Some in the SME community are beginning to express concerns about the lack of cohesion in Coalition ranks on industrial relations.
Since last year’s election and the ascension of Brendan Nelson to leadership of the Coalition, the opposition has issued a confused series of conflicting messages about the attitude it will adopt to Labor’s IR proposals.
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First, Nelson said he would be working to hold Labor accountable to its election promises – a position that accepts the abolition of AWAs and removal of the exemption on unfair dismissal laws for businesses with fewer than 100 employees.
But now deputy Coalition leader Julie Bishop has reportedly sent a message to Coalition members arguing for the retention of “sensible” exemptions from unfair dismissal for small business and some form of statutory agreement.
Coalition MPs will reportedly decide on the approach they will take to Labor’s first piece of IR legislation at a party room meeting on 6 February – less than a week before the first sitting of Parliament at which the legislation will be introduced.
Observers say the laws will benefit from a well-prepared Opposition able to scrutinise and suggest constructive improvements to the laws.
Many believe the WorkChoices legislation – which most industrial relations lawyers describe as a confusing and poorly drafted shambles – did not receive adequate Parliamentary scrutiny because of the Howard government’s control of the Senate.
And the rushed introduction of the AWA fairness test, without any opportunities for consultation, review or improvement, led to it being widely considered to have been a failure.