Secret WorkChoices documents 'a smoking gun', says ACTU

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Secret WorkChoices documents 'a smoking gun', says ACTU

The documents relating to wider and tougher WorkChoices laws that the Federal Government has fought for two years to suppress have been labelled 'a smoking gun' by the ACTU.

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The documents relating to wider and tougher WorkChoices laws that the Federal Government has fought for two years to suppress have been labelled 'a smoking gun' by the ACTU.

This follows the ruling by Administrative Appeals Tribunal Deputy President, Stephanie Forgie that the Federal Government was only accountable for workplace relations legislation it had enacted and 'not for amendments to the law that it might enact in the future'.

Deregulation

Labor and the unions have long argued that the historical commitment of Prime Minister, John Howard and Treasurer, Peter Costello to full deregulation of employment laws would inevitably lead them to pushing WorkChoices further.

The WorkChoices documents were originally prepared by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) and relate to:

'options considered on industrial relations reform in the last 12 months and any forecasts or analysis or other reports or documents on:

  • whether dismissals will increase
  • the extent of any jobs growth
  • the extent and likelihood of any fall in real incomes for any Australians
  • any forecast or assessment of the likelihood or extent that entitlements like four weeks annual leave, sick leave, leave loading, shift allowance and penalties will no long[er] be provided by employers …'

The documents were sought originally by the Australian newspaper and then by Channel 7, however PM&C Secretary, Peter Shergold issued two 'conclusive certificates' denying access to them.

Even reasons suppressed

In rejecting an appeal over the denial of the documents, Deputy President Forgie even suppressed some of her reasons when they might have revealed what was in the documents.

'Not only has the Howard Government been desperately fighting to keep these WorkChoices documents secret, it has been fighting to keep the reason why the documents could not be released secret as well,' said Labor's IR spokeswoman, Julia Gillard.

Right to know

'The Howard Government has engaged in a pre-election cover-up of WorkChoices. The Australian people have a right to know what the Howard Government is hiding.

'The Australian people have a right to know if the Howard Government plans to take WorkChoices further.

Pattern of deceit

'There is a pattern of deceit when it comes to the Howard Government and its extreme WorkChoices laws. They didn't tell the Australian people the truth about WorkChoices before the last election and now they don't want to tell the truth before this election,' Gillard continued.

'This is a smoking gun,' said ACTU President, Sharan Burrow. 'It is conclusive proof that John Howard and Peter Costello have a secret plan to take WorkChoices further after the election.

'The Liberals plan to push an extra 1.5 million workers onto AWAs, make further cuts to protections from unfair dismissal and to cut awards.'

'Part of the furniture': Howard

Although both Howard and Costello have denied that they will take WorkChoices further, Howard yesterday told Perth business leaders that if the Liberals won the election on Saturday, WorkChoices would become 'part of the furniture'.

'If we win on Saturday then the reforms that we have brought about will never be reversed by a future Federal Labor Government,' he said. 'They will become part of the furniture, they will become so embedded in our business and workplace culture, that no future Labor Government will be able to reverse it.'

'Cabinet documents'

A spokesman for the Prime Minister told News Ltd last night that the documents could not be released because 'the majority of them were cabinet documents'.

However, Gillard said Coalition assurances during the election campaign that there would be no changes to WorkChoices had to be viewed in the light of the Government's desire to ensure that no-one knew what it had been planning.

Note: The AAT case noted, Michael McKinnon v Secretary, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet [2007] AATA 1969 (17 November 2007), will be reported on the AustLII site soon.

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