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Monday, 13 October 2008
Page: 5830

Senator SIEWERT (8:16 PM) —One of the arguments being put here is that we have reached an agreement with the states and therefore the parliament cannot alter it, which I have a great deal of difficulty with. I am particularly concerned because the Commonwealth and the states have reached a nice cosy little agreement about the make-up of this body. Firstly, they expect the Senate to be just a rubber stamp. Well, I am sorry, but that ain’t what we are here for. We will deal with that in another amendment. Secondly, when it comes to voting, for example, at meetings, they have cosily given themselves a majority of votes of all the voting members who represent the Commonwealth, states and territories. Here we are as a Senate, expected to support willy-nilly any agreement that is made between the Commonwealth and the states. So the states and the Commonwealth have cosily got themselves together, drafted this legislation—overall, we do support Safe Work Australia—and given themselves these powers that override the tripartite nature of this body, and they expect the Senate to agree with it: ‘Let’s all get together, decide on the rights that we’re going to have that override the other two members of this tripartite body and the Senate will wear it.’ Well, I am sorry, but we do not. We will talk about that obvious anomaly in the legislation when that amendment comes up, but for the same reason we do not support it here. We do not think this is a good approach to take to a tripartite body.

I would also point out that this amendment has another important element to it: it removes the ministerial veto on nominations from employee and employer representative organisations, which they currently have under this particular bill. So this amendment has two very important functions: not only does it increase representation and name the specific employee and employer bodies but it also removes the ministerial veto on nominations. We believe—or the Greens certainly believe; I am not speaking on behalf of the coalition or Senator Xenophon here—that that particular element also undermines the independence of Safe Work Australia. So there are three important issues that we are dealing with here: the removal of the veto, the increase in the number of members and the naming of the employer and employee organisations. But if the argument is going to continue to be put forward that ‘We agreed it with the states; therefore it stays’ then what is the point of bringing it to the Senate? What is the point if the government thinks it will be able to reach a cosy agreement with the states all the time, bring it in here and have it rubber-stamped? I am sorry, it does not work that way.