Pocock and Lambie outflank Labor as they split IR reforms
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David Pocock has outflanked the federal government on its workplace agenda after teaming up with the Coalition and fellow crossbencher Jacqui Lambie to force Labor into an embarrassing backdown over splitting its industrial relations mega-bill.
Pocock, the kingmaker senator who was key to the success of the government’s multi-employer bargaining reforms, and Lambie introduced legislation that extracted parts of the omnibus Closing Loopholes Bill that benefit emergency workers, silicosis sufferers, and family violence victims, leaving behind more controversial reforms.
Senators David Pocock and Jacqui Lambie split off parts of the government’s contentious industrial relations bill unopposed.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen
The move earned the praise of the business community fighting the government’s legislation, which also included more complex gig economy reforms, protections for casual workers, and an overhaul to the labour-hire industry to ensure workers in like roles receive similar pay.
The crossbench senators have essentially dared the government to vote against its own legislation when the separated bills return to the lower house.
“It would be quite extraordinary for the government in the House [of Representatives] not to vote for their own legislation,” Pocock said during a press conference after the vote. “I said to the government from the start, please do not make this an omnibus bill. They decided to do that.”
Lambie accused the government of playing politics by tying what she and Pocock deemed urgent issues with complex legislation.
“It was stupid the way they did it in the first place. Surely they couldn’t get dumber,” Lambie said.
Greens senator Barbara Pocock said all parts of the bill should be dealt with together, siding with the government.
The passage of the omnibus bill has been held up after the Senate voted earlier this year to delay a report on it until February.
Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke said the provisions passed in the Senate were already within the government’s legislation before the lower house, and the government would continue to pursue its own legislation.
“It’s strange the Senate passed these provisions without waiting for its own committee to report on them, particularly given the same senators who voted for them have repeatedly stressed the sanctity of the committee process,” he said.
“The government has never voted to delay any of these measures. We want them all passed as soon as possible.”
Burke has already made concessions on parts of the legislation relating to protections for gig workers and casuals after negotiating with business groups.
Agriculture Minister Murray Watt accused the Coalition and crossbench of ignoring workers who died due to the negligence of their bosses, after the industrial manslaughter provisions in the legislation were excluded from the four separated bills.
“What we’re saying by leaving them out is their rights don’t matter,” he told the Senate.
As the federal and state governments discuss a potential ban on silicosis-causing engineered stone, popular for kitchen benchtops, Lambie said she would get advice on whether the workplace relations bill could be amended to include a ban on high-silica products.
“We’ll just see if that can be done because that would be smart,” she said.
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