Abetz criticises own party on industrial relations

Pictured: Senator Abetz - credit HawkseyJ & the Wikimedia Foundation Commercial Commons Licence 3.0


Abetz criticises own party on industrial relations

Former employment minister Eric Abetz has taken aim at his own party's workplace policies, saying the current system is too difficult and urgently needs reform.


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Senator Eric Abetz (Tasmania) has criticised his own party’s campaign efforts and workplace policies at last week's annual dinner of industrial relations reform body, the H.R. Nicholls Sociey.

Active campaign

On the subject of the recent campaign, he told dinner guests: “I had (along with the Labor Party might I add) expected the Coalition to more actively campaign on the vital importance of re-establishing the Australian Building and Construction Commission and the Registered Organisations Commission, along with a number of other fundamental pieces of workplace reform including coastal shipping reform.”

Expression of regret

He also expressed regret that the Coalition “did not seek endorsement” for the “sensible reforms” put forward by the Productivity Commission. These include recommendations around unfair dismissal, general protections, bargaining, disputes, right of entry and competition policy.

While conceding that workplace reform was a “sensitive area” for the Coalition, he urged that the party should tread “purposefully”. 

Pointing to the development of policy for the 2013 election, he said that although “reform fatigue” had set in, the then party bosses had developed a policy that “sought to deal with some key and pressing issues in the Fair Work laws”.

He tackled accusations that he and Tony Abott had “kicked the can” on policy reform by arguing that it “simply wasn’t possible” to build the case for reform but they had passed important reforms such as the creation of the Small Business Priority Helpline. 

Commenting more generally on the subject of workplace policies, he argued that it is critical for decision-makers to get policy right as it can help “build the nation.” But, get it wrong, he argued, and it could “destroy the nation’s economy… destroy a household budget and a family”. 

WorkChoices and Fair Work both go too far

He argued the controversial John Howard-era policy of WorkChoices “went too far” but that the Fair Work Act is similarly an “over-reach in the other direction”. 

Senator Abetz also gave insight into the difficulties that the previous Coalition administration(s) faced when dealing with a troublesome crossbench Senate. 

He regaled the dinner guests with an anecdote of going through the Fair Work Amendment Bill clause-by-clause with one of the senators who agreed with each of the individual provisions. 

“Yet at the end of discussing all the provisions, I was told the senator was still opposed… although unable to tell me why.”

He added that with some of the measures he was told by cross-bench Senators that “they were against it so ‘bad luck’”. 

Senator Abetz also urged the current government to re-introduce coastal shipping reform “which is crucial for our nation’s competiveness and thousands of on-land jobs”. 

All that is needed is the political will

In concluding, Senator Abetz argued that the current system is too difficult, that it needs reform and that the Turnbull administration must push for that reform. 

 “The Fair Work Laws are in many areas too complex and difficult to understand for individual workers and small businesses and can act as a disincentive to the employment of more workers in a small business… It is vital that the government advance workplace reform as a top tier priority if it is to achieve its stated desire of pursuing jobs and growth. The hard yards have been done, we have two large reports that don’t only recommend change but make an unassailable case why that change is imperative.

"All that is needed is the political will,” the Senator asserted. 
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