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Monday, 13 October 2008
Page: 5837


Senator ABETZ (8:55 PM) —I think Senator Siewert summarised very succinctly what this Rudd government is all about. On the one hand they will say, ‘The Senate should examine legislation. We are not going to treat you like a rubber stamp.’ But then, when you identify problems, the government says, ‘You might have identified problems but pass the legislation anyway.’ It is indicative of the Rudd government saying one thing and then doing another. That has been the hallmark in the nine or 10 long months that they have been in government.

The simple fact with this legislation is that we believe there should be some degree of independence for Safe Work Australia. We believe that, as Senator Siewert has said, consultation is absolutely vital. It would be very interesting to know from the minister, in coming to the arrangement of the intergovernmental agreement, who did you consult with? I reckon it was the Labor state and territory bureaucracies.

Unfortunately the people that have the most skin in the game in this, namely the workers and the employers, are not part of the signatory block. Sure, it is an intergovernmental agreement, so they should not be on that, but it is interesting. It is a matter of great concern, I must say, when ACCI and the ACTU jointly write to us about this. Usually they oppose each other, but on this matter they have to deal with the issues of occupational health and safety not from a bureaucratic but from a practical point of view. They both have a view about extra representation—no, I withdraw the words ‘extra representation’—or maintaining the representation to the level to which they had been accustomed and were afforded by the previous coalition government.

It is interesting, isn’t it? When Rudd Labor have an opportunity to consult with those that actually deal with workplaces, who do they prefer? It is the state Labor government bureaucracies—the John Della Boscas of this world, who really know how to look after the workers, especially at Iguanas! He is the same minister that did not come, as I understand it, to one of these workplace ministerial councils. Indeed, as I understand it, state Labor ministers did not come to these Workplace Relations Ministers Council meetings on a number of occasions, so they were, in fact, not able to be held. But in all those circumstances they still wanted to shift the power to these state Labor ministers and state Labor bureaucracies at the expense of those people that actually have skin in the game.

Those that have skin in the game are the workers and those who provide the work. The most representative body of the organised workforce in Australia is, of course, the ACTU. From the employer point of view, according to the ILO at least, it is ACCI. It is difficult making choices, but at least there is some objective test—which previously has been alluded to in Senator Xenophon’s amendment—which we believe is preferable to the minister playing favourites, because then the appointees and the organisations that are allowed to appoint or recommend people do not have to worry about their conduct and their vote for future reappointment et cetera.

It is the same with this Greens amendment dealing with strategic and operational plans that seeks to delete these words from clause 26, ‘Division 4 allows the Ministerial Council to direct Safe Work Australia to amend either of the final plans.’ What we have is supposedly an independent body that will help make all these decisions but, just in case they get it wrong, they need the John Della Boscas of this world to be sitting around the table to make sure that all their mates are looked after, that all the ducks are in a row and that things are in order. If you want a genuine occupational health and safety reform agenda in this country you have to ensure that that sort of tactic is not employed. I think the Greens amendment in relation to what is being proposed is an appropriate amendment, and we as an opposition will be supporting it.