Key reforms passed in IR deal

Labor and the cross bench have reached a last-minute surprise deal to split the Albanese government’s industrial relations bill, passing key reforms on labour hire and wage theft.

What we know:

  • On the final parliamentary sitting day of the year on Thursday, Labor agreed to split its  industrial relations reforms to pass key elements of the package (AAP);  
  • Crossbenchers had been pushing for less contentious aspects of the plan to be split from the broader package, however Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke was able to include some of the bolder reforms in the final deal;
  • The new laws will stop companies underpaying workers through the use of labour hire, as well as criminalising intentional wage theft and superannuation theft (SMH); 
  • A new criminal offence will be created for industrial manslaughter, and the functions of the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency will be expanded to include silica;
  • There is also better support for first responders suffering post-traumatic stress disorder, improved protections for workers subjected to family violence, and a loophole will be closed in which large businesses claim small business exemptions during insolvency to avoid redundancy payments;
  • Senator Jacqui Lambie, who joined with independent Senator David Pocock and the Greens to back the changes, hailed the labour hire changes in particular, saying “I’ve had enough of having 12 different lots of payments for hosties out there when I get on a plane, knowing that they’re not getting paid the money that they should be paid”; 
  • Opposition industrial relations spokeswoman Michaelia Cash warned the new rules would make businesses more costly to run, and hit out at Labor for rushing “the bill through on the last day of sitting with no debate”;
  • Miners particularly impacted by the labour hire reforms are set to wage a mining tax-style campaign against the laws (AFR $); 
  • The laws come after Burke navigated a complex world of self-interest from employer groups representing large and small employers and different sectors, plus the unions and other industrial relations bodies (The Saturday Paper); 
  • Labor’s plan for minimum standards for gig workers, truck drivers and changing the definition of casual employment to provide a path to permanency were not included, and will be voted on next year (ABC). 
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Wong to visit Middle East

Foreign Minister Penny Wong will visit the Middle East to help chart an end to the conflict in Gaza, as she notes “there are increasingly few safe places” for civilians in the besieged territory.

What we know:

  • Wong will seek to meet key counterparts in Israel, the West Bank and countries with influence in the wider region within weeks (The Australian $); 
  • Assistant Foreign Minister Tim Watts will lay the groundwork for the trip, travelling to ­Israel, Qatar and Egypt next week, where he will raise the plight of civilians in Gaza while also expressing “Australia’s unequivocal condemnation of the Hamas terrorist attacks and support for victims and families”;
  • Wong on Thursday described the end of the weeklong “pause” in hostilities as a “grave setback”, warning “there are increasingly few safe places” for civilians in Gaza and that Israel risks “strategic defeat” (The Guardian); 
  • Israel has struck about 250 targets in Gaza over a 24-hour period, with Gaza health authorities reporting a further 350 Palestinians killed, bringing the death toll past 17,000 (The Guardian); 
  • Rafah, a town on the Egyptian border that Israel has labelled as one of the last safe zones for 1.87m displaced civilians to flee to, was struck twice with 20 killed;
  • The UN Relief and Works Agency reports that more than 80 UN facilities, including shelters for displaced civilians, have been hit in the conflict to date, with 130 of its employees killed (AP); 
  • Israeli officials have said they don’t target UN facilities, but have also accused Hamas of using UN buildings for cover for its military activities;
  • UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has invoked the rarely-used Article 99 of the UN Charter to call a meeting of the Security Council to discuss measures for another ceasefire, warning “the situation is fast deteriorating into a catastrophe with potentially irreversible implications for Palestinians as a whole and for peace and security in the region” (Al Jazeera); 
  • Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen hit out at the move, saying “Guterres’s tenure is a danger to world peace. His request to activate Article 99 and a call for a ceasefire in Gaza constitutes support for the terrorist organisation Hamas” (Jerusalem Post). 
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NDIS review pushes reset

A major review of the NDIS has recommended dozens of changes that if implemented would profoundly reshape how the scheme functions.

The final report of the NDIS review made 26 recommendations and 139 actions, including that Australians should no longer have automatic access based purely on their medical diagnosis (ABC). 

Instead, access to the scheme would depend on how much a person's disability affects their daily lives.

The report recommends making the process of applying for the NDIS clearer and simpler, and clarifying the definitions of key eligibility criteria such as what's deemed “reasonable and necessary” support.

It also calls for more support to families of children with developmental delays or disability outside of the NDIS, the regulation of all NDIS support providers, and to make the registration process more accessible.

The federal government's full response to the review will be released next year.

It comes amid revelations that the head of its regulator faces allegations she was aware or should have been aware of abuse exposed by the media (The Saturday Paper). 

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Australia funds Pacific climate action

The Albanese government has committed $150m to climate finance for vulnerable Pacific countries at the COP28 conference, but offered nothing to a newly created global loss and damage fund.

Australia will contribute $100m to the Pacific Resilience Facility, a trust fund to invest in small-scale climate and disaster resilience projects, and $50m for the Green Climate Fund, the world’s largest climate financing mechanism (The Guardian).

The Albanese government has however not contributed to the loss and damage fund set up to help vulnerable countries pay for the irreversible impacts of climate disaster, with the fund struggling to gain anywhere near the required levels of support.

Australia also signed onto a pledge to no longer finance international oil, gas and coal projects, although domestic projects are not part of the agreement (The Conversation). 

It comes as Australian billionaire Andrew Forrest used the COP28 climate talks to call for fossil fuel executives to have their heads “put up on spikes” for their involvement in driving catastrophic climate change that he warns jeopardises the lives of millions of people (ABC). 

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Aide says Lehrmann gave off ‘bad vibes’

Bruce Lehrmann’s former colleague has told the Federal Court she had “bad vibes” about him and opted not to socialise with him based on her “women’s intuition”.

Former Liberal aide Nikita Irvine testified on Thursday in the defamation trial Lehrmann has brought against media reporting of allegations — which he denies — that he raped Brittany Higgins (ABC). 

Irvine said she had declined an invitation to attend a Canberra nightclub with the pair and two others on the night in question, saying she “had bad vibes on Bruce … it was women’s intuition … I just didn't really want to spend time with him.”

It comes as Irvine, Higgins’ and Lehrmann’s former boss, Liberal Senator Linda Reynolds, launched defamation action against the ACT government and former chief prosecutor Shane Drumgold over a letter he penned accusing her of “disturbing conduct” during Lehrmann’s rape trial (The Age). 

National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service 1800 737 732

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You would have heard me say this many, many times on this program and I’ll say it again now – the accused is innocent until proven otherwise.

Shock jock Ben Fordham urges listeners to withhold judgement on his 2GB predecessor Alan Jones, who has denied allegations of indecent assault. Fordham’s support for this fundamental legal principle is unwavering — except of course in the case of released immigration detainees, who should be presumed guilty of future crimes and locked up for life (SMH).

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Postscript: Corn Tastes Better on the Honor System

I hold in my hand the fruit of genius, a miniaturized product that powers itself by unfurling self-generated solar cells. Its sophisticated internal codes enable it to replicate itself ten thousandfold without need of a 3-D printer. Under its glassy surface, an intricate network of membranes harness whizzing electrical circuits to sequester atmospheric carbon, purify water, and produce breathable oxygen. This marvel of science comes to us, free of charge, not from the high-tech engineers of Silicon Valley, but from the high-TEK developers living in the Balsas River Valley of central Mexico more than nine thousand years ago. It comes to us not from Apple, but from Maize (Emergence).

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