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Wednesday, 12 February 2014
Page: 290


Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR (Gorton) (19:56): I rise to explain to the House the concerns the opposition have with respect to the government's intentions to undermine penalty rates for workers in this country. The government's alarming submission to Fair Work Australia's review of workplace awards has revealed the extent of the Prime Minister's desire to diminish or remove penalty rates. A reasonable person would expect that such a submission would be independently considered by Fair Work Australia against other views and therefore temper any radical notions coming from the government, but this government is far from reasonable. What if the independent body is tampered with?

The Minister for Employment has talked about imposing an appellate jurisdiction on the fair work system, as proposed to him by Mr Steve Knott, CEO of AMMA. The details are murky; however, the intent is clear. I am reliably informed that the government intends to appoint Work Choices friendly members to this appellate court to review any decisions made by the full bench of the Fair Work Commission. Further, I am also reliably informed that the employment minister is seriously considering the current Fair Work Commission vice-president, Mr Graeme Watson, to head this appellate body. That is an interesting trio of people—Senator Abetz, Mr Steve Knott and Mr Graeme Watson—to be mentioned in the same story about fundamentally altering the composition of Fair Work Australia.

This is, I would suggest, a brazen scheme, coupled with such a predictable set of appointments that would undermine, if they were allowed to happen, the integrity of this 110-year-old institution. This government may think that, when it comes to attacking workers' rights and entitlements, it is best to appoint a third party, seemingly at arm's length, to carry out its dirty work. If this is true, an assault on such an august institution would undermine the integrity of the independent umpire which fair employers, fair unions and fair employees rely upon. Labor will oppose this too-clever-by-half proposition. We know that this government has some very significant challenges and has been derelict in response to job losses since it was elected in September. The fact that it is focusing on royal commissions to go after its political opponents and has a proposition by the employment minister to consider changing the arrangements of Fair Work Australia in order to undermine its integrity and its independence should be a concern to all in this country—the judiciary, registered organisations that go before that body and all reasonable-minded Australians who want to see an independent umpire be forever involved in reconciling any differences we have in workplaces.

Minister Abetz must come clean on his proposition. He certainly must come clean on the notion that he would be considering the appointment of Vice-President Graeme Watson on an idea put to him by Mr Steve Knott from AMMA and he should do that as soon as possible.

Question agreed to.

House adjourned at 20 : 00