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FOR – Business — Consideration of Legislation

Paul Fletcher

I move:

That so much of the standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent the order of the day for the consideration of the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Strengthening Protections Against Discrimination) Bill 2023 being called on immediately.

For the benefit of the House, I will just explain what's going on here. As is well known, there were four bills that were passed in the Senate last week, all of which deal with important matters concerning worker safety and worker rights. Those bills have been—

Milton Dick

Order. I'll get the Manager of Opposition Business to pause so I can hear from the Leader of the House.

Tony Burke

I appreciate the first two suspensions were dealing a matter before the House. We're now dealing with suspensions for matters the House had an opportunity to deal with and chose not to. It might not be this one, but at some point do we get to the point where continued suspensions one after the other start to be seen as frivolous? I don't know if that discretion is within the chair or not. I've not seen an occasion where we've had three suspensions in a row before. I suspect we might get to four. I don't know if we're going to be here all day with continued suspensions, but there is a point when, particularly now we're dealing with something that was before the House earlier today and the Manager of Opposition Business chose to not deal with—to be dealing with suspensions of standing orders the House decided to not deal with this very day is starting to seem pretty extreme.

Paul Fletcher

On the point of order, Speaker, I acknowledge suspensions of standing orders are not to be moved lightly. I think the case for this suspension of standing orders to be moved is a very strong one because, when you announced the message that the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Strengthening Protections Against Discrimination) Bill 2023 had been returned from the Senate, at that point there was complete silence. I think it was entirely reasonable for the opposition and indeed all parliamentarians to expect that at that time the Leader of the House would do exactly as he did with the first bill that was the subject of a message coming from the other house. At that point he stood to move that the second reading be made an order of the day for the next sitting, and it was in reliance on that expectation that the opposition did not immediately jump. I can inform the House it's the opposition's intention to move this suspension of standing orders and one further suspension of standing orders. This suspension of standing orders relates to the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Strengthening Protections Against Discrimination) Bill 2023.

Milton Dick

I'll rule on the point of order. Whilst I appreciate the work of the House and the leader's point, it looks like we're going back in time in dealing with things the House has dealt with. I will allow the suspension to continue. But I understand there are other matters before the House, and I just ask, where possible, that we expedite the work of the House as quickly as possible.

Paul Fletcher

Certainly the opposition is always eager to engage in a constructive fashion to expedite the work of the House. Indeed the very substance of this suspension of standing orders motion gives effect to that objective of the opposition, because the motion that is before the House would, if passed, allow the order of the day for the consideration of the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Strengthening Protections Against Discrimination) Bill 2023 to be called on immediately.

Let me just for the benefit of members remind us of the context in which the House is considering this matter. Four bills were passed by the Senate last week. They deal with a range of matters going to the safety, rights and position of workers under the industrial relations framework. The opposition was pleased to support those bills in the Senate, and it was certainly our expectation, as I think it would be the expectation of any reasonable Australian looking at these facts and circumstances, that there would similarly have been an opportunity to bring these matters on for debate and have them voted on immediately this afternoon. The government could very readily have done that, and we could have by now indeed have dealt with all four of them. By doing that we could have materially advanced the position in relation to the rights of workers in circumstances where they're being made redundant from a business which is eligible for the small business redundancy exemption in circumstances which I think are widely agreed to be inappropriate—that is to say, it's managed to come under the threshold by virtue of insolvency. We would have materially advanced the rights and position of workers who are in the very difficult position of having been subject to domestic violence, with that potentially impacting the way that they are dealt with in a workplace context. We would have materially advanced the position of workers who are at risk of silicosis, and we would have materially advanced the position of first responders.

Because of what the Senate has done in passing four bills addressing these four matters, which are uncontentious, uncontroversial and supported by the opposition and, indeed, by the government—as is evident from the many passionate speeches that have been given and from the fact that they're included in a bill that the government has brought forward—and, as I am advised, by many on the crossbench, we could have dealt with these matters very quickly and efficiently. But, rather confusingly, what the government has chosen to do is reject this opportunity to deal promptly with these matters.

What the opposition is seeking to do, in each of the suspension of standing orders motions that we have moved, is to give all members of this House the opportunity to vote in a way that indicates whether or not they're supportive of bringing these matters on so that affected workers can have their position improved immediately. That is the reason the opposition is moving this particular suspension of standing orders, just as it is the reason that we have moved the other suspensions and intend to move one further suspension of standing orders: because it is important that members of this House have the opportunity to vote on these bills. These bills are before us. They could be considered immediately. They were considered and dealt with very rapidly in the Senate, and the opposition certainly believes that there is an opportunity here in the House to deal with these matters very rapidly.

The specific bill that is the subject of this suspension of standing orders motion deals with the problem of family and domestic violence. Under existing arrangements in the Fair Work Act, an employee who is subjected to family and domestic violence is not necessarily protected from employer adverse action within the workplace unless it is connected to the exercise of the employee's workplace rights or it can be argued to be protected by another attribute such as sex. The fact that an employee has been subject to family and domestic violence, therefore, could be a source of discrimination within the workforce—for example, resulting in a reduction of work hours or a demotion.

The very sound policy reasons as to why this matter needs to be dealt with as quickly as possible are undoubtably what motivated the Senate to pass a bill which had the effect of taking these uncontroversial provisions, which are widely supported across the political spectrum, and putting them into a standalone bill. That's now been passed by the Senate, and there's an opportunity for the House to vote on that bill as well. That is certainly something that we in the opposition would be supportive of. It is for that reason that I have moved the suspension of standing orders in the way that I have.

Again I make the point that if the Leader of the House had conducted himself in accordance with the reasonable expectation on the part of all members, having regard to the words he caused to be included in the daily program, then this less direct method would not have been necessary. But, the circumstances being as they are, this is the next best option for the House. I commend, therefore, this motion for suspension of standing orders to the House.

Milton Dick

Is the motion seconded?

Kevin Hogan

I stand to second the motion to suspend standing orders. The minister at times raises very valid points about process, conventions and standing orders in relation to what's happened today. Some of the things that he raised, I'm sure, are very relevant. I'm sure he will also say, as he did when we moved the previous suspension of standing orders, that the workers want all of the elements of the bill passed. In relation to the PTSD provisions, he said that the workers not only want that but also want all elements of the larger omnibus bill, the closing loopholes bill, to be passed. He may well be correct with some first responders; he may not be correct with other first responders, but I take the point.

The minister may also raise the point: 'It's all well and good that you think it was important, but you didn't do it.' You could say that about any new government in relation to any bill that they bring forward. To compliment the minister on his point that we didn't do it—good point—but we support the minister in what he's trying to do in certain elements of this bill. On this element of the bill—strengthening protections against discrimination—we support him. He may well say that the people who are supportive of that part of the bill want the whole of the bill supported. What is blatantly clear, and I think the minister has almost said this publicly, is that the whole of this bill is going to be a multi-month process that is going to take us well into next year. The Senate have already reflected that with the way they've broadcast how they're going to treat this bill when it gets there. What we have had is good news. What we've had in the last week or so is good news from the Senate, saying that they are going to support four elements of the bill without amendment. They're happy with how the minister has constructed and drafted it.

The Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Strengthening Protections Against Discrimination) Bill 2023 is one of those. I'll reiterate what that part of the bill is. It adds the experience of family and domestic violence to the protected attributes for discrimination of employment. We agree with that. I know we didn't do it, but we agree with it. Well done to the minister for bringing it forward into his larger omnibus bill. We agree with this, as the Senate has reflected.

What I would say to the minister on process, practices and standing orders is that he may well be correct on some of those, but not on others. I acknowledge his points about the processes of the parliament. I acknowledge that no other previous government, including previous Labor governments, has done this. He has brought through four areas, including this one about discrimination. We acknowledge that and we support that. I would say, as I have about the other bills that we've looked at today, that the people in the community who may be affected by such discrimination in their workplace would be, I think, willing the government—those people may want the whole of the bill to go through; they may not—to put this through today. What that means, like the other four aspects, is that if this legislation went through today, people who need this protection within their workplace won't have to wait for many months. They won't have to wait until we see how the larger omnibus bill goes through the Senate, and other things, next year, which will be protracted and take a long time.

I ask the minister to look at this as a goodwill gesture. It might not look like it as far as parliamentary process goes, but I ask him to look at it as a goodwill gesture, because this means that the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Strengthening Protections Against Discrimination) Bill 2023 could go through this House today and bring in these protections for the relevant workers.

Tony Burke

I have a few things. First of all, I don't think the motion that's been moved will be carried, so this may not have an impact. Even if carried, it would potentially have no effect because what the Manager of Opposition Business has moved is to suspend standing orders that would prevent the order of the day for the consideration of the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Strengthening Protections Against Discrimination) Bill 2023 being called on immediately.

Why, if that were carried, would it have no effect? There is no order of the day. He's described it as an order of the day in the motion. At the end of my speech, we will vote on that. I don't think it will be carried, so it won't actually matter, and certainly not carried by an absolute majority. But if it were to be carried, I'm not sure what we'd do, because it refers to bringing on an order of the day that doesn't exist. Not only does the order of the day not exist today; because the Manager of Opposition Business has handled this today in a way that no Manager of Opposition Business has handled these issues in the history of the parliament, none of these four bills will be on the Notice Paper for tomorrow either or for the day after. When he says 'the normal process', where the Leader of the House would often stand up and take the call: what would happen would be that Christopher Pyne would be here and I'd be over there, and we'd both be jumping trying to get the call at the same time.

Darren Chester

The good old days!

Long debate text truncated.

Summary

Date and time: 5:07 PM on 2023-11-13
Allegra Spender's vote: Aye
Total number of "aye" votes: 57
Total number of "no" votes: 75
Total number of abstentions: 19

Adapted from information made available by theyvoteforyou.org.au

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