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March 9, 2009 – 5:58PM

The Australian Greens won’t stand in the way of the Rudd government’s proposed workplace laws as the clock ticks down on Labor’s self-imposed deadline to get its legislation through the Senate.

Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard wants to get the industrial laws – which officially dismantle the former Howard government’s WorkChoices – through the parliament in the next fortnight.

Debate will begin in the Senate on Tuesday afternoon but Labor still doesn’t know if it has the numbers to get its bill through the chamber.

The opposition has issues with the bill but hasn’t revealed its official position.

Ms Gillard accuses the coalition of ignoring the mandate delivered at the last election.

“The political party in the Australian parliament that is spitting in the face of the Australian people and refusing to recognise that mandate is the Liberal Party,” she told ABC Radio.

The Greens will ultimately support the laws but independent Nick Xenophon and Family First senator Steve Fielding are still not saying publicly what they will do.

Ms Gillard says she will consider technical amendments but denies the legislation is out of whack with the tougher economic environment.

She is due to separately meet the Greens and Senators Xenophon and Fielding on Monday evening.

“This bill was designed for the good times and the bad times. We wrote this workplace relations legislation hoping to get stable workplace relations for the next 10, 20 years in this country,” she said.

Senator Xenophon isn’t necessarily convinced.

“The fact is that when these laws were drafted, when these laws were designed, the labour market was much more robust than it is now,” he told ABC Radio.

Senator Fielding has indicated previously he doesn’t believe anyone on the crossbench will block the bill.

Greens leader Bob Brown indicated his party wanted changes to the Fair Work Bill but, ultimately, would not block it in the Senate.

“I cannot see the Greens blocking this legislation because we committed to it in the election,” Senator Brown told reporters.

Among the amendments the Greens are seeking will be a provision to ensure companies can’t sack workers if their executives are on exorbitant salary packages.

And while the Greens won’t be obstructive, Senator Brown warned the government not to think the party was a pushover.

“We have a massive legislative program with huge implications coming down the line and give and take is required, we’re testing Julia Gillard on that this afternoon,” he said.

The opposition, too, is facing a highwire act after losing the last federal election on the back of the massive backlash against WorkChoices.

Shadow cabinet is meeting on Monday but Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull isn’t expected to reveal the coalition’s formal position until after a joint party room meeting on Tuesday morning.

Mr Turnbull has signalled opposition amendments on issues like union right of entry to workplaces.

“The bill has got plenty of flaws. I’ve never said that we will pass it though without amendments,” he told Fairfax Radio Network.

Many in the coalition are saying publicly and privately that Labor’s bill goes too far but the risk for the opposition – which the government is happy to exploit – is the perception it hasn’t let go of WorkChoices.

Opposition workplace relations spokesman Michael Keenan says the government is using WorkChoices as a distraction and the issue at stake is jobs.

“This debate has nothing to do with WorkChoices … that was abandoned by the Liberal Party in 2007,” he told ABC Radio.

AAP
http://www.theage.com.au/national/clock-ticks-down-on-ir-law-changes-20090309-8t4u.html?page=-1

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