Hockey calls for new IR debate

Workplace laws

By Samantha Maiden    

Unfair dismissal laws for small business and prescriptive rules on minimum hours of work should be targeted by the Coalition as future workplace reform areas, opposition Treasury spokesman Joe Hockey said yesterday.

Despite Tony Abbott’s election pledge that Work Choices was “dead, buried, cremated”, Mr Hockey said a fresh debate on policy was consistent with that promise. The Liberal frontbencher said the Coalition should pursue a new IR agenda in the lead-up to the next election.

Mr Hockey said the suggestion all industrial relations reforms should be left untouched, even when they were causing difficulties, such as mandating the minimum number of hours that people can work, was nonsensical.

“That’s ridiculous. Unfair dismissal laws for small business are complex. I think small business is growing increasingly anxious about it,” he told Sky News’s Australian Agenda program.

“The modern awards, I can tell you, even at the local childcare centre, pre-school, they’re having problems with the new modern awards where they’re expected to pay staff less, not more.

“The fact of the matter is, as I’ve said previously, we’ve had three different systems in the last few years.

“But having said that, as each day passes I think there is more and more evidence that the Fair Work system is creating distortions in the marketplace and, far from improving productivity, it’s actually detracting from it.”

Rather than walking away from Tony Abbott’s commitment to not changing the system in the three years of a first term of government, Mr Hockey said his own calls for a reform debate were consistent with this pledge.

“We’re in opposition, we’re not moving private members’ bills in that regard; we are being entirely consistent,” he said.

“If the election is in three years, we have to go to that election with an industrial relations policy. I might say, we said we’re not changing the Fair Work Act.

“The thought that you’re going to have an industrial relations minister sit on the porch of Parliament House and smoke a cigar for three years is just ridiculous.”

Mr Hockey said the Coalition was well placed to repel any Work Choices scare campaign.

“You know what, the reality, Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey set about changing Work Choices,” he said.

“Tony Abbott argued in cabinet against the removal of the no-disadvantage test, and Joe Hockey did get it removed.

“I’m not sure that’s in John Howard’s book. I’ll have to check.”

Article from The Australian, November 8, 2010.

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