Fair Work Ombudsman slams claims of duplication and wasting taxpayers’ money made in SmartCompany

The Fair Work Ombudsman has hit back at claims made in SmartCompany last month that it duplicates the work of other agencies and wastes taxpayers’ money.

In a speech today at the Aitken Legal Workplace Forum, the Ombudsman is going to quote the SmartCompany article, in particular comments made by Chris Hartigan, a partner at law firm Herbert Geer, who raised concerns about duplication of resources and the multiplicity of laws for businesses to deal with.

Ombudsman Nicholas Wilson is going to describe Hartigan’s remarks as “unfortunate commentary” and complain that they “[were] not checked with me before it was made”.

Hartigan told SmartCompany that the Ombudsman’s first age discrimination prosecution indicates the FWO has dedicated resources specifically to prosecute discrimination cases, which in part arises from Fair Work Act amendments that have included unlawful terminations and adverse actions relating to protected attributes like age.

“The interesting policy point that arises from the FWO prosecuting is that in every state and territory and at the Commonwealth level there are already discrimination laws in existence and discrimination commissions, so to an extent this is a duplication of the law,” Hartigan said at the time.

“It does beg the question of why all these state and federal agencies don’t have some coordination between them”, he said.

“The Federal Government has another agency that deals with discrimination. So why are they funding two agencies to do the same thing? It does seem a bit wasteful of our taxpayer dollars.”

In the speech, Wilson will say that the Fair Work Ombudsman is the only one of those bodies which has standing to fully investigate and initiate proceedings in the public interest, whereas the others generally can only encourage mediation.

In the last year, the FWO received 1,040 complaints alleging unlawful workplace discrimination. However, 28% of those were outside of its jurisdiction.

Wilson said last year only two of the discrimination matters commenced had sufficient evidence and connection with the public interest for the FWO to proceed to court and there were just two in the year before as well.

In his speech, he will say all allegations of discrimination deserve investigation and he “strongly disagrees” with what he calls the “superficial analysis” criticising duplication of resources.

This morning Wilson told SmartCompany there was no duplication between the different agencies and legislation.

“[Hartigan] is entitled to those views but we have a contrary view. But to suggest it is a waste of taxpayers’ money is incorrect,” he says.

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