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Workplace reform will not need ‘perfect’ deal: government

Mr Porter will hold a key meeting with ACTU secretary Sally McManus and others next week to discuss the objectives for five working groups made up of union officials and employers to produce their findings by September.

“Now in some of those working groups the product that is produced may represent quite high, high degrees of agreement amongst the various people in the working groups and the various stakeholders,” he said.

“Maybe in other working groups we won’t get to a high level of agreement, but nevertheless there’s got to be a product out of each of these.

“And even in the working groups where you don’t reach a perfect or high level of agreement, I think the product is going to be a better product to potentially take into Parliament for having been through the process.”

The ACTU is still deciding which unionists will have seats on the working groups, while the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry will also have a position at the table.

While union leaders and industry groups believe a consensus will be difficult, Mr Porter’s remarks made it clear the agreement would not be essential because the government would “produce a fix to known problems” in the end.

One priority will be the design of easier enterprise agreements for greenfields projects so that big investors, such as those in the resources industry in Mr Porter’s home state of Western Australia, know where they stand.

“It will result in legislation,” Mr Porter told Perth radio station 6PR.

“If we can sit down in a room and work out what’s the best way to do it, then you could well see a product legislatively come out of that by the end of the year ready to go into parliament.”

Mr Morrison will widen the reform debate on Friday by using a national cabinet meeting with state and territory leaders to canvass changes to the federation that could avoid duplication between different levels of government.

The federal goal is to agree on ways to measure the results from huge funding agreements across all sectors, injecting more accountability into the system and trying to reduce overlap.

Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter and ACTU secretary Sally McManus have been talking regularly through the coronavirus pandemic about how to deal with workers and jobs.

Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter and ACTU secretary Sally McManus have been talking regularly through the coronavirus pandemic about how to deal with workers and jobs.Credit:Fairfax

“We have already started talking about some of the federation reforms that are potentially possible and we’re working together on those,” Mr Morrison said of the national cabinet talks.

The latest remarks raise expectations when the Prime Minister has in recent days named tax, energy, skills and workplace as targets for change.

The government’s workplace agenda includes criminalising wage theft when employers underpay workers. It also wants to act as a “broker” between unions and employers to streamline enterprise agreements and simplify Australia’s 122 industrial awards, which set out baseline pay and conditions.


United Workers Union national secretary Tim Kennedy said it was “not enough” for the government to merely provide a room for negotiation.

“Unless [the government is] going to be investing to create jobs then it’s a bit like going out to play footie without your full forward to kick goals,” Mr Kennedy said.

Transport Workers’ Union national secretary Michael Kaine said the government’s decision to “shut out” workers from the JobKeeper scheme if they worked at companies owned by foreign governments was not a good start to the talks.

Luke Hilakari and Mark Morey, the heads of the Victorian and NSW trade union movements respectively, said they would wait to see what the process brings but were wary of Liberal governments’ previous approaches to industrial relations.

“Award simplification is often is code for stripping away conditions, unfortunately,” Mr Morey said.

Ms McManus said making it easier for workers and companies to strike enterprise agreements was an area where the parties could bargain.

“Employers have said look, there’s too many hoops that they’ve got to jump through and we’ve got some sympathy for that,” she told the ABC.

“There’s about five hoops employers have to jump through and 16 for working people when you bargain.”

Simon Crean, a minister under four Labor prime ministers, said the government should also look at tax and energy policy reform to get job growth going, but would have to make trade-offs to get deals done.


“These things have always been built around trade-offs, having a number of balls in the air, not just one at a time,” said Mr Crean, who was president of the ACTU from 1985 to 1990.

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