Thursday, December 10, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Fall guy
The PM distances himself from Christian Porter’s omnibus IR bill

Image of Attorney-General Christian Porter speaking in Question Time today

Attorney-General Christian Porter speaks in Question Time today. Image via ABC News

On the last sitting day of parliament for the year, Prime Minister Scott Morrison gave further fuel to speculation that the controversial “better off overall test” (BOOT) may be dumped from the government’s omnibus Fair Work Act amendment bill. Morrison directed Labor’s questions about his government’s surprise proposal to undermine the BOOT to Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter. The measure was never raised during 150 hours of talks between employers and unions, and was introduced into the bill without consultation only in the past fortnight. Porter said this morning that the measure was not a “take it or leave it” proposition, and at a Mural Hall press conference this afternoon he said it was early days for the bill, which will go to a Senate inquiry. Opening a string of questions, Sky News political editor Andrew Clennell asked Porter whether he would be the “fall guy” if the legislation did not get up. Porter answered that he was responsible for the legislation and that “the focus has been on four paragraphs and one page so far”. With #WorkChoices2 trending on Twitter, Morrison clearly does not want to be associated with a pre-Christmas pay cut for frontline workers in the year of the pandemic, and he said not a word about industrial relations in his chummy end-of-year interview with 2GB’s Ray Hadley. 

Porter was pretty persuasive in his press conference, denying that the government was preparing to rip up the one page of the bill concerning the BOOT and arguing it was “absolutely absurd” to suggest that a business doing well because of COVID-19 could take advantage of the proposed new measure and somehow get the Fair Work Commission to approve an enterprise agreement that did not pass the BOOT. Porter said a JobKeeper-style turnover test would be “totally unworkable”, and there were only a “tiny handful of cases” when the measure would be used: “In these circumstances where all parties would have to agree, where the business would have to be impacted by COVID, obviously in a negative way, and where the Fair Work Commission would have to determine that, in those circumstances, it was not against the public interest to have a modification to an award provision,” he said.

Nonetheless, he flagged a willingness to debate and amend the legislation. “Like all of the other parts of the Act, dealing with all of the five problems that we’re seeking to solve, we’ll listen, we’ll talk to people, it’ll go through a committee process, but we’re not going to get into this sort of old 1997 politics [a reference to John Howard’s waterfront reforms]. This is going to be a calm, rational discussion which has to serve the best interests of people who need the government to assist in job growth.”

Porter took the same arguments in defence of the legislation into Question Time, accusing Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese and shadow industrial relations minister Tony Burke of jumping the shark. “Why are they both trying to come out with the most absurd, ridiculous, untruth in a question that they possibly can?” he asked. But Porter’s lawyerly arguments will not be enough to defend the omnibus bill against a frontal assault from Labor and the union movement, when the Morrison government has specifically and repeatedly declined to rule out that workers will not be left worse off.    

The Greens announced that they will oppose the omnibus bill outright. “The Greens have a clear position on the government’s IR bill,” said leader Adam Bandt. “We oppose this bill because it cuts pay and makes job insecurity worse. The Greens will block this bill in the Senate. The frontline workers who helped us through the pandemic deserve a medal, not a pay cut.”

It’s a simple line, and given the past form of the Coalition on industrial relations, it is going to bite.    

“This last-minute piece of legislation that is being rushed through should send a shiver down the spine of people who think that Australia is a place where you have the right, provided that you’re not breaking the law … to go about your business freely.”

Greens leader Adam Bandt attacks the government’s ASIO Amendment Bill, prompting Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton to call him an “enemy of the state”. (He later withdrew the comment.) The legislation passed both houses of parliament today, with Labor support.

“Perhaps if we’d had more time, it may have been possible to secure that support. It was disappointing that Labor originally supported that model and withdrew support.”

Attorney-General Christian Porter says the government has given up on trying to get its legislation for a national commissioner for defence and veteran suicide prevention passed this year.

Locked up for being sick
The passage of the medevac legislation last year allowed sick refugees in offshore detention to travel to Australia. The legislation was bitterly opposed by the federal government. Now those refugees say they’re being punished as a result.


The number of companies that have paid no tax for six years in a row, according to the ATO’s corporate tax transparency data for 2018–19.

“The Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 has failed to protect Aboriginal heritage, making the destruction of Indigenous heritage not only legal but almost inevitable. It is inconceivable that such a valuable heritage site could be destroyed in complete accordance with the law and without any means for Traditional Owners or their representatives to effectively intervene – yet it happened. The Western Australian legislation that enabled the destruction of Juukan Gorge is woefully out of date and poorly administered. Everyone accepts this. The need for new laws is widely recognised. In the meantime, without government and industry action, Indigenous heritage will continue to be at risk.”

Queensland LNP backbencher Warren Entsch, chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia, in the foreword to a report on the destruction of 46,000-year-old caves at Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara, titled “Never Again”.

The list

“The Mungo I met in Canberra in the early 1970s was all arms and legs and wispy beard, with a drink and a cigarette at a well-exercised elbow whenever possible, and always quick to laugh. Whether at lunch or in the office, or commenting for radio or television, or in the non-members bar, when he wasn’t drily poking fun at one hapless target or another, he would enter discussions with the sense that he was dispensing the last word on the subject, and a look that defied you to disagree.”

“Whereas Streeton’s environmental concerns enhance his contemporary relevance and attractiveness, his letter about the hawkers is repugnant. Replete with racist epithets, written as if such language was a regular part of his vocabulary, it is a striking instance of how an enlightened concern for the environment has not always been paired with an enlightened attitude to other peoples; in fact, the converse has sometimes been and remains the case.”

“By the time Tony Abbott became prime minister in 2013, there was concern that New Zealand was not pulling its weight in the Five Eyes: that its intelligence budget was focused purely domestically; that it had pulled back from the Pacific. Indeed, it was increasingly referred to as the ‘soft underbelly’ of the alliance. When Abbott met with Key, the subject of New Zealand’s investment in Five Eyes came up. Abbott responded to Key’s remarks about Five Eyes by observing that the alliance was ‘more four eyes and a blink’. A rocked Key responded by offering to expand New Zealand’s listening posts in the South Pacific.”

“[Alice Potts] says her experience of the pandemic was a major influence on the work she will exhibit in the NGV Triennial, a major survey of contemporary art, design and architecture that opens in Melbourne this month with works by more than 80 artists and designers from Australia and overseas. Potts, whose practice combines fashion design, biomaterial production and visual art, has created 20 face shields made out of a seaweed-based biomaterial and coloured with natural dyes derived from flowers and nuts for the exhibition."

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Body Count: How Climate Change Is Killing Us, Inside the Greens and Born To Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull.


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