Senate Committee to inquire into workplace legislation changes – without the legislation

A week or so ago the government announced changes to our workplace laws. It did so with great fanfare and at great cost to the taxpayer through widespread advertising of their new policy.

Today in the Senate we discovered that the government is so enamoured with their new changes that they are trying to ensure there is minimal opportunity for the rest of the community to check out the detail before they are rushed into law.

The government has referred the Bill amending the Workplace Relations Act to a Senate committee – but won’t actually be making the Bill public until around the end of May. The committee none the less has to report on the legislation by 14th June! It appears there will be time for just one day of public hearings into the legislation.

Regardless of your view on the policy merits of the various approaches to workplace relations, it is an important and sometimes complex area of law. There are many people with expertise in this area among the wider community, not all of whom have a vested interest in trade unions or business organisations.

I am not sure what these people are going to be able to make submissions to the Inquiry on – perhaps they can read the government’s taxpayer funded advertisements as the basis for writing their submission.

As is noted at Larvatus Prodeo, it does seem like the government is treating their own Senators like mushrooms, so confident that every one of them will be supporting this legislation sight unseen that they have advertised the changes already.

Still, if the Committee does find that an aspect of the amending legislation is unworkable, they can always get the taxpayers to pay for a new round of advertising about it I suppose.

ADDENDUM: For those of you interested in the procedural side of how these things are done, this link goes to the part of Hansard which details the Bills being referred to Committees. It states that “upon its introduction in the House of Representatives”, the provisions of the Bill for an Act to Amend the Workplace Relations Act 1996, and for related purposes (Stronger Safety Net), be referred to the Employment, Workplace Relations and Education Committee for inquiry and report by 14 June, 2007.

As mentioned above, the Bill has yet to be introduced into the House of Representatives, so the Committee – and the public – can’t actually act on the referral yet. It doesn’t sit again until May 21st, so the Bill can’t be introduced before then. The later the govenrment leaves it to introduce, the less time the public and the Senate will have to scrutinise it before the Committtee has to report.

This report from May 10th on The West Australian website quotes Minister Joe Hockey saying the legislation was still being drafted, even though employers are meant to be complying with it from May 7th (link found through Blogocracy)

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  1. Well they did have all those nice ads ready to go and be published within minutes of announcing the changes they didn’t know they were doing.

    The tax cuts seem to be gobbled up in one shopping trip – for food that is.

  2. The government is hideous and full of hubris!

    Oh, I rejoined the Democrats last week – yay!

    I hope we win back the senate – I like the Dems new leaflets promoting their Senate record and pointing out all teh hideous things the Liberals have done since the Democrats lost out.

  3. I have calculated that to get from the current approx 750 000 AWAs to the 1 million the govt expects to have by the end of the year (so they keep telling us) they will have to assess around 1 000 a day against the fairness test with staff they don’t have and haven’t budgeted for. What a con! Any employer wanting to put staff on an AWA will have to join a very long queue. But nobody challenges the govt on this basic logistical issue.

  4. Why does this surprise you? Howard all over.

    However, crikey reckons more people watched Rudd’s budget reply than Cossie’s budget speech, so hopefully we can tip the shower out of office later this year.

    Hope the Dems and other non-Lib parties are working hard signing new voters, people who have moved etc onto the electoral roll!!!

  5. Any employer wanting to put staff on an AWA will have to join a very long queue.

    Actually no, because the OEA website states very clearly that the AWAs will continue to come into effect on lodgement, and not in fact after they have passed any new test.

    I am curious as to what it will mean if an AWA is assessed as failing the test when it has been already lodged and is operational. Will the AWA be struck down – can it in fact be struck down? How will this be enforced – will the employee have to pursue an incredibly expensive federal court case? Will the employer be liable for a fine etc? Will the AWA be unilaterally altered by the OEA? While it sounds simple, there are some thorny legal questions there.

    The other issue, of course, is that some award conditions are assumed to have effect by the OEA regardless of whether they are mentioned in the AWA, unless they are specifically altered by the AWA – although I’m not clear on whether they advise the employee about this (possibly they do). In which case, the new test may well ‘assume’ that these conditions – rest breaks, etc – are applied to the employee’s work – even though they aren’t mentioned at all in the actual document. This would most definitely be a problem if the employee wasn’t aware that they should be receiving benefits not listed in the document, and would render the ‘fairness test’ more than useless.

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