Doorstop – Parliament House Canberra
Subjects: IR omnibus Bill, Family Court reform.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: This morning we'll be introducing two bills in the Parliament The first of those bills will be a bill that will allow component parts of a union to leave mega union, an amalgamated union, if they think that that union is not serving the interests of their members and that they can do better leaving a union and setting up shop by themselves. I'm expecting that there will be support from them for that Bill, from Labor. I'm expecting that the first effect of that Bill should it pass into law is that next year the mining division of the CFMEU will make an application and then have a vote to leave that union. That will be a very significant development for the union movement in Australia. But of course, they're choices that are made inside the union movement. The Government's view is that there should be freedom of association. And once a group joins a mega union, that shouldn't be for life if it's not working out for them, or they think that the behaviour of the union management at large is such that they should leave and represent the interests of their group of members in a different way. That should be a choice that they will make. So that is a very significant development. And I think it's a significant issue and development that that Bill is likely to be passed through both chambers of Parliament this week and become law. The second Bill is the omnibus industrial relations reform Bill. That Bill is designed to fix known problems in the system. It's meant to be incremental but consequential reform to try and remove barriers to employment growth that everyone agrees exist, that have existed sometimes for decades, and at the moment are particularly acute and are particularly in need of fixing because so many businesses are struggling. And it's such a difficult task to regrow jobs on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic and the recession that it's caused. So I'm very happy to answer any questions you've got on either of those two bills.
QUESTION: How ready are you for a fight with the unions over, the Better Off Overall Test, they're pretty fired up about this?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, this isn't about fights. And I'll be continuing to talk to Sally McManus and the unions, about the Better Off Overall Test. But the changes there, we think they're, they're important. But in reality, they are fairly modest changes. The BOOT test absolutely stays. It is being modified around the edges. So one of the things we're doing is making sure that there's proper weight given to non-monetary considerations and determining whether or not people are better off overall. Another thing that we're doing is ensuring that the overly legal and technical focus that has developed over the last 10 years on hypothetical scenarios where the Fair Work Commission considers whether or not people are better off overall, including people that don't exist, in hypothetical circumstances that are never likely to arise. And we're slightly extending an existing exemption that has already existed for many years in the Fair Work Act, to have what we think will be a very rarely used ability of the independent umpire to approve some agreements that might not tick every technical and legal box if that's necessary, and it's agreed to be necessary between employer and employee for the business to survive in the next two years during COVID. We just think that's absolute common sense. But we'll discuss those, those proposals with the union movement and with others and through the Senate committee process. This isn't about having fights. Some people might want to turn matters about fixing practical problems with practical solutions into fights. Absolutely not interested in that.
QUESTION: Mr Porter can I just on the definition of casual staff, the definition of casual. If you have a situation where an employer wants to take on a worker and they want to employ them as a casual on a trial basis before offering them a full time job - what used to be a common work practice - will that prevent that? If I were to say to you I'll give you six months as a casual and if you shape up you can come on full time, will the definition of a casual prevent that?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: The definition of casual that we've got still accommodates the nature of casual employment which is that it only exists for as long as the work exists. So, people will still be able to be short term casuals under our definition. Equally, and that's why the definition's so important, is that there is a clear category of individuals who are long term casuals, they will be able to exist, but the most important thing is that, alongside the definition of casual, you have this much enhanced and, and stronger, right, to be able to move from casual to permanent employment if you've got a regular pattern of work. So those circumstances that you've raised aren't altered in a substantial way by this definition.
QUESTION: Given there's already a power in the Fair Work Act to approve the growth of non-BOOT compliant in exceptional circumstances, what's the value in extending that definition in the manner that you're proposing to do?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well I think we're refining the definition so that we bring particular attention of the Fair Work Commission to the exceptional circumstances and the crisis circumstances that have been occasioned by COVID-19. We're not really doing much more than that. Some people might say that it's a belt and braces approach, and it's unnecessary because it's already covered. We think it's worth bringing particular attention to the Fair Work Commission to the particular circumstances that we're in over the next two years, but it is not a huge change. That is the honest truth about it. We think it's a modest and helpful change, and that when it is considered alongside other modest and helpful changes, it will have a consequential effect, a positive effect on job growth and business growth. But it's not what it's characterised to be in some of the papers this morning. And particularly what you've got to remember is it'll only ever be used in very rare circumstances, and ultimately it's the independent umpire's decision whether or not to still approve an enterprise agreement, even though it hasn't ticked every technical or legal box, because they are convinced that it's in the public interest to do so. And because they, the independent umpire, are convinced that both the employers and employees agree that that should happen to preserve the business, and preserve jobs. That makes a lot of common sense to the Government.
QUESTION: Mr Porter you spent months negotiating with business groups, union groups, trying to get this suite of reforms together, you're now saying that you're still open to having ongoing discussions with those organisations with this legislation before Parliament. What time frame are you actually working towards to try and see this pass Parliament next year?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well this is meant to deal with known long-standing problems, but problems that have become more acute because of the COVID situation. So we want to achieve passage of the legislation in enough time to deal with the situation that has emerged because of COVID. It'll come into Parliament today, be introduced, it will go off to a committee. But we'd be looking to try and have passage of the legislation early in the sitting weeks of next year. But, obviously, we want to leave some flexibility there because there is a genuine discussion and genuine dialogue that will go on with both unions and business. And, you know, nothing is ever set in stone in these matters. And we've had 150 hours' worth of consultation and we'll have more hours on top of that now that the bill is in Parliament.
QUESTION: Mr Porter can I just ask on the Family Court, you have shelved that legislation for now. What will you be doing over summer to convince Rex Patrick to come on board and I mean given this has taken, been up for a couple of years to the Senate, Senate seem to be not that keen on it. Is it time to just drop it?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, the Senate and particularly Labor members of the committee decided they needed a huge amount of time in committee to consider the legislation, and then wrote a minority report on that, which wasn't more than four pages long. I mean, it was an absurd amount of time that they spent on this in a committee, and that to me looked like a delaying tactic. Unfortunately there's just, with all the legislation that needs to be passed this year, not going to be enough time to deal with it. But I am actually confident that we will get the numbers to have that legislation move through the Senate early next year. And obviously, I'll be continuing discussions with Rex Patrick and with One Nation and with others about that legislation. But that's going ahead absolutely 100 per cent.
QUESTION: Mr Porter have you written to Iain Ross the Fair Work Commission President or are you planning to on award simplification and loaded rates?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I have, I signed that letter and it went off this morning, I mean that's a process and the contents of that letter I've discussed at length with Iain Ross. What that letter will do is ask the Fair Work Commission, with a small subset of awards in key distressed industries, to consider how best in each of those awards to design what's known as a loaded rate and exception rates. And loaded rates are perhaps the more important of those two things. What they will do in four key award areas of distressed industries is offer an optional regime where people can opt in, employers and employees, and effectively have a higher rate of base pay as a trade-off for not having all of the complications and technicalities around what are often multiple pay rates over a two week shift. Now, we considered that government was not in the best position to determine what those loaded rates actually should be in a monetary and structural sense, but the Fair Work Commission will have the next three months or so in those key award areas to try and work out what those loaded rates will be. I'm very confident that they can do that. What all of the business groups told us was that that would actually make a big difference to the efficiency of their business, and there was no massive objection from the union movement, it appeared to me at least, about the Fair Work Commission trying to design loaded rates for those key awards in a short period of time. They're well equipped to do it. They do it on an evidence basis, so that letter's gone off today, and that can be considered part of this package of reforms.