Small business groups are concerned that debate around investigating a historic rape allegation made against Christian Porter will delay the passing of the industrial relations omnibus bill.
The industrial relations omnibus bill is currently being considered by a Senate committee with a vote due to take place after March 12.
But with the Industrial Relations Minister on leave, and crossbenchers calling for the vote to be delayed until May amid debates over whether an independent inquiry should investigate the allegation, the future of the bill remains uncertain.
Council of Small Business Organisations Australia chief executive Peter Strong says the reforms must pass and the government should not let concerns about whether a minister is fit to remain in office affect the passing of the bill.
“There’s no doubt that the bill needs to pass. We’ve got JobKeeper finishing soon. We need to make sure small businesses can employ people with confidence,” Strong says.
“The accusations are profound and deeply disturbing. But, they’re not a reason to stop governing the country,” he says.
The omnibus bill includes changes to the definition of casual employees, a shorter timeframe for the Fair Work Commission to agree to enterprise agreements, and the establishment of new workplace agreements for industries related to mines, gas fields and infrastructure.
The bill would also allow business owners to offer part-time staff overtime hours at their ordinary rate of pay.
While the Coalition supports the bill, Labor and the Greens have said they will not support the bill in its current form, leaving the future of the bill to crossbenchers.
Independent senators Rex Patrick and Jacqui Lambie have called for the Senate to delay the vote on the industrial relations bill to at least May.
Senator Patrick, who supports an independent inquiry into the allegation against Minister Porter said Porter should stand down while the inquiry proceeds.
Centre Alliance’s Stirling Griff has joined Lambie and Patrick in saying the vote on the industrial relations bill should be delayed, as it would not pass the Senate in its current form.
Peter Strong, however, has confidence that acting Industrial Relations Minister Michaelia Cash can take responsibility of the bill.
“What we need to do is see is a separation of continuing government, which is passing bills and doing policy, from the scandal, and from the other issues,” he says.
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“They are two different things. If that’s the way we ran the country, we would never pass any policy.”
Calls for an investigation into the allegation that Minister Porter raped a 16-year-old girl 33 years ago began after Porter identified himself as the minister implicated in the historic rape claims on Wednesday.
The allegation was widely reported on by the media after an anonymous letter had been sent to several ministers detailing the claims and the suicide of the alleged victim last year.
On Wednesday, Minister Porter denied the allegation, saying “the things that are being claimed to have happened did not happen”.
Porter announced he would take “a short period of leave” before resuming his duties as attorney general, minister for industrial relations and leader of the house.
While the Prime Minister has rejected calls for an independent inquiry, he supports an inquest by the South Australian coroner into the cause of the alleged victim’s suicide.