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Thursday, 2 December 2004
Page: 63

Senator ABETZ (Special Minister of State) (1:44 PM) —I indicate to the chamber that the government opposes the amendments, and opposes them strongly. The amendments would overturn the agreements that are currently in place—all the jurisprudence that has been in place for about a century. The boundaries of the Commonwealth's workplace relations framework have been set with reference to matters that—and this is the important word—pertain to the employment relationship. That is the very important aspect that we are dealing with. Senator Sherry's amendments say that, despite that century's worth of jurisprudence and the attempt by some to put things into agreements that are in breach of what has been the understood law for a considerable time upheld by the High Court in a decision of 6 to 1, you should now allow all these agreements to remain in force. In other words, you would then have two sets of agreements running concurrently with some pertaining and some not pertaining to the employment agreement.

Why would an opposition party want such a circumstance? What sorts of matters are not pertaining to the employment agreement? What sorts of matters would be validated by the Labor amendments? Surprise, surprise! It is all pro trade union—financial benefits to the trade unions such as bargaining agents fees and payroll deductions for union dues that have been found to not pertain to the employment relationship. So, once again, we have the Australian Labor Party coming in here doing the work of the trade union movement to try to maintain the coffers of the trade union movement in the face of the ever-declining membership, which I think is now down to well below 20 per cent. Workers in Australia are determining that they do not want to be involved in trade unions. They are leaving them, and so Labor is trying to fight a rearguard action to maintain bargaining agents fees and payroll deductions for union dues. All this bill seeks to do is to reflect the current state of the law, and the Workplace Relations Act clearly states that an agreement must be:

... about matters pertaining to the relationship between:

(a) an employer ... and

(b) all persons who ... are employed in a single business, or a part of a single business, of the employer and whose employment is subject to the agreement.

We would have uncertainty writ large. Senator Sherry says that his amendments would provide certainty, but they would write uncertainty into the industrial system in very large, bold capital letters. We as a government see the urgency of maintaining the integrity of the system and not by the imprimatur of this place deliberately validating sections of agreements that were never intended to be allowed under the industrial system for a very long time. So we as a government will be opposing the amendments.