Abbott revives corporations power talks

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Abbott revives corporations power talks

The NSW IR Minister has said his Cabinet would be 'very interested' in challenging the Federal Government in the High Court over its plans to take over certain IR powers from the states by using the corporations power in the Constitution.

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The NSW IR Minister has said his Cabinet would be 'very interested' in challenging the Federal Government in the High Court over its plans to take over certain IR powers from the states by using the corporations power in the Constitution.

Federal Workplace Relations Minister Tony Abbott today revealed he plans, as did his predecessor Peter Reith, to use the corporations power to allow the Federal Government to take over coverage of industrial action and unfair dismissals.

In a speech delivered today to the Australian Food and Grocery Council, Abbott said the idea of persisting with six separate industrial jurisdictions 'makes as much sense as having six different rail gauges'. The move is in keeping with Prime Minister John Howard's vow that the Government's planned IR changes are of such importance that he will use them as a double dissolution trigger if they are not passed through the Senate.

Reith introduced three discussion papers on the issue as Minister (see 112/2000), and the Business Council of Australia hosted a conference in the same year dedicated to the issue. Many speakers at the conference were in wide agreement about the need for a unitary IR system, saying having different state and federal systems was too costly, confusing and inefficient, but were divided on the best way to achieve that (see 131, 132 and 133/2000).

Abbott said in his speech today that without a reference of powers from the states, which was unlikely, or a referendum, which was unnecessary, the Government could not put a national system in place. It could only move to a more unified system by seeking to bring more workplaces under federal law, he said.

But the issue with the corporations power is that most small businesses are unincorporated, corporations are limited to foreign, trading and financial corporations, and the Federal Government would not have power over state public servants. There is also the political consideration of states not wanting to hand over powers to the federal Government.

The Federal Government, which has regularly been stymied in its industrial relations bills in the Upper House, may have a friend on this issue in Democrats IR spokesperson Andrew Murray. Murray has long touted the idea of a unitary IR system, and as recently as last month reiterated his feelings on the topic at a conference on unfair dismissals (see 106/2002). He said today that he would look with interest at Abbott's proposal.

Meanwhile, Shadow IR Minister Robert McClelland said the idea would not work, as only 60% of businesses were incorporated. He also said with all state Governments being Labor Governments at the moment, the Federal Government would have a fight on its hands.

McClelland foreshadowed the possibility of a High Court challenge if the Government did succeed in passing the laws. He said argument would centre around whether it was a genuine use of the powers.

His point was seized upon by NSW IR Minister John Della Bosca, who said the Federal Government that would forever be linked with balaclavas on the docks and which was responsible for some of the 'biggest messes' in industrial relations would face a battle. He said his Cabinet would be 'very interested' in mounting a challenge if the changes did get up.

The union movement doubts it will ever get to that stage, with ACTU president Sharan Burrow saying Abbott's plans were 'completely unrealistic - the states don't trust John Howard or Tony Abbott to look after the interests of working people'.

 

 
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