House debates

Thursday, 4 February 2021

Questions without Notice

Workplace Relations

2:24 pm

Photo of Mr Tony BurkeMr Tony Burke (Watson, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Attorney-General and Minister for Industrial Relations. I refer to his previous answer where he said that the words in the amending bill and the act were precisely the same. Does the Attorney-General realise that, if the words were exactly the same, it wouldn't be an amendment? Why is the government trying to use the pandemic as cover for a pay cut without being upfront with the Australian people? The government is suspending the better off overall test. That allows workers to be worse off.

Photo of Christian PorterChristian Porter (Pearce, Liberal Party, Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

The words are exactly the same. The words 'would not be contrary to the public interest', which is the singular purposeful test and safeguard, are precisely the same. That provision, section 189, which members opposite inserted into the Fair Work Act, which, in emergency situations, allows—

Mr Albanese interjecting

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The minister will resume his seat. The Leader of the Opposition will cease interjecting. I'm not going to hear from the Manager of Opposition Business yet, because the minister is not even 30 seconds into this answer. But I'm listening to the minister very carefully. The minister has the call.

Photo of Christian PorterChristian Porter (Pearce, Liberal Party, Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

The point of the members opposite seems to be that, in the Fair Work Act, there is an existing section, section 189. It is headed: 'The Fair Work Commission may approve an enterprise agreement that does not pass the BOOT'. It's to be used in emergency circumstances. It was put in the Fair Work Act by members opposite. Their killer point is that, in our bill, we're maintaining it and maintaining the protection for the purposes of an emergency, such as COVID, and that no agreement could be approved by the Fair Work Commission if it were contrary to the public interest. The Fair Work Commission has to make a decision that any change is in the public interest. If the change is contrary to the public interest, it would never be approved. That's the test that you put in; that's the test that we support. In the circumstances of COVID, we think that's a sensible test.