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Wednesday, 25 September 2002
Page: 4899

Senator SHERRY (5:39 PM) —Earlier today, I made a few brief remarks in the committee stage and I will only be a minute or two before we get to the specifics of the Democrat amendments. The three brief points I was making when I was speaking earlier were that the Workplace Relations Act already contains provisions which enable the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to order a secret ballot on industrial action or on any other issue in an industrial dispute. In fact, a ministerial discussion paper entitled Preindustrial action secret ballots, published in 1998, found that the commission had used its existing powers strategically to progress dispute resolution, particularly when the parties had reached a stand-off.

Secondly, and I think this is important in the context of this debate, the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations in the other place, Mr Abbott, had sought to argue that the Beattie Labor government in Queensland has in some way lent its support to these provisions. This is utterly untrue. It is just nonsense. Earlier this year, in heated negotiations between Queensland nurses and the Queensland state government over an enterprise agreement, the Premier, Mr Beattie, publicly stated that his government was considering seeking a ballot on its offer, not whether industrial action should continue. This is a very important distinction that has not been made by the current minister and that is fairly typical of Mr Abbott.

Thirdly, the minister, Mr Abbott, had sought to draw a false analogy between the Workplace Relations Amendment (Secret Ballots for Protected Action) Bill 2002 and industrial laws in the United Kingdom. The UK legislation, while being unnecessarily complex and a source of extensive litigation—again, the lawyers make a feast of this type of legislation, and we know there are plenty of them on the government side—is a model of simplicity compared to this bill that the government is advocating here. The closest analogy with this bill is the Liberal Court government's laws in Western Australia, which were a complete failure.

Labor does not believe the bill has anything to do with democracy; it has everything to do with bureaucracy. It is taking up the government's line about intervention, bureaucracy and straitjackets. If ever there is a bill that represents those sorts of themes it is this particular legislation, drowning employees, unions and employers in paperwork. For those reasons, we are very sceptical and will not be supporting this legislation.