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Tuesday, 19 August 2003
Page: 18860

Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service) (5:05 PM) —I do not propose to long detain the House on this question. The Workplace Relations Amendment (Codifying Contempt Offences) Bill 2003 is a modest one, and I do not think it requires an enormous amount of further discussion at this stage. The bill seeks to codify and strengthen provisions in the Workplace Relations Act regarding contempt of the commission. A number of members opposite pointed out in the course of debate: `As far as we are aware, contempt of the commission has been a dead-letter issue. There have been no prosecutions for contempt of the commission.' But I regret to inform the House that there have indeed been plenty of contempts of the commission; it is just that there have been no prosecutions. The reason there have been no prosecutions is that the existing provisions are not entirely clear and do not contain sufficient penalties. I repeat: there have been numerous contempts of the commission over the years.

The Royal Commission into the Building and Construction Industry made reference to numerous contempts of the commission or numerous actions and events that would under any reasonable understanding of the law be contempt of the commission. The Patricia Baleen industrial dispute late last year, a strike lasting almost two months, continued despite two section 127 return to work orders of the commission. I believe on any reasonable interpretation of the law they were contempts, and it ought to be possible to prosecute those contempts much more readily than it currently seems to be.

The whole point of this bill is to ensure that the commission is respected. Members of this House often stand here and extol the merits, virtues and importance of the commission. I think they are right to emphasise the respect in which the commission should be held, but the commission will not be respected if there are not consequences for defying the commission. That is why this bill is necessary. In debating this bill, members opposite rhetorically posed the question: what is a little bit of defiance of the commission between friends in the workplace relations system? I do not believe it is ever right to defy a properly constituted court. It is never right to act in defiance of a quasi-judicial body such as the Australian Industrial Relations Commission. That is why this bill is important and deserves the support of the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins)—The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Rankin has moved as an amendment that all words after `that' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The immediate question is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.

Question agreed to.

Original question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.