Industrial Relations Amendment (Industrial Court) Bill 2016

12 October 2016


Mr ANOULACK CHANTHIVONG (Macquarie Fields) (12:43): My colleagues have already voiced their disappointment about the introduction of the Industrial Relations Amendment (Industrial Court) Bill 2016 because it represents a betrayal of working people and their families in New South Wales. Our public institutions reflect our collective values; that is, what is important to us as a society, what we believe constitutes a fair society, and the basis on which we move forward as a nation. Our physical and cultural institutions tell the world who we are and what we believe. Our parliamentary democracy and the principle of the separation of powers have been developed over time and occupy a special place in our national psyche. They also demonstrate our priorities to the world.

When institutions are changed, or in this case abolished, we are telling the world that they are no longer relevant, that they no longer have a place in our society, and that they no longer reflect our collective values. The Labor Party has always valued the Industrial Relations Court, which not only provides a legal process but also reflects our collective view of what is a fair and reasonable basis on which to treat workers. Of course, Australia and New South Wales have some great institutions. However, our strength is based not only on our economic institutions and our high-wage and service economy. One of the greatest institutions in this country is the notion of giving everyone a fair go, and, in particular, a fair go for workers who do a fair day's work. All they want is a fair day's pay in return.

The Industrial Relations Court is not a new institution; in fact, it has been around since the Harvester case, which was decided by Justice Henry Bournes Higgins. That case was the genesis of our industrial relations system. The court embodies our belief in what is fair and reasonable. Australia's industrial relations system is unique in the world because it respects the contributions made by both workers and their families and employers. Employees and employers are not necessarily adversaries. Nor are they independent of each other; they are interdependent in creating a fair working environment that rewards effort. As Justice Higgins said, without a fair and reasonable industrial relations system there is the potential to create a poor working underclass of people who toil for hours, days and weeks for unfair and unreasonable wages.

By abolishing the Industrial Relations Court we will be destroying an institution that reflects our greatest traits and values, which call for fair and reasonable workplaces. Of course, those traits and values are upheld by the court. If we abolish it, we will send the message that these values are no longer important in our system. I fundamentally disagree with that. Working people and their families simply want a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. When that is not available to them, they want redress to an institution that will give them a fair hearing. They do not want to be intimidated, as could happen in the Supreme Court. They want their issues considered by an institution that understands them, and the Industrial Relations Court is that institution. If we remove that avenue of redress, we will make it more difficult for workers to engage in the political process.

We have seen the impact of globalisation, which has resulted in the disengagement of the working majority of the population. This phenomenon is not exclusive to the Australian economy; it has happened across the industrialised world. Many jobs have been lost, and that has generated disenchantment in those who believe in institutions such as the Industrial Relations Court that provide them with a fair platform on which to pursue what is important to them and their families. This bill is unfair and it is unreasonable. It subverts our strong values and one of our most important cultural institutions in New South Wales. I ask the Government to listen to the Opposition and the people we represent. The Industrial Relations Court epitomises the principle of a fair go and a fair day's pay, and it must be retained.