Industrial Relations Amendment (Industrial Court) Bill 2016

Dr HUGH McDERMOTT ( Prospect ) ( 11:43 ): I speak in opposition to the Industrial Relations Amendment (Industrial Court) Bill 2016. Industrial relations is the key area of difference between the major parties in New South Wales politics. It is an ideological split that is witnessed every time this Chamber sits. It is in fact within the DNA of the Liberal-Nationals Coalition to do everything within its power to crush the rights of workers and make a mockery of the industrial relations system in New South Wales. They continue with this today. This bill is no different. It reflects the slow death of the Industrial Court following the vicious industrial relations reforms of the former O'Farrell Government in 2011. Following those reforms, the Industrial Court was restricted in its scope and operational responsibilities. The Baird Government now wants the Supreme Court to take responsibility for all matters relating to industrial relations law that are not handled within the Federal jurisdiction and subject to the jurisdiction of the Fair Work Commission. This is a lessening of workers rights by stealth.

The parties involved in industrial disputes will have considerable barriers to access justice and to commencing legal action because of the significant costs involved in Supreme Court cases. Effectively, this is a denial of justice for those individuals who are seeking remedy before the Industrial Court. Individuals and small business employers will be unfairly restricted by the justice system, especially when those represented by large trade unions or significantly large employer associations will have the resources and expertise that a Supreme Court case demands. Furthermore, the Baird Government is looking to undermine efficiencies in the justice system in New South Wales by removing access to important conciliation functions available to the Industrial Court. That conciliation process resolves 90 per cent of matters brought before the Industrial Court without the need for full trials and formal judgements, therefore, keeping the costs and demands on the parties to a minimum. That is why I am sceptical of the justification made by the Minister in the Legislative Council for these reforms when he stated:

There will be efficiencies of scale associated with handling matters under the larger jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. This will benefit parties through increasing the capacity of the court to attend to urgent industrial matters.

Anyone who has worked in industrial relations in New South Wales or who has been before the Industrial Court or the Supreme Court will know that cannot be true. The following questions were asked of the Minister in the Legislative Council: How will 90 per cent of parties that currently benefit from conciliation provided by the conciliation function of the court now benefit? How is that less efficient than deferring everything to the Supreme Court? If there are so few cases before the Industrial Court, why would there be a delay in having a case heard? None of those questions were answered. The best justification made by the Government is that the Supreme Court has more judges. It does not matter if those judges do not have the same level of experience as those in the Industrial Court or Industrial Relations Commission. As long as there are more of them in the building on the other side of Macquarie Street, the Baird Government seems to think everything will be okay.

Abolishing the Industrial Court will rob the people of New South Wales of a body with extensive experience in workplace matters. There is no guarantee that two or three of the Supreme Court judges with extensive experience in the Industrial Court will continue to deal with industrial relations matters once they transfer. Furthermore, the bill makes fundamental changes to the structure of the Industrial Relations Commission. Like many other Government bodies ravaged by this Government, the position of President of the Industrial Relations Commission will be abolished and replaced with a Chief Commissioner under subsection 1 (e). Additionally, the offices of the judicial member of vice-president and deputy president of the commission will be abolished. The bill lacks provision for those abolished roles to be replaced, despite promises made by the Minister in his second reading speech in the Legislative Council.

There is a straightforward solution that will restore justice to industrial relations in New South Wales. The Coalition will never agree to it because it will give workers a fair go. That solution is to have specialist appointments for industrial relations. The ideal solution would be to continue to have special jurisdictions at a court and commission level. However, the New South Wales Opposition understands that the Liberal-Nationals Coalition will do whatever it can to destroy the Industrial Court and Industrial Relations Commission to ensure there is no easy return under a future Labor Government in New South Wales.

Dr Geoff Lee: Nightmare stuff.

Dr HUGH McDERMOTT: The member for Parramatta may think it is funny to undermine workers' rights, but the workers in New South Wales do not.

TEMPORARY SPEAKER ( Mr Lee Evans ): The member for Parramatta will come to order.

Dr HUGH McDERMOTT: It is quite offensive, really, to think that the member for Parramatta has no regard for employees, even those in his own electorate of Parramatta. A very straightforward and ideal solution would be to continue to have specialist jurisdictions—both a court and a commission. Therefore, the Opposition is firmly opposed to this legislation and is justified in standing up for workers to prevent the weakening of industrial justice in New South Wales.

However, there is still more to be uncovered with this bill. In August 2016, the Baird Government commenced consultations with stakeholders, seeking submissions on the proposal. Interestingly, these submissions have not been released by the Baird Government. What is the Government trying to hide? Is it trying to protect the privacy of unions, employer associations and lawyers? I doubt that very much. So much for the transparency that this Government likes to brag about. Perhaps the Baird Government is attempting to cover up the unpopularity of this bill, and is too ashamed to release the submissions opposing the bill. The Baird Government should be ashamed; it is slashing access to the industrial relations system of justice for the most vulnerable people, who can least afford to pay the large legal costs of a Supreme Court action.

Unlike the Coalition, New South Wales Labor stands by its principles. We believe in a fair society that gives workers a chance and we are united in our opposition to the abolition of the Industrial Court. We took our policy of reinvigorating the Industrial Court to the 2015 State election, and we stand by our policy of that time. In fact, when assessed by the Parliamentary Budget Office, it was determined that our plan was revenue neutral, and therefore would not cost taxpayers a cent. So it is clear that the Baird Government's abolition of the court is not based on cost grounds but based on its deep ideological desire to destroy workers' rights in New South Wales. The Opposition opposes this bill and will continue to fight against the Coalition's determined attack on workers' rights.

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