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Monday, 13 October 2008
Page: 5838

Senator ABETZ (9:03 PM) —We can canvass past history as much as we want, and that is all well and good, but it really seems as though the mantra of the Rudd government now is: ‘Having condemned the coalition for its former approach, we now somehow see some merit in it.’ You can chop us off at the knees as much as you like, but it does not make you stand any taller in relation to the issue of lack of consultation and why you would want to limit and to actively decrease the number of union and employer representatives. It does not make sense.

In relation to the Greens amendment, we would be having direct ministerial influence in relation to Safe Work Australia and the council amending the final plans. It just seems to me that if you are going to have an independent body it begs the question: why would you have the ministerial council being able to direct Safe Work Australia to amend those plans? That is the difficulty that I confess the coalition has. Consultation is vitally important. If the ministerial council can ram things through, then I am not sure it will make those organisations represented on Safe Work Australia feel confident that their views will be taken into account and taken heed of. When you go through the membership of Safe Work Australia set out in clause 10, you note there will clearly be a very strong representation of state ministers through their bureaucracy. Safe Work Australia will have eight members, each of whom represents a different state or territory. So you will have those officials representing their state ministers, undoubtedly being told by their state ministers what the agenda ought be, should be, and how those agenda items ought be prosecuted or dealt with in each particular circumstance. I would imagine that those officials would have some fairly detailed marching instructions given to them by the eight individual ministers.

In the event that they are sitting around the table and the organisational representatives, or ‘social partners’ as they are referred to—some of us would just call them the employer and employee representatives, but that is no longer fashionable in 2008—are able to convince these bureaucrats and officials from the various state governments that the path they were going down was wrong or impractical from the point of view of those who have skin in the game and actually know how these things work in workplaces, and Safe Work Australia therefore adjusted its plan accordingly, then guess what? Even if the organisational representatives, or social partners, could convince those bureaucrats, you would still have the ministerial council able to override the decision—a decision on which these representative bodies actually had the opportunity of having input. It seems to me that the proposed approach really does minimise the value the government is placing on these representative organisations, and I believe the Greens amendment is therefore worthy of support.