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Thursday, 25 August 2011
Page: 5605

Senator WRIGHT (South Australia) (16:21): I intend to speak only briefly on this matter relating to the attendance of the President of Fair Work Australia before Senate estimates committees, but I assure you that the Australian Greens do consider this a serious matter. The Australian Greens support the motion of Senator Marshall before the Senate. We acknowledge that the Senate has far-reaching powers to require the attendance of many and various officers before Senate estimates committees and that this is appropriate and necessary for proper accountability. However, in the view of the Australian Greens, it is also important that these powers be exercised reasonably and appropriately to maintain the respect that these powers embody. In this case the Australian Greens are concerned that the status quo, which is subject to the motion, currently mandates the attendance of the President of Fair Work Australia. The alternative, which is the analogous situation, is that the Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Legislation Committee should determine, at its own discretion, and as it does in relation to other Commonwealth officers, whether the president should attend on a case-by case-basis. There is no doubt that if that discretion were exercised and that requirement were effected, then the president would indeed be required to attend, as is proper.

The Australian Greens are of the view that the function of the president is a quasi-judicial role. There is no doubt that it does involve decision making, which is informed by judgment and the weighing up of relevant factors. Anyone looking on and affected by a decision of the President of Fair Work Australia would certainly want to have him or her make a decision in a fair and unbiased way, not subject to any improper interĀ­ferĀ­ence. The Australian Greens are concerned that requiring mandatory attendance, in contrast to other analogous officers, has the potential to compromise the independence of this office. This is something we are extremely concerned about, particularly in relation to the decision-making role, which Australians have a right to expect to be undertaken in a fair and unbiased way.

My understanding is that this is not a new concern that has been raised and that the committee recommended about a year ago that the status quo be changed. The idea that this is a very new and opportunistic suggestion is not correct, and that is not the view the Australian Greens are taking. So, applying the proper principles, the Australian Greens support the motion.