Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced this week that his government will deliver on its election pledge to change industrial relations laws to protect volunteers from unions.
The legislation will seek to prevent any future attempts by unions to use workplace laws to impose their rule on volunteer groups such as is happening in Victoria with the Country Fire Authority and the Victorian United Firefighters Union.
The Prime Minister was accompanied by the Employment Minister, Western Australian Senator Michaelia Cash. Minister Cash will be responsible for carriage of the legislation to protect volunteers from takeover by unions through workplace laws.
A number of independent Senators have indicated support for the initiative which improves its prospect of getting through the Commonwealth Parliament.
Below is an abbreviated version of coverage of the announcement.
“CFA dispute: Coalition gets support from crossbenchers for plan to intervene”
The federal government’s proposed bill to intervene in the Country Fire Authority dispute has received wide backing, with Nick Xenophon and three crossbench senators expressing support for the volunteers’ position.
Senator Derryn Hinch is in favour of the changes, while Xenophon and Senators Bob Day and David Leyonhjelm have all expressed in-principle support for the move to boost the volunteers’ position in the CFA dispute.
On Monday the government unveiled proposed changes to workplace law prohibiting terms in agreements that restrict emergency services’ ability to deploy volunteers.
The changes seek to boost the position of CFA volunteers in a long-running industrial dispute with professional firefighters and the United Firefighters Union in Victoria, including by giving volunteer organisations the ability to make submissions on workplace deals that affect them.
On Tuesday Hinch told ABC News Breakfast he had “come out 100% supporting my first initiative to the government and that’s supporting the CFA in Victoria”.
Hinch said volunteer services had “national consequences” and rejected characterisation of the CFA dispute as a solely state issue.
Xenophon, whose party holds three Senate votes, wrote to the Council of Volunteer Fire Associations days before the election to support legal changes to boost volunteers’ position.
In the letter, seen by Guardian Australia, Xenophon said: “I support moves to rectify the anomaly that has been identified as a result of the dispute that has occurred in Victoria with the Victorian government.
The Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria believes the CFA dispute has revealed an anomaly that allows enterprise agreements for paid emergency service workers to include provisions that override state emergency management laws such as the CFA Act.
For that reason, the government’s proposed changes would also strike out terms that are inconsistent with state or territory laws that regulate such bodies.
If those three crossbenchers and Xenophon back the bill, the government will need to win support only from Pauline Hanson’s One Nation to pass it.
A One Nation spokesman told Guardian Australia its four senators would vote as a bloc but the party did not have a position on the changes yet.
The party would receive further briefings from Cash and from its Victorian Senate candidate, Simon Roylance, who has been a CFA member since his teenage years.
Speaking on Radio National on Tuesday, Cash said a number of industrial terms discriminated against volunteer fire brigades, including one that required seven professional firefighters to be dispatched before volunteers could start fighting a fire.
Pictured are Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Employment Minister Michaelia Cash.
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