It has always seemed an odd timetable for the Australian Government to introduce a Bill for replacing the Australian Safety & Compensation Council with Safe Work Australia when there is also an active national review into the laws that the authority may end up managing.
This week the Minister for Workplace Relations, Julia Gillard, set aside the Safe Work Bill because she would not accept amendments by the Opposition or she had to verify changes through the Workplace Relations Ministerial Council, depending on your political leanings.
Parliament has ended for 2008 so the reintroduction of the Bill will wait till 2009. This allows the government to make another pitch by including the recommendations of the National Review. The Review has consulted broadly across the political spectrum and should present legalistic sweeteners to all. This also allows the government to say that they didn’t get cross and arrogant but have been able to be more inclusive and consultative.
The amendments proposed by the Opposition don’t have a great deal to do with safe workplaces but a lot to do with limiting union influence in the decision-making of the new OHS body. Some amendments are just unnecessarily provocative by trying to limit ministerial interference. The alternative jargon to this is the exercising of ministerial discretion. It’s the same thing except to those on the receiving end or who feel excluded from the process.
Of course, the government is not obliged to accept all the recommendations of the review panel and over the next few months it will be closely watching the reception of its industrial relations legislative platform to perhaps indicate a more successful pathway for its Safe Work Bill.
A sticking point, and overlap of the two legislations, is the right of entry. Currently there is a political stink about how much access unions are entitled to in workplaces, some of which does seem unnecessarily intrusive, but frequently workplace safety is the impetus for entry requests, as per the recent intrusion to the desalination plant in New South Wales. Right of entry will not go away as a political issue over the Christmas break while there are large infrastructure projects in New South Wales and Western Australia, in particular.