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David Pocock Says Closing Loopholes Bill “Needs More Time to Get it Right”

Updated: Dec 4, 2023

David Pocock is an Australian Independent Federal Politician and former professional rugby player. Mr. Pocock was elected as a Senator for the ACT in the 2022 Australia Federal Election.

The Closing Loopholes Bill

In November of 2023 it was reported that Mr. Pocock, alongside fellow independent Senator, Jacquie Lambie, were in a “standoff” with Labor MPs over the Closing Loopholes bill. After the senate passed four smaller bills, containing uncontroversial elements of the larger bill, the federal government insisted that the new industrial relations legislation be passed in totality. Furthermore, Tony Burke, the minister for workplace relations and leader of the House of Representatives, then refused “to guarantee the four bills a vote in the house,” which Mr. Pocock describes as “extraordinary.”

The Shadow Attorney General, Michaelia Cash, has guaranteed a senate inquiry into the larger bill to take place in January of 2024, of which a report is not expected until February, effectively pausing any progress on the reforms coming into effect until then. Mr. Pocock said, with regards to the main bill, that there was still a “huge amount of work” to be done.

On the 28th of November Mr. Pocock released a media statement announcing a motion for a “conference” between the Senate and House of Representatives to deal with the deadlock over the industrial relations reforms. Mr. Pocock called upon Mr. Burke to put workers first and to pass the smaller reforms:

“The four measures we are pushing have now been supported in both houses of parliament…I am asking Minister Burke to please, put First Responders first, put survivors of family and domestic violence first, and pass these elements which have the capacity to literally save lives…We saw amendments introduced into the House with more still to come which highlights the exact point Senator Lambie and I have been making - this big bill needs more time to get it right.”

David Pocock called upon Tony Burke to put workers first and to pass the four smaller industrial relations reforms but says the larger bill "needs more time to get it right."

The Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill

On November 27th 2022, it was announced that Mr. Pocock had agreed to a deal with Workplace Relations Minister, Tony Burke, regarding new industrial relations legislation. Mr. Pocock's vote had previously been described as "crucial" to the law's passing.

Mr. Pocock's support for the bill was secured after an agreement was reached regarding an annual review of the JobSeeker program and extra safeguards for small and medium businesses. These safeguards included restricting the scope of the types of businesses which can be pulled into multi-employer bargaining agreements and which occupations will participate in the low-paid bargaining stream.

Another amendment which led to Mr. Pocock's support was the establishment of a new advisory committee which, in the lead-up to each federal budget, will "provide independent advice as to the structural challenges on economic inclusion”. Mr. Pocock expressed his hope that this committee will serve to build public pressure to increase welfare support payments such as JobSeeker.

Mr. Pocock had originally called for the bill to be split into two sections, leaving the most controversial aspects of the bill to be debated and finalised next year. However, following the recent amendments, Mr. Pocock expressed his admiration for the new bill:

“This is now a substantially different bill to the one introduced in the House of Representatives a month ago. It is better for business, better for workers and makes sure the most vulnerable in our community are no longer left behind...This legislation introduces significant reforms to Australia’s industrial relations system that will benefit women and low-paid workers in particular... There are now additional safeguards in place for business, especially small businesses, and some important new powers to better protect the low paid and those reliant on government support.”

As described in a press release from Mr. Burke the amendments to the bill following consultation with Mr. Pocock and other senators include:

"Amend the definition of 'small business employer' to fewer than 20 employees in the single interest stream.
Provide for a statutory review of the Bill to occur no later than two years after the bill becomes law.
Increase the Fair Work Commission’s discretion to refuse to issue a single interest authorisation from 6 months to 9 months from the nominal expiry date of an existing single enterprise agreement, where bargaining is occurring in good faith.
The introduction of a “reasonably comparable” test that the Fair Work Commission must consider for all common interest employers.
Empower the Fair Work Commission to remove a business with fewer than 50 employees from a single interest authorisation either where their circumstances change or where the majority of employees votes for it, subject to appropriate safeguards. Increase the 'minimum bargaining period' for the purpose of an intractable bargaining declaration to nine months, commencing after either the nominal expiry date of the agreement or nine months from the commencement of bargaining, whichever is later.
Clarify that conciliation should take place before arbitration of disputes over flexible working arrangements unless there are exceptional circumstances.
Provide a new capacity for the Fair Work Commission to issue an order requiring a multi-employer agreement to be put to a vote of employees regardless of whether all employee organisations agree, if one or more employee organisations are unreasonably withholding agreement.
Exclude Civil Construction from all new forms of multi-employer bargaining under the Bill.
Provide a new capacity for the Minister to declare, by disallowable legislative instrument, that a particular industry or occupation is eligible for the supported bargaining stream."

Sources & Further Reading

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