Abbott's new bill could meet High Court challenge

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Abbott's new bill could meet High Court challenge

A day after meeting with, but not informing, the various state IR ministers of his plans, Federal Workplace Relations Minister Tony Abbott released details of new IR legislation he plans to introduce to Parliament this week, which would take away the states' powers to rule on unfair dismissals.

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A day after meeting with, but not informing, the various state IR ministers of his plans, Federal Workplace Relations Minister Tony Abbott released details of new IR legislation he plans to introduce to Parliament this week, which would take away the states' powers to rule on unfair dismissals.

Abbott plans to introduce the legislation using the Government's corporations powers, under s51 of the constitution, but told none of the ministers at Friday's Melbourne meeting of his plans. The first any of his state counterparts heard of the plans was when he outlined his plans yesterday in a Melbourne newspaper.

This time, despite numerous other pieces of failed legislation, the Bill looks likely to pass through the Senate - with Abbott not pushing for an exemption for small businesses, the Democrats are likely to support the legislation.

This leaves state ministers to debate whether they can lodge an appeal to the High Court and according to Federal Shadow IR Minister Robert McClelland the argument is 'not a fanciful one'.

McClelland told WorkplaceInfo today that if the High Court ruled the matter was an industrial one, rather than a corporations issue, the legislation would be 'struck down'.

He said it was 'curious' that Abbott had not raised the matter at Friday's ministerial meeting and accused the Minister of playing politics by introducing such legislation before the Victorian and NSW elections.

While he said he was not at all surprised the Government had not discussed the matter with Federal Labor, 'I think it's very, very rude not to have consulted with the states'. McClelland said he would be discussing the matter with the states as soon as details were available.

He also questioned whether the Government really wanted to introduce uniform change, as under the legislation unincorporated organisations like sole traders and other small businesses would still not be covered, meaning many workers would remain outside the laws.

The Government would also not have power over state public servants. Past estimates at the proportion of workers who would be covered under such laws range from 85% (Government estimate) to 60% (Opposition estimate), up from less than 50% at the moment.

He said he felt the matter was a dry run for further industrial change, and predicted that a report due out on Thursday in which the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry was outlining IR future directions would be indicative of where the Government was headed.

A spokesperson for Democrats' IR spokesperson Andrew Murray told WorkplaceInfo that while both Murray and Democrats leader Andrew Bartlett had not seen the details of the Bill yet, they felt there was no problem with what they had heard so far. She said they could not totally commit to supporting the legislation until they had seen the details, but no meetings had been organised yet with Abbott.

Abbott's office told WorkplaceInfo it was not commenting on the legislation until after its introduction, which it hoped would be Wednesday.

A spokesperson for NSW IR Minister John Della Bosca told WorkplaceInfo he found it 'very curious' that Abbott had met with his state counterparts on Friday at the IR ministerial meeting and mentioned nothing about his plans.

He said Abbott had mentioned at the previous ministerial meeting that he knew his plans for a unitary IR system would 'never happen' with Labor state Governments around the country and a Federal Coalition Government.

Della Bosca flagged his interest earlier this year in pursuing a High Court challenge if Abbott did try to take over coverage of unfair dismissals via the corporations powers (see 126/2002).

For other articles discussing the debates around a unitary IR system, see: 120/2000, 131/2000, 132/2000, 133/2000 and 135/2000; 104/2001; 324/2002.

 
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