What happened today, 23 February 2021
The industrial relations omnibus bill has passed the House of Representatives 64 votes to 61.
Independent MPs Bob Katter, Helen Haines, Andrew Wilkie and Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie voted with Labor and the Greens against it.
This morning we noted Sharkie’s speech calling on Christian Porter to break up the bill – so the individual measures can be judged on their merits, an approach Porter has so far eschewed.
Whether that is sustainable will depend on deals with the Senate crossbench. Porter needs three of the five crossbench votes, but senators might be pulling in different directions.
Malcolm Roberts is seeking changes to unfair dismissal laws; Centre Alliance has concerns about flexibilities to change duties and location of work; Jacqui Lambie has expressed concerns about casualisation. Rex Patrick also wants the bill to be split.
Australian Council of Trade Unions president Michele O’Neil, said:
The bill fails to address the systemic issue of insecure work in Australia. In fact, the bill will make it easier for employers to casualise permanent jobs. It makes permanent changes to bargaining, making it harder for workers to win pay rises.
The bill will also strip overtime and certainty from part-time workers the majority of whom are women, enabling employers to flex hours of work up or down with no penalties – effectively creating another class of casual workers.
Insecure work is going to hold the economy back in its recovery and this Bill will make it worse. We should be rebuilding the economy with stronger rights for working people – not hard wiring insecurity and uncertainty into our workplace laws.
The Rationalist Society (a humanist group) has surfaced an interview Liberal MP Kevin Andrews gave to the conservative FamilyVoice Australia group suggesting the religious freedom legislation could be about to make a comeback.
The attorney general Christian Porter produced a second draft of this bill in December 2019 and was preparing to introduce it to parliament in early 2020 before the coronavirus overtook all government business.
The issue was raised at the Coalition party room last week, and Scott Morrison reiterated the Coalition’s commitment to the bill. No precise timeframe was put on it – and the government has missed its own deadlines in the past.
My understanding is that the attorney now has a bill ready to present to the parliament. And my hope is that this bill will be presented shortly because there’s only most of the year in this parliament to go ...
It’s a compromise in some regards because there are people with various issues and concerns but I think overall It is. If enacted, it would be a huge step in terms of protecting freedom of religion in Australia compared with where we are at the present time.
We contacted Porter to ask if the bill will make a comeback. Porter replied:
The government’s immediate priorities are protecting the health of all Australians and addressing the unprecedented economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.
The government will revisit its legislative program as the situation develops, and bring the religious discrimination bill forward at an appropriate time.
Bringing you up to speed with an important but less prominent development this afternoon:
An attempt in the Senate to overturn the government’s increase in migration-related court fees has failed because the vote was tied 30-all.
The Centre Alliance senator for South Australia, Stirling Griff, had attempted to gather support in the Senate to strike down the regulation that the government had used to increase the fees. But with the Coalition and One Nation voting against Griff’s motion, the attempt narrowly failed (motions to disallow government regulations need a majority to succeed).
The Law Council of Australia has previously been one of the most outspoken critics of the federal government’s increases in federal circuit court fees for migration cases.
In November, the council’s president, Pauline Wright, said the jump from $690 to $3,330 would pose “a severe threat to access to justice for migrants” and was “unconscionable”. Wright described it as “objectionable particularly when many refugee applicants and temporary visa holders receive no government support and, in some cases, have no access to work rights during the appeal process”.
At the time, a spokesperson for the attorney general, Christian Porter, told Hlcarpenter.com Australia all revenue from the change would be directly reinvested in the federal circuit court, and that a full fee exemption would be maintained for applicants experiencing financial hardship.