Senate rejects industrial contempt laws

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Senate rejects industrial contempt laws

A Federal Government Bill seeking to codify contempt offences in relation to the AIRC was rejected by the Senate this week.

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A Federal Government Bill seeking to codify contempt offences in relation to the AIRC was rejected by the Senate this week.

The Workplace Relations Amendment (Codifying Contempt Offences) Bill 2003 proposed codifying the contravening of AIRC orders; the publishing of false allegations of misconduct that affect the AIRC; and the inducing of people to give false evidence to the AIRC as contempt.

The Bill also proposed that giving false evidence in the AIRC would be an offence.

A person found in breach of these provisions could be jailed for 12 months.

The ALP rejected the Bill outright, while the Democrats failed to convince the Senate that the Bill should pass with amendments.

The ALP

ALP Senator Jacinta Collins told the Senate this week that contempt laws were already in place, rendering the proposed legislation unnecessary. ’There are already provisions in the Workplace Relations Actwhich, in conjunction with the common law, ensure that any contempt of the commission is an offence and is subject to penalties. This is in existing section 299.’

Collins claimed the Bill was based on ideology rather than practicality. ‘There is no demonstrated or practical need for this Bill. In light of the lack of policy basis for this Bill, it seems clear that the real aim of the Bill is to find another avenue for the government to spout anti-union rhetoric.’

She backed up her claims citing the jailing provisions of the Bill. ‘This is most evident in the provisions of this Bill that would have the effect of jailing participants in industrial action.

‘As was noted at the Senate inquiry, threatening to imprison people because of their industrial activity is hardly the path to a cooperative industrial relations system.

‘In the minority report of that inquiry we make precisely that point. What is wrong with this Bill is that it uses imprisonment as a primary remedy for the taking of industrial action.

‘Anyone who has any conception about how these things should operate would understand that a primary remedy of imprisonment is hardly appropriate.’

The Democrats

While the Democrats were concerned over the evidentiary provisions of the Bill, they supported such provisions with amendments.

‘The Democrats supported the two new criminal contempt offences regarding witnesses giving false evidence and inducing a person to give false evidence to the Commission,’ Democrat Workplace Relations Spokesperson Senator Andrew Murray said.

‘However, we moved amendments in line with the Crimes Act and the High Court ruling that require the evidence touch on matter material to the proceeding and that the evidence must be sworn.

’Our amendment that evidence must be sworn in order to trigger an offence was not supported, so we could not support the Bill overall.’

The Democrats also supported tougher civil penalties for those who ignored AIRC and Court orders.

’We also attempted to achieve balance in the Bill by moving an amendment to increase penalties at s178of the Workplace Relations Act 1996, which deals with penalties and offences and applies to unions and employers who breach awards,’ Murray said.

Overall, he believed that problems with compliance were more about enforcing existing provisions and appropriate penalties. ‘We believe that a properly resourced independent national workplace relations regulator would be the most effective way to improve compliance.’

For a copy of the Bill go to the Parliament of Australia website.

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