‘Historic’ decision redefines Commonwealth-State powers

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‘Historic’ decision redefines Commonwealth-State powers

Today’s High Court decision on the WorkChoices legislation is one of the most historic redefinitions of Commonwealth-State powers, according to the Dean of Sydney University’s law faculty, Professor Ron McCallum.

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Today’s High Court decision on the WorkChoices legislation is one of the most historic redefinitions of Commonwealth-State powers, according to the Dean of Sydney University’s law faculty, Professor Ron McCallum.

Professor McCallum pointed to the long term ramifications of the decision, which may see the State IR structures eventually swallowed up by the now ratified national system.

The decision also has crucial consequences for unions, which have been seriously marginalised by the WorkChoices legislation. They recognise their future now lies in the political arena, with some commentators saying they face near obliteration if Labor does not win the next Federal election.

Most Labor politicians and the unions admit the WorkChoices legal battle is now totally lost, with only the political realm left to contest.

The following comments have been made today on the High Court decision.

Professor Ron McCallum, Dean of Sydney University’s law faculty:

‘Now I think it’s very clear that Work Choices is here to stay. Even if the Labor Party were to win the election late next year it’s unlikely that they would gain control of the Senate and, in any event, the Senate doesn’t change until July 2008.

‘I think this is as historic as the Communist Party dissolution case of 1950, the bank nationalisation case of 1948-49, as significant as the Tasmanian dams case. That’s the magnitude.

‘People will be poring over this case in 50 years time and saying this was a defining moment in the structure of our federation in the early part of the 21st century.’

High Court Justice Michael Kirby, in his dissenting decision:

‘The majority concludes that not a single one of the myriad constitutional arguments of the States succeeds.

‘Truly this reveals the apogee of Federal constitutional power and a profound weakness in the legal checks and balances which the founders sought to provide to the Australian Commonwealth.'

Prime Minister John Howard:

‘It means that Australia at long last has a national system of industrial relations.’

Labor leader Kim Beazley:

‘The best way to deal with this is to elect a Labor government.’

ACTU Secretary Greg Combet:

‘The only way forward now to get rid of these laws and to bring in a decent industrial relations system that will provide people with protection, is to vote against the Howard Government at the next election.

‘We will be intensifying our campaign against these laws, particularly in the run-up to the next Federal election.’

Australian Workers Union President Bill Ludwig:

‘State governments will be in a position now where they’ll be put under pressure to cede their remaining powers to the Commonwealth. I think it’s probably another step in the abolition of the States.’

WA constitutional law expert Professor Greg Craven:

‘I think the reality is that this will enable the Commonwealth to intrude into areas like health and education. It would certainly for example, allow the Commonwealth to pretty well take over the regulation of universities.

‘Anywhere where you’ve got a corporation this decision will allow the Commonwealth to take pre-eminence.’

Federal opposition industrial relations spokesman Stephen Smith:

‘The ruling makes it clear that the Howard Government has won on all points [but] just because the High Court said the law was constitutional, it doesn’t make it fair.

‘The only choice now for Australians is to chuck out these laws by chucking out the Howard Government.’

Kevin MacDonald, CEO of ABL State Chamber:

‘It means Australia can now have a national system of workplace relations instead of six separate systems.

‘The time has come for [Opposition Leader Kim] Beazley to abandon his plans to take Australian workplaces back to the past by re-introducing the unfair dismissal regime, scrapping AWAs and forcing collective agreements on those employees who want to negotiate directly with their employers.’

Queensland Deputy Premier Anna Bligh:

‘This is a real blow for workers across Australia. We will consider a range of measures, including toughening child labour laws and helping workers hold on to their rights under common law contract provisions.

‘Where we can, we will act to amend legislation at the State level to return those employees to the State jurisdiction. Additional protections by other means will be put in place to protect those who will remain under WorkChoices.’

Peter Hendy, Chief Executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI):

‘[It] is a nation-building decision, which comprehensively upholds the validity of WorkChoices and makes a truly national workplace relations system a real and viable option for Australia.

‘The horse and buggy era of regulating work in Australia through duplicate and overlapping laws is fast coming to an end. As a result of today’s decision, national workplace laws apply to about 80% of Australia’s private sector workforce who are employed by companies.

‘For the remaining 20% today’s outcome places great pressure on the States and the Commonwealth to reach sensible intergovernmental agreements for the referral of power over the next 3 to 5 years, to complete a national system of laws.

‘The States now risk finding themselves left out in the cold, clinging to an untenable desire to duplicate workplace laws for a narrow band of economic activity.’

Heather Ridout, Chief Executive of the Australian Industry Group:

‘For national companies operating across State borders this will be a very important decision because they will have a consistent approach to their workplace regulation,’ she said.

‘For companies seeking to invest in Australia this will be a very welcome signal because they will have a known system of workplace regulation across borders.

‘There is no going back. The decision unambiguously validates the central tenet of the Government’s WorkChoices legislation: the creation of a national workplace relations system.

‘The ruling sends a strong signal to the States that they should abandon their opposition to WorkChoices, cede their workplace relations powers to the Commonwealth and work within the new national framework.

‘A cautionary note that needs to be expressed is that what goes around comes around, and Federal Governments of all persuasion will need to use these powers judiciously.’

Bill Shorten, former National Secretary of the Australian Workers Union and now Labor candidate at the next federal election:

‘What the High Court has confirmed is that the only way to change these unfair laws will be at the next election and by re-electing state Labor governments.

‘I’d say the legal door is closed, despite strong dissenting judgements from two High Court judges.

Unions New South Wales Secretary John Robertson:

‘There is nothing stopping this Government from going even further with these laws and now it is clear we have to get rid of this Government to get rid of these laws.’

NSW Industrial Relations Minister John Della Bosca:

‘Two of the judges including one of the judges appointed by the Howard Government have found in our favour and the court took six months to find they could uphold the WorkChoices laws.’.

NSW Premier Morris Iemma:

‘It’s never [a waste of money] when you’re fighting to protect workers’ jobs, their pay packets and to ease the financial pressure on their families.’

Queensland’s Industrial Relations Minister John Mickel:

‘Thank goodness two judges at least saw the merits of our case. Nevertheless the rights of appeal now from the States legally are now exhausted. I think the way for the workforce to go now is a political one, and that political choice lies at the next Federal election.’

Western Australia’s Minister for Employment Protection, John Bowler:

‘People in Perth with a mortgage must worry that you only have to look at the boss the wrong way and you’re out the door without a reason and that’s no way to live in our society. The laws now may be legal but they’re not morally right.’

Labour and constitutional law expert at Griffith University Associate Professor Graeme Orr:

‘The decision should not be seen as a ‘win’ or ‘lose’ for WorkChoices. The High Court is not ruling on the desirability of WorkChoices, but if Federal Parliament has power to take over the bulk of industrial relations,’ he said.

‘It will pave the way for intervention into the internal affairs and even economic decisions of almost all corporations in Australia. A future leftist government would then be able to legislate, say, to cap CEO salaries, and even give the Minister power to directly set a high minimum wage.’

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