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Thursday, 15 March 2012
Page: 3076

Mr FLETCHER (Bradfield) (12:13): I am pleased to rise to speak on this extensive list of amendments which has been put to the House by the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations at very short notice and to ask whether the process that is being pursued here in relation to this very substantial change in the regulatory scheme embodied in this bill is one that the House ought to agree to when the effort that has been made to explain the policy rationale for it is threadbare. There is naturally a suspicion in the case of this minister that he is dancing to the tune of his union masters. There is naturally a suspicion that the primary motive for this amendment is to address the legislative and regulatory ambitions and agenda of the union movement. That suspicion can only be enhanced by the shocking process which has been demonstrated in the way that these detailed amendments have been put before the House, because these amendments fundamentally change the regulatory and legislative scheme that the House is considering. They are a fundamental change to what has been put to the House as a measure about road safety. Objective observers have doubted whether that is a fair claim, and those doubts are now revealed to be absolutely valid based upon the fundamental change in the scope and breadth and the reach of the work of this new tribunal.

What we now learn is that this is a tribunal which is going to have a very substantive industrial relations agenda and a very broad reach. What we are now told is that no collective agreement in this sector will be valid or will be legal unless it is approved by this tribunal. All of the pretence that this has something to do with road safety has now gone out of the window. We now learn at very short notice—although these amendments, we understand, have been available to the government for a considerable period of time, they have been dumped on the chamber at very short notice—is that their affect and their intention is to greatly broaden the reach of this tribunal, greatly broaden the breadth of the matters not only in which it has a right to engage itself but also over which it has the right to exercise a veto. That is the fundamental point here in the provisions that the House is being asked to consider as we weigh up the merits of the amendments which have just been tabled by the minister.

We then asked, amongst other things, to consider whether it is good policy for this tribunal to have a right of veto over any so-called road transport collective agreement, having regard particularly to the very expansive definition of 'road transport collective agreement'. This is an exercise in the expansion of the reach of government and the reach of the industrial supervisory mechanism and administration for which this government has such fondness, based no doubt upon the background of almost every member of this government, emerging as they do from deep within the industrial relations machine which has for so long been a powerful part of our nation, in many ways to its detriment.

The provisions which have been put before the House this afternoon should only be supported if the government can discharge the burden of proof that these new arrangements, giving this tribunal an expansive power to veto any collective agreement in the road transport sector, achieve in some way an objective of road safety. As with the substantive bill, they have not been able to discharge that burden—they have not even sought to. On that basis I will not be supporting these amendments. (Time expired)