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Tuesday, 2 March 2004
Page: 20574

Senator MURRAY (5:11 PM) —I rise to continue my remarks on the Workplace Relations Amendment (Codifying Contempt Offences) Bill 2003. The Democrats have less concern with the two new proposed offences, relating to witnesses giving false evidence and to inducing a person to give false evidence to the Industrial Relations Commission. There are currently no provisions in the Workplace Relations Act that cover these issues, and they reinforce offences under the Crimes Act 1914. Concerns were raised during the Senate's inquiry that the proposed provision regarding false evidence, unlike section 35 of the Crimes Act, does not require that the false evidence touch on matters material to the proceedings. The offence also applies to all evidence regardless of whether it was given under oath, which again is contrary to the High Court's interpretation of the Crimes Act. We will be moving amendments at the committee stage to address these issues. The Democrats support the government's aim to ensure the integrity of the Industrial Relations Commission is maintained, but we perhaps differ from the government on how best to achieve that.

The Australian Democrats have a long tradition of supporting the commission having an independent discretion to determine industrial relations matters on their merits. Discretion, of course, is never open-ended, but it has long been our view that wherever possible such discretion is a better guarantor of fairness and flexibility—which is a repeat of something I said earlier today with respect to another bill. The Democrats also believe that one of the weaknesses of the current system is the lack of powers of the Industrial Relations Commission to arbitrate and conciliate disputes. The Democrats argue that the capacity for the Industrial Relations Commission to resolve disputes on its own motion should be increased and that resources to the Industrial Relations Commission should be increased to ensure the timely resolution of disputes. With respect to increasing penalties, the Democrats support tougher civil penalties for those who purposely ignore commission and court orders, and we will be supporting those provisions in the bill. We have circulated a set of amendments on sheet 4132 and we look forward to debating them at the committee stage.