The federal government is poised to finalise its much-anticipated package of workplace relations reforms within weeks, says Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter, who told an event on Tuesday that the proposed changes will be “pragmatic, appropriately balanced and … realistic in scope”.
Addressing the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Western Australia, Porter revealed the reforms will be finalised in the weeks following the federal budget, which is to be handed down next week on October 6, and introduced into parliament in “coming months”.
Since June, Porter has been leading roundtable discussions with employer and union groups in a bid to find middle ground in five key areas of workplace relations reform.
These areas include the enterprise bargaining system, greenfields agreements, award complexity, compliance and enforcement, and casuals and temporary workers.
Small business advocates had put forward a proposal to do away with numerous complex award provisions in favour of a small business award, however, it became clear last month that talks in this area had concluded without broad agreement.
On Tuesday, Porter indicated that with all of the discussions now finalised — “after 33 meetings spanning some 120 hours” — the government will move ahead with a reform agenda regardless.
“The working groups have last week formally concluded and now the time-bound task of synthesising views into workable products for change is on foot with a view to having legislative products finished in the weeks after the next budget,” Porter said.
While he said there may still be an opportunity for the groups to find “a degree of consensus”, the government will ultimately “take what we’ve learnt from this process away and come up with products that we think will deliver the best outcomes for the Australian people”.
“The government intends that meaningful reforms will be brought to the parliament in coming months,” he added.
While Porter said the discussions were “extremely useful” and undertaken in “good faith” by all involved, he also said the process of trying to find agreement between employer groups and unions “is about as easy as getting Clive Palmer and Mark McGowan to go out for a relaxed dinner together”.
The Minister did not indicate what may be included in the reforms, but said the process will “not be driven by ideology”.
“It will need to be pragmatic, appropriately balanced and be realistic in scope,” he said.
“It will be driven by the necessity to improve employers’ confidence to hire and thereby create jobs. That is the singular goal of this process.”
“Polarising or extreme proposals aren’t likely to be successful, especially given the current make-up of the Australian Senate that any legislative options will need to pass through,” he added.