The Albanese government has fast-tracked a final vote on the territory rights bill in a bid to shore up its chances of passing industrial relations law changes this year.

The Senate has approved a plan for two extra sitting days this Friday and next and a final conscience vote on the bill to restore territories’ ability to legalise voluntary assisted dying on Thursday 1 December – a key demand of crossbench senator David Pocock.

The hours motion sets up a marathon sitting fortnight of parliament: with 25 bills to be voted on in the Senate by Friday 25 November; unlimited debate on the territory rights bill; and a final push to pass the industrial relations bill on 2 December.

On Tuesday, Pocock flagged that further sittings of parliament may be required, telling reporters in Canberra that “two extra Fridays is a start” but there was a “whole host of others things” the government is seeking to pass, including its national anti-corruption commission bill.

The attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, introduced a suite of government amendments to that bill on Tuesday that, among other changes, improve protections for journalists and their sources.

The Nacc bill will be debated in the lower house this week, before being put to a vote on Thursday and sent to the Senate, where it is expected to pass despite attempted Coalition and crossbench amendments.

Labor is still searching for the last vote on its secure jobs better pay bill, which Pocock says he agrees with “80 to 90%” of but cannot vote for in its current form.

The ACT independent is continuing to push for changes regarding the size of businesses that can opt-out of multi-employer pay deals and to split the bill to deal with the contentious single-interest bargaining stream next year.

In a Senate report, released on Tuesday evening, Pocock raised further concerns with binding arbitration of flexible work requests.

Pocock had already secured a commitment from the government to deal with the territory rights bill this year, but warned he didn’t “want it caught up” in the industrial relations debate.

The hours motion then brought forward the territory rights debate, slated for Friday 2 December, to Thursday 1 December – with votes allowed to occur after 4.30pm and no mechanism to gag what will be a conscience vote for all senators.

The workplace relations minister, Tony Burke, has pleaded with Pocock to combine with Labor and the Greens to pass the industrial relations bill this year, arguing in parliament and at Pocock’s town hall meeting last week that the single-interest stream is needed to help middle income earners win pay rises.

That section allows the Fair Work Commission to approve bargaining for a multi-employer pay deal, provided employees have sufficient “common interest” and a majority in each workplace has agreed.

In question time, Burke cited Victorian early childhood education centres who “are now [paid] roughly 16% above the award” as a group of workers who earn too much to benefit from the “supported stream” of multi-employer bargaining and “need a pathway to be able to continue to negotiate” for broader pay deals.

In a Senate inquiry hearing and again in question time, the opposition seized on estimates in the bill’s regulatory impact statement to warn that small businesses could be forced to pay an estimated $14,638 to negotiate multi-employer pay deals, while medium-sized businesses could pay $75,148.

The small business minister, Julie Collins, fended off the attack by noting that “small businesses already incur costs when they try and enter the bargaining system” and that many “are actually represented by an employer organisation and that reduces the cost”.

The Coalition also attempted for a second day to attack the Albanese government’s decision to support a fund to help the developing world recover from climate catastrophes.

Liberal Alex Hawke, a former minister for the Pacific, asked the climate change minister, Chris Bowen, why he intended to channel Australian taxpayers money to other countries, “including China”, at a time when people were struggling to pay their power bills.

The question rebounded on Hawke when Bowen pointed out the government supplied in-principle agreement for a multilateral loss and damage fund at Cop27 in Egypt on the basis that big emitters like China would make contributions to help vulnerable countries rebuild social and physical infrastructure after extreme weather events exacerbated by greenhouse gas emissions – not be supported by the fund.

The opposition has been pursuing this line of questioning as part of renewed efforts to weaponise climate action at a time when Australians are worried about surging inflation and high power bills.

On Tuesday evening, the Senate employment committee released its report into the industrial relations bill.

In it, Pocock delivered additional comments calling for the “provisions of deepest concern [to] be split out and considered separately with adequate time to work through any unintended consequences”.

“The overwhelming majority of evidence provided to the committee from a broad range of stakeholders expresses significant and wide-ranging concerns with the detail of the single interest multi-employer bargaining stream,” he said.

Pocock also sided with the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry on the right to request flexible work, asking the government to consider allowing the Fair Work Commission to conciliate rather than arbitrate disputes, and adding a provision to revisit the decision.

On Monday, Pocock told Guardian Australia in a statement that “the balance of evidence provided to me suggests that multi-employer bargaining will be too big an impost on smaller businesses and therefore the threshold for inclusion in the non-voluntary streams needs to be higher” than the current threshold of 15 employees.

On Tuesday, Pocock said he wants to “get that right” with a threshold set to allow “cafes and hair salons” to be excluded but not childcare centres.

Pocock said he has “real concerns” about a union veto before a proposed pay deal is put to workers, particularly what happens when there are two unions in the same workplace that disagree about the proposed pay deal.



Source link

Leave a Reply