Federal bill - senate committee concludes hearing

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Federal bill - senate committee concludes hearing

The Senate Economics References Committee has concluded its Australian-wide odyssey hearing oral submissions into the federal Government’s Workplace Relations Bill 1996.

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The Senate Economics References Committee has concluded its Australian-wide odyssey hearing oral submissions into the federal Government’s Workplace Relations Bill 1996.

The Committee is now due to hand down its report (or majority and minority reports, as the case may be) by Thursday, 22 August 1996.

The Committee ultimately sat for 18 days and heard approximately 130 oral submissions. The Committee applied what may be described as a "proportionality" rule, in that the parties they chose to give oral submissions were proportioned according to the number of pro and con written submissions. Consequently, approximately 70% of the oral submissions were against the Bill, 20% were in favour of the Bill, and 10% were neutral or undecided.

Among some of the more interesting submissions were:

  • the ACTU made the following concessions on the first day of the hearings:
    • the actions of unions in ignoring Commission recommendations and orders
      is understandable considering that Commissioners are not always correct;
    • the union movement has had limited success in providing for more flexible
      part-time work provisions; and,
    • ACTU membership represented only 27% of the national workforce.
  • prominent Industrial lawyer, Professor Ronald McCallum, observed:
    • the Bill represented another step along the path of industrial deregulation that has been occurring under both Liberal and Labor Governments’;
    • 70% of Australian workers could handle a deregulated system but the remaining 30% would be vulnerable; and,
    • he recommended that the Employment Advocate be selected in the same manner as the South Australian Employment Advocate (through community consultation);
  • the South Australian Employment Advocate argued that there should be a formal approval process for AWA’s in order to ensure that agreements are not the subject of coercion;
  • the Business Council of Australia informed the Committee of a recent survey it conducted of its membership in regards to the letters of demands the union movement has been serving on employers demanding that employers agree not to change present working conditions following the introduction of the Bill. The results of the survey were that approximately a third had replied in writing (generally giving a non committal undertaking), and that some employers had been the subject of industrial action because they had not given "sufficient" undertakings to the union; and finally,
  • the ACTU admitted, on the last day of the hearing, that it was coordinating the union movement’s campaign against the Bill, which may explain why so many submissions were against the Bill.

Ultimately, however, it would seem clear that the fate of the Bill will depend on the negotiations which are sure to occur between the Prime Minister, Minister Reith and the leader of the Democrats, Cheryl Kernot. In fact, Peter Reith acknowledged as much in a door stop interview held on Wednesday, 7 August, where he stated:

"So as far as my own personal dealings with her [Cheryl Kernot] are concerned, we’ve had a number of meetings that have been constructive. We’ve agreed to meet again and we are certainly prepared to sit down and talk with the Democrats about their concerns to see how they can be reasonably addressed, provided that we’re not being asked to overturn the very promises we made to the Australian people about what we would do."

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