In September the Coalition and most of the remaining Senate crossbench voted to send the Closing the Loopholes bill to an inquiry, with a report expected in February of 2024, and also divide the proposed legislation into two parts. The move was prompted by David Pocock, who was supported by fellow independent Jacqui Lambie.
In early November the senate unanimously passed the four separate bills covering the areas described as “uncontroversial” within Labor’s larger body of legislation, including elements relating to asbestos, discrimination, small business redundancies and work health and safety. However, Labor insisted on passing the legislation in full, refusing to split the bill into separate sections. Tony Burke, the Workplace Relations Minister, then refused to guarantee that the four bills would see a vote in the house.
Mr. Pocock stated that it would be “extraordinary” for Labor to block their own legislation with Ms. Lambie describing Labor as engaging in stupid politics:
“They would be really, really stupid to do that before Christmas…That would not be a smart way to play politics. It was a stupid way they did it in the first place…Surely they couldn’t be dumber, dumb and dumber, surely?”
The more contentious areas of the legislation, including the “same job, same pay” reforms and minimum standards in the gig economy have faced fierce opposition, particularly from employers.
Mr. Burke noted that the provisions outlined in the separated bills ““are already contained within government legislation that is currently before the house,” and questioned why the Senate would pass these small bills while waiting on a senate committee report:
“The government will continue to pursue its own legislation to protect workers and lift wages… It’s strange the Senate passed these provisions without waiting for its own committee to report on them, particularly given the same senators who voted for them have repeatedly stressed the sanctity of the committee process…The government has never voted to delay any of these measures. We want them all passed as soon as possible.”
The secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), Sally McManus, made a statement, calling for the Closing the Loopholes Bill to pass and highlighting its public support:
“Essential Research polling published this week shows the Closing Loopholes Bill has significant and growing public support, with 80% of people polled supporting action on wage theft and 65% believing that casual workers should be paid the same if they are doing the same job as a directly employed worker. Both these issues have more support now than 3 months ago despite big business throwing millions of dollars in advertising to spread misinformation.”
The ACTU also claimed that as a result of the bill’s delay, digital platform workers were expected to lose up to $110 million in additional pay.