Beazley admits trashing Howard’s IR laws is not so simple

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Beazley admits trashing Howard’s IR laws is not so simple

Opposition leader Kim Beazley has admitted that his plan to ‘tear up’ the Federal Government’s new IR laws if he comes to power at the next election is not as simple as he has implied, because agreements signed under the new laws would be legally binding.

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Opposition leader Kim Beazley has admitted that his plan to ‘tear up’ the Federal Government’s new IR laws if he comes to power at the next election is not as simple as he has implied, because agreements signed under the new laws would be legally binding. 

He has also suggested a stronger role for trade unions in replacing agreements signed under the Government’s WorkChoices legislation with more acceptable arrangements. 

Legislation to restore fairness

Beazley has said that his first act as PM would be to ‘stand on the steps of Parliament House and tear up the legislation’. 

However on Adelaide radio yesterday Beazley admitted that AWAs and other agreements signed under the legislation once it passes Parliament would be legally binding for the life of the agreement. 

Asked by a caller if, on being elected, the industrial relations laws will be removed, Beazley replied: 

‘Yes, they will. If we are elected at the next election, I’m certainly going to tear this legislation up. It’s not saveable. It’s gone completely down the wrong track.  

‘We will put in place legislation that restores fairness; legislation that permits people to get access to things like penalty rates when they work on holidays …’

AIRC would be restored

Asked if he would restore the Industrial Relations Commission and an independent umpire: Beazley said:  

‘Yes, as the primary focus of the independent umpire and properly empower it to ensure that good, safe bargaining takes place.  So, we will enable people to get access to a fair umpire, get access to representation when they want it …’ 

AWAs and other agreements would continue

However when asked: ‘Does that mean then that if somebody signs an AWA and you get into Government federally, that that AWA could be null and void?’ Beazley was forced to admit:

‘No, it’s a binding contract, once the contract is signed. But the point that we’d make is that we would ensure that no individual contract could undermine an award or collective agreement.’ 

The restoration process

The exchange with the interviewer continued:

INTERVIEWER: ‘What if somebody’s signed one and it does and it’s binding? Damage done?’ 

BEAZLEY: ‘No. I mean, clearly in those sorts of situations, we would look for opportunities, or the union movement would look for opportunities to get that person back into a better position.’

INTERVIEWER: ‘But a lot of people don’t belong to unions. 

BEAZLEY: ‘Yes, that’s true and a lot more are starting to join unions as they confront the circumstances they’re now facing. We’ll also have a decent industrial inspectorate so that there would be people who would be … currently the sort of industrial inspectors that operate via the Government, operate to oppress workers and their conditions. We could send it down the opposite direction.’ 

INTERVIEWER: ‘You’d hire more and change their rules?’ 

BEAZLEY: ‘People start to get properly protected, and there’s obviously going to be transitional issues but we would be restoring the primacy of collective bargaining in awards.  That’s what our objective is.’ 

Polls strongly favour ALP

However, whatever difficulties Beazley might face in immediately dismantling the new IR system once elected, his promise to do so has gone down a treat with voters. 

The latest Herald Poll, published today, shows Labor would win in a landslide if an election were held now. 

The poll shows Labor with a two-party preferred vote of 58% compared to the Coalition’s 42%.

Labor has also overtaken the Coalition’s primary vote for the first time since May last year - 43% to 37%. 

The poll shows PM Howard crashing seven points to 45% as preferred prime minister, while Beazley climbed eight points to 43%. 

IR laws and Telstra

The two critical issues for the fall in the Government’s popularity were the IR laws and the sale of Telstra. 

Coalition MPs are also rebelling against some of the consequences of the legislation. 

Media reports say Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews is under pressure to preserve penalty rates for public holidays, including Christmas Day, and greater protection of the 38 hour week – the current legislation says the 38 hours can be averaged across 12 months.

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