Contentious changes to the nation’s industrial relations laws could be passed before Christmas if the Senate is given extra time to deal with the “logjam” of legislation.
Senate kingmaker David Pocock indicated he wanted the government to bump up the timeline to pass the territory rights Bill but denied he we would “horse trade” it for his support for the industrial relations Bill.
“I’m certainly not horse trading on it. I want to get this right,” he said.
The Senate has just seven full sitting days left to consider a hefty roster of legislation, including the government’s IR Omnibus Bill and the National Anti-Corruption Commission Bill that Labor committed to passing by year’s end during the election.
Two additional sitting days – Friday this week and next – have been proposed to deal with the full agenda.
“I’ve said to the government that I think we’ll need more time just to get through all of the other really important legislation, the national anti-corruption commission (NACC), EV discount Bill, territory rights I want to ensure happens,” Senator Pocock told reporters in Canberra.
“My concern with leaving territory rights to the end, given how much that is currently coming before the Senate, you can imagine there is a real logjam. I don’t want to see it get caught up in that.”
Senator Pocock, who is expected to hold the tie-breaker vote on the IR legislation, has been lobbying the government to split the Bill.
He said should that happen, he would vote for the “85 to 90 per cent” of legislation he supported “today”.
A senate inquiry into the Bill will hand down its report on Tuesday after last-minute evidence from the Fair Work Commission.
At a hearing in Canberra on Tuesday, opposition employment spokesperson Michaelia Cash raised concerns about the cost of multi-employer bargaining to small and medium-sized businesses.
She noted the department’s regulation impact statement stated it estimated the cost to be more than $14,600 for small businesses and $75,000 for medium-sized businesses.
Earlier, Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie hit out at the government for rushing the IR Bill and said her biggest concern was the impact multi-employer bargaining would have on small business.
“I’m just not sure that this is going to lift wages, especially in the economic situations that we’re in at the moment,” she said.
She said a major concern was the 15-person headcount trigger for multi-employer bargaining, citing an example of a Tasmanian business owner who was considering splitting his business – two fish and chips shops – into separate entities to avoid the implications of the Bill should it pass.
Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke said the Bill was vital to “get wages moving again”.
The Coalition has warned more than 56,000 small and medium businesses would be hit with “chaos”.
The opposition has also suggested the employee threshold should be raised from 15 to 200.