Australia’s Leading Business Groups Urge PM Not to Abandon IR Reforms

March 19, 2021 Updated: March 21, 2021

A watered-down industrial relations omnibus bill has passed through Australia’s Senate but industry leaders have urged the federal government not to give up on the scrapped provisions.

The government dumped its provisions on enterprise agreements, award simplification, greenfield agreements, and wage theft after it failed to gain enough support for the omnibus bill.

Australia’s leading business groups welcomed the passage of the bill but said more work was to be done.

“It is important that the government does not abandon the rest of the bill and further efforts need to be made over the months ahead to secure support,” industry CEOs said in a joint statement on March 18.

The CEOs of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Australian Industry Group, Business Council of Australia, Australian Mines and Metals Association, and Master Builders Australia expressed disappointment at the Labor Party, the Greens, and crossbenchers who rejected the whole bill without compromise.

“The legislation was the outcome of an extensive government consultation process over the past nine months involving working parties of industry and union representatives,” they said. “A sensible compromise was reached on the casual employment provisions aimed at boosting confidence, investment, job creation, and wages.”

The bill was stripped of almost all of the proposed reforms after it required the vote of Centre Alliance’s Stirling Griff to pass. However, he only supported the elements surrounding casual employment and wage theft.

Epoch Times Photo
Senator Stirling Griff during debate to Fair Work Amendment Bill 2021 in the Senate at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia on March 18, 2021. (Sam Mooy/Getty Images)

Minerals Council of Australia CEO Tania Constable called the failure to pass the reforms a “lost opportunity” that will cost workers and the community.

She also took aim at the Labor Opposition, the Greens, and crossbenchers, saying they stifled important regulatory improvements that were needed to boost economic recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The original bill’s measures to accelerate the approval of enterprise agreements and allow longer greenfields agreements for major projects were modest, incremental, and overdue changes to boost investment, productivity, and prosperity,” she said in a statement.

“It is disappointing that much-needed reforms to drive economic recovery have been sacrificed to political expediency,” she said.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the government would need to reconsider its policy stance on areas, such as greenfield agreements, so that they may be able to pass in the future.

“In this bill, there was an attempt to double the length of which an enterprise agreement could be in place for a greenfield site,” Frydenberg told ABC radio. “So the builders and constructors wouldn’t have to renegotiate a new enterprise agreement [halfway through a project] and be held ransom.”

“That is a sensible reform that encourages more investment in our country and ultimately creates more jobs,” he said.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Scott Morrison indicated he would push forward other measures to support job creation.

“If this Senate is saying they don’t wish to support [the IR bill], then we will have to consider that in terms of how we go forward because I will send them other things to approve,” Morrison told reporters. “I will send them other job-making initiatives they can support.”