Bolstered support for first responders and family violence survivors may be fast-tracked if crossbenchers succeed in carving up Labor’s industrial relations reforms.
Independent senators Jacqui Lambie, Tammy Tyrrell and David Pocock are calling on the government to split some of the less contentious elements out of its workplace law changes so they can be debated in early-2024.
The crossbenchers are demanding four components be hived off from the “closing loopholes” bill.
They include better support for responders diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as stronger workplace protections for survivors of family or domestic violence.
They also want changes to silica safety and small business insolvency measures split out.
The government was hoping to pass the bill in coming months but the crossbenchers teamed up with the opposition in the Senate to set a February 1 reporting date for the bill, effectively pushing it into 2024.
Australasian Council of Ambulance Unions secretary Jim Arneman said there was no time to waste when it came to creating an easier pathway for first responders suffering from PTSD to access compensation.
“It takes a terrible toll, this is a no-brainer,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
Senator Lambie said Labor included the measures in the wide-ranging bill as leverage to make the crossbenchers “look bad” for holding it up.
“Well, you’re not doing that, we’re one step ahead,” she said.
“You’re not doing that to the first responders, you’re not doing that to domestic violence victims.”
The Labor government has made clear it would prefer all elements of the bill pass parliament in a timely matter.
“At no stage has the government supported any of these measures being delayed,” a spokesperson for Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke said.
The government wanted the inquiry to report in November so it had time to pass the upper house in December, before parliament breaks for the year.
The Greens back Labor’s preferred timetable for the bill.
“Workers are struggling with low wages and insecure work right now, and the Greens supported the shorter inquiry process for this bill so the Senate could discuss further industrial relations reform this year,” party leader Adam Bandt said.
Opposition workplace relations spokesperson Michaelia Cash said the coalition would consider any plan to split the bill.
Senator Cash said provisions to support first responders and strengthen protections against discrimination should never have been included.
“This was a deliberate and cynical ploy to put pressure on the crossbench to agree to Labor’s timetable to ram the bill through the Senate with little to no scrutiny this year,” she told AAP.
The opposition and business groups have raised a host of issues with the more contentious elements of Labor’s workplace reforms.
They include plans to stop companies using labour hire workers to undercut the rate of pay agreed for employees.
The government also wants to criminalise wage theft, bolster protections for gig workers, and create a pathway for casuals to become permanent.
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Minerals Council supported the move to split the bill.