Joint press conference with COSBOA, MCA, ACCI, MBA, RCSA

29 November 2023

Event: Joint press conference with COSBOA, MCA, ACCI, MBA, RCSA
Speakers: Bran Black Chief Executive Business Council of Australia; Luke Achterstraat Chief Executive Officer Council of Small Business Organisations Australia; Tania Constable Chief Executive Officer Minerals Council of Australia; Andrew McKellar Chief Executive Officer Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry; Denita Wawn Chief Executive Master Builders Australia; Charles Cameron Chief Executive Officer Recruitment, Consulting and Staffing Association
Topics: Industrial Relations Bill


Bran Black Chief Executive Business Council of Australia: Bran Black Chief Executive Business Council of Australia. Well, I'm here with Australia's leading employer groups, we are all united in our position that we oppose this Bill. The Government has failed to listen, it has failed to consult, and the result is that we’ve got a Bill that adds uncertainty, that adds risk and that adds cost at a time when Australians can least afford it. And unfortunately, the changes that have been announced in the last 24 hours, which have just gone through the House, in fact, make the situation worse. We were hopeful we would see some significant change, in fact, our concerns have been exacerbated. On casual employment, we remain deeply concerned that 2.7 million Australians are going to have less certainty, they are going to have more risk associated with their rosters. And that comes at a time when the cost-of-living is at the heart of every family's concern. We have collectively placed submissions to government, we have been part of consultation processes, we've appeared before parliamentary inquiries. But we haven't been listened to. The key changes that we've been looking for simply have not been made. There is a broader context that is important to remember here, when I travel Australia and I meet with businesses, what I'm hearing more and more is that Australia is hard place to do business, across a whole series of considerations. So, the decisions that are taken here in Canberra matter, and it's important to remember that context. That's why it's so important to have proper process. And that's why we've been disappointed to see that this Bill has been moved through the House so quickly. It is absolutely our position that it needs appropriate time to be considered and not rammed through the Senate. I am now going to hand over to Luke Achterstraat from the council of small business.

Luke Achterstraat Chief Executive Officer Council of Small Business Organisations Australia: Thanks, Bran. Luke Achterstraat CEO at COSBOA the Council of Small Business Organisations. It's quite simple, really, this bill is a small business killer. It's 800 pages of complexity, you need a PhD to be able to understand how to hire a casual worker. We've raised these issues of complexity, of red tape, of the compliance costs, with Government repeatedly. Unfortunately, they still refuse to do an impact statement on the impact the Bill will have on small businesses. We're talking about some of Australia's most vulnerable small businesses who don't have big IR departments or HR support. And they're expected to get their head around an additional 800 pages of complexity at a time that they can least afford it. Data from the Small Business Ombudsman has indicated that 43 per cent - almost half of all Australian small businesses - are not even breaking even. We have almost one million Australian small businesses hanging in the balance. Why would you bring in more costs, red tape and compliance costs? Why would you create more confusion and uncertainty to the almost one million Australian businesses who are hoping they can survive the next three to six months? This is real data, we conducted a survey of over 100 small businesses, 90per cent of them, not 50 not 60, 90 per cent said they would be less likely to employ if this Bill goes through. Two thirds told us they can't even comprehend the Bill because of its sheer complexity. And the IR changes now rate as the number one threat to small business in coming months. That's quite extraordinary right? It's the number one risk to small business in a context of high energy interest, borrowing costs, rent costs, and the threat of cyber attacks, and floods and fires and natural disasters. IR a manmade disaster is now the number one risk for small business. This Bill is shredding the Government's credibility on small business and shredding the confidence of small business owners in Australia. The Government needs to go back to the drawing board, start again. Scope up what they're trying to achieve, and finally recognise the cost that will have on small business and at least give us the credit of modeling that impact before it progresses further. Thank you very much.

Tania Constable Chief Executive Officer Minerals Council of Australia: Tania Constable CEO of the Minerals Council of Australia. Clearly the Government has failed with this Industrial Relations Legislation. It is another blow for the resources sector across Australia, particularly Western Australia and Queensland. It was already a terrible Bill. It has been made worse with these latest amendments. We're expecting to see major changes as it related to Same Job, Same Pay and making it better for service contractors to be excluded from this legislation. This legislation does anything but exclude service contractors. You're absolutely in as a service contractor unless you can litigate your way out. I want to say that these industries that are standing before you today represent business across Australia. We can't be wrong when every business is saying that this legislation is bad for Australian businesses, bad for Australian workers. And we want to go back to the drawing board and work with Government to get this legislation right.

Andrew McKellar Chief Executive Officer Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry: Andrew McKellar from the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. We see three fundamental points. Firstly, we saw yesterday 89 new amendments have been brought forward, on top of 800 pages of existing legislation that was rammed through the House of Representatives with basically no debate and no discussion. I think that's an indication of the fundamental flaw in the process that has been pursued by the Government here. On top of that, we saw the Government joining with the Australian Greens to pass an amendment. So, the Government basically outsourcing its economic management and rigging the system in favor of radical Unions. Passing an amendment that overrode its own legislation from last year, making it even more extreme. That is something that is fundamentally against the interests of the Australian economy. I think here, there is a final issue, and that is the overarching relationship between business and the Government. And one has to say this issue and the way it has been managed, is beginning to cause real static in that relationship. It is causing damage, it is making it much more difficult. In an environment where there are real risks for the Australian economy, where we see continued pressure in terms of rising costs on households, and businesses. We see productivity continuing to lag, we are not getting the changes that we need. We are seeing changes that will make it harder for businesses to employ people in the future, that’s bad for the Australian economy.

Denita Wawn Chief Executive Master Builders Australia: Denita Wawn CEO Master Builders Australia. We are a signatory to the housing accord with the Government. But there is no way known that we're going to meet those desperately needed numbers of houses to resolve the housing crisis in this country if this industrial relations law gets through Parliament. It is incredulous to think that the Government thinks that you can achieve housing targets while at the same time introducing draconian laws into this country that undermines in particular, the 260,000 independent contractors who build houses across the country. They put their rights to be their own boss at jeopardy. It is ridiculous to think that the Government believes that we can build to those targets. It is ridiculous to think that the Government is undermining the very spirit of entrepreneurship in this country, and the right to be your own boss to determine the way you want to work. It is fundamentally flawed to think that you can push people into certain types of employment against their will. And this is fundamentally what this legislation does. It restricts significantly the capacity to work you the way you want to work. And we believe that that is unfair, it is un-Australian, and it is undermining the very spirit of Australian business and therefore needs to be stopped immediately. We need to go back to the drawing board. The Government has played games on this Industrial Relations Legislation since day one since they introduced the policy. They gave us limited information from the start and played games with us in terms of what it actually meant. We called it sham consultation then, and we continue to say that it's been sham consultation the whole way through. They are pushing a Union agenda to the detriment of Australian businesses and productivity in this country, and we say enough is enough. Let it go. Start again.

Charles Cameron Chief Executive Officer Recruitment, Consulting and Staffing Association: Charles Cameron I am the Chief Executive RCSA we represent the recruitment, staffing and labour hire industry. Our members employ over half a million Australians who are looking for the right job at the right time that fits with their life. We hold grave concerns about where this proposed legislation is coming from. If one looks at the statement of expectations presented to the Productivity Commission by the Government recently. Number one on that is to create and support a dynamic, a resilient a competitive economy, and number two on that is to support Australians to build skills and to be adaptive. This Bill does nothing to support mobility, it does nothing to support a dynamic, resilient Australian economy. It doesn't stack up, it's time to go back to the drawing board. Segment it and start again for the sake of Australians and Australian economy.

Bran: Questions? We're very happy to answer.

Journalist: Question for Bran and for Tania. Tony Burke said yesterday that the Business Council and the Minerals Council will not support any amendments because Qantas and BHP allegedly use the loopholes that they're trying to shut. Is that true? And are you prepared to sit down with Tony Burke if he's willing to offer something else?

Bran: We've been consistent in our position right from the start, we wish to have genuine engagement. But it has got to be genuine. You go through a process of having multiple rounds of submissions. You go through the process of appearing before a Senate enquiry. But the result of all that has been that our key concerns have still not been addressed. Our key concerns were made. We haven't seen any substantive changes in the Bill. The other point that I’d make that I think is really important is that we are all collectively engaged here as Australia's leading employer groups because we have got concerns right across the Australian economy. It's not one employer or two employers or three employers. It's that we're concerned about the totality of Australian businesses, and all the employees that they employ and the effects of these laws on those people.

Journalist: Are you prepared to sit down with Tony Burke?

Tania: We have always been prepared to talk to the Government about labour hire. The fact is the Government haven't been listening about labour hire at this stage. To target companies that are using labor hire, a legitimate source of employment is a ridiculous situation. The resources industry needs labour hire for surge capacity, we need flexibility in the operations that we have. BHP is one of the biggest companies in Australia, the biggest company in Australia, paying extremely high wages. It's brought down labour hire over time. It has operations that are employing thousands and thousands of businesses across Australia, small businesses attached to big business contributing extraordinary amounts within regional Australia. Why would the Government target the resources industry? The most productive industry across Australia. When we need at this particular time to bring down the cost of living, bring down the cost of housing, bring down the cost of transport, bring down the cost of groceries. If you affect all of those areas by targeting industries like the resources industry, we just create a whole world of pain for this economy.

Journalist: Can I ask all of you, are you negotiating or hoping to negotiate with Independent Senator David Van on these IR laws? It's emerged he may potentially become a kingmaker and could help the government the Bill through.

Andrew: I think our position, and I am sure that’s the position across the business groups is, we are talking to all Senators, basically they all have a vote. So of course, we'll be speaking to Government Senators, to Opposition Senators, to Crossbench Senators. So, we really encourage the Senate. Let's take the inquiry that's been undertaken at the moment. Let's take it seriously and see them complete that process. They do that transparently. And then let's have a look at what those recommendations are. Let's have a proper debate in the Senate. And of course, we are wanting to engage with all Senators.

Journalist: Does it become awkward in dealing with Senator Van when he has sexual harassment allegations against him?

Andrew: I don't think that enters into it. He's a member of the Senate and those are completely separate matters and for others to deal with. He has a vote in the Senate. The Government accepted his vote on legislation yesterday. So, I think we have to work with the Senate that is in front of us.

Journalist: Any response to the removal of the civil penalties if the employers accidentally misrepresent a non-casual as a casual?

Bran: Sorry, I missed that question.

Journalist: So, the removal of the civil penalties for a non-casual if an employer mistakenly has classified them as a casual, do you have a response to those changes?

Bran: We still have some significant concerns in that context. So, the Government’s been clear that it removes this representation provision. And we welcome that. But what we're concerned about is that there is still a misclassification penalty risk that exists for employers. And the challenge with having a misclassification risk is that there are still penalties that associate with misclassification. That risk is compounded by the complexity of the new changes. Whereas now, with the law, as it stands, we're looking at a single, pretty easy to understand definition that can be applied with simplicity by employers. What we're moving towards is a really complicated, difficult to apply 15-part test, which all employers across the country are going to have to get their head around. And in that context, it's much harder to envisage a situation in which employers will be simply able to apply and move on. To the contrary there are going to be costs, there's going to be misunderstanding and there are going to be mistakes.


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