Labor’s plan to hijack the Coalition’s legislative agenda and pass an amendment that would have overturned penalty rate cuts appears to have failed after Nationals MP George Christensen decided not to support the changes in the Lower House.
After threatening to cross the floor several weeks ago and having done so in June in a defeated bid to overturn the cuts, Labor was hoping that Christensen would support their latest attempt at reversing the FWC’s decision.
But the maverick MP sided with the Coalition on a Monday afternoon motion to prioritise debate of the Bill hours after throwing Labor’s plans into doubt by saying that he could not support the amendment due to a lack of clarity over back-payments.
“I have spoken to the Minsiter for Employment Michaelia Cash and there is confusion over whether or not Labor’s amendment would mean small businesses in my electorate … would have to give back pay, costing them thousands of dollars,” he said. “I am not going to act on the say so of Labor senator Doug Cameron that it will be in the amendment – it needs to be clear and present. As such, I can’t support the amendment as it is.”
The Bill itself states that the changes are prospective in nature, but Christensen has said that Bill as it stands lacks clarity. Christensen was unavailable to provide any clarification on his view, but his decision comes after he withdrew a threat to quit the party if Malcolm Turnbull remained as prime minister by Christmas.
Nevertheless, he has put the plug in Labor’s attempt to capitalise on the Turnbull Government’s lack of a majority, which began with a successfully vote to prioritise debate of the amendment in the Senate last Friday.
The return of deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce to Parliament following his by election victory in New England over the weekend will bolster Coalition ranks, and as IR understands could occur as soon as Wednesday. Australian Retailers Association executive director Russell Zimmerman, who flew to Canberra this morning to meet with policy makers ahead of the vote, thanked Christensen.
“We thank George Christensen for realising that this would be a huge imposition to small business and that we appreciate his support in the matter,” he said.
Uncertainty over the future of the cuts was sparked on Friday after the Senate voted to prioritise debate on the Fair Work Amendment (Repeal of 4 Yearly Reviews and Other Measures) Bill with an eye on adding an amendment that would overturn the Fair Work Commission’s penalty rate cuts.
The Senate then passed the Bill with the amendment on Monday morning, effectively putting the ball in Christensen’s court. Earlier on Monday Shadow minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Brendan O’Connor said the “heat is on” Christensen to come good on the amendment.
“Now the heat is on George Christensen to see whether or not he will cave into his Canberra masters or remain loyal to his commitment to his electorate to stop cuts to penalty rates,” he said.
It is unlikely that Labor would be able to muster the numbers to pass the amendment without the support of Christensen.