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Thursday, 25 November 1999
Page: 12741

Mr BEVIS (6:11 PM) —The timing of this debate after 6 o'clock on a Thursday evening is either an unfortunate accident or a piece of shrewd planning. There is no reason why this debate could not be held when the House resumes in a week. This is a vitally important piece of legislation. The government has chosen the timing quite deliberately. We do not intend to let it slide through, but I intend to restrict my remarks to only a few minutes. There are important considerations here.

The government is in the process of establishing the worst form of forum shopping on industrial relations matters in the judicial systems that this country has. The government has proposed in its industrial relations second wave laws to provide the opportunity for matters dealing with section 127 orders—sensitive and complex areas associated with industrial disputes—to be dealt with not by the Federal Court, as has been the case, but to have those matters dealt with by the Supreme Court. In the Federal Magistrates (Consequential Amendments) Bill 1999 , the government is proposing to provide a third shop where people can go forum shopping; that is, the newly created Magistrates Court.

The issues of these section 127 orders and freedom of association matters—the very heart of the way in which workers are organised—were the subject of quite a deal of comment by the legal community when they came up as part of the second wave. I spoke about this when the second wave legislation was before the parliament. In view of the time, I will not refer to the whole document. I will read two sentences from an open letter headed `A Critical Analysis of the Reith Proposals' by over 80 of Australia's leading industrial barristers and solicitors, including three QCs. They said this about the very thing that this government is now putting into a third forum shopping venue:

There is, however, nothing to suggest that the Federal Court has acted in anything other than a prompt and efficient manner in dealing with such enforcement proceedings—

that is, in relation to section 127 orders, precisely the thing the government says needs to be shunted off into its new Magistrates Court. They also said:

There is simply no need for extending the powers of enforcing of section 127 orders to state supreme courts.

I have no doubt that these same 80 eminent lawyers, who have said that there is no reason to shunt this off into a supreme court, would say there is definitely no need to shunt it off into the Magistrates Court. So why do it? The simple answer to that is that the government has lost a number of high profile cases before the Federal Court. The simple fact of this is that the government does not like its chances in industrial relations matters before the Federal Court. Its mates do not either.

So, under pressure from some at the top end of town, the government said, `Let us go to our state Supreme Court.' They threw that in there because they thought they might have a better run at it in Western Australia or possibly in Victoria if they went there. Now they want to put a third option in: `If you do not think you are going to win it in the Supreme Court in your state and you do not think you are going to win it in the Federal Court, what we will do is set up a new Magistrates Court for you and we will appoint the magistrates.' So you have a really good safety net here!

Let us not have any misunderstandings about where that takes us. This government, in fact the former Deputy Prime Minister, is on the record as saying, when a High Court appointment came up, that the country needed a capital `C' conservative judge. That is sure what they got. They got a capital `C' conservative judge appointed to the High Court. Now they want to fill up a magistrates court with a whole run of small `c' conservative magistrates. So we will have a whole lot of small `c' conservative magistrates who want to grow up to be big `C' conservative judges. This is nothing more than a stack. It is a stack for the basic political industrial agenda that this minister and this government are known for.

Anyone who doubts that should have been in the Senate a couple of nights ago. When this matter was being dealt with in the Senate, the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business was over in the lobby. He was physically in the lobby haranguing Democrat senators as they walked in to vote on it. How often do you see the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business over in the Senate? He was there because he knows this is the heart of his policy. He was there because, at the end of the day, it does not matter what happens out there in the workplace. If a union wants to take a matter to court, he knows he wants it to go to this new magistrates court.

This is a rort. That is what it is. It is a rort. If the government are fair dinkum about wanting to set up a magistrates court to deal with the proper business that is here, they have got the support of the opposition. If they want to persist with their ideological industrial relations rort and override good judicial practice, we will oppose it and we will defeat it again in the Senate.