not within the standing orders and then I exercised exactly the same tolerance during the reply to the opposition.

Mr ABBOTT —Members opposite are always talking about how much they respect the Industrial Relations Commission. These bills will give members opposite the chance to ensure that commission decisions are taken seriously and that their union mates are no longer able to thumb their noses at the industrial umpire.