With the Albanese government now at its six months mark and the end of the parliamentary year fast approaching, it’s tick-off time.
In a Monday speech to the International Trade Union Confederation, the prime minister lists measures the government has introduced into parliament “in the past month”.
They include protections against sexual harassment, measures to improve job security, initiatives to revitalise bargaining and “get wages moving”, and a “new focus” on closing the gender pay gap.
He and his ministers are feasting on a substantial list of the government’s early legislative and other achievements, especially those that fulfil election promises. And of course the past week, with the breakthrough meeting with Xi Jinping, has put the icing on a strong half year for Anthony Albanese’s foreign policy.
It will be interesting, when commentators start reflecting on the 50th anniversary of the election of the Whitlam government – which comes on Friday week – what comparisons are made of the early days of these two Labor administrations, in substance and style.
To cap off 2022 as it would wish, the Albanese government wants to “tick off” two crucial pieces of legislation: one setting up the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), and the other introducing substantial industrial relations change, notably widening multi-employer bargaining.
Both have undergone short parliamentary inquiries. The report on the NACC is bipartisan, but with some amendments proposed.
The government can be confident it will get that legislation through this sitting.
Peter Dutton has expressed backing for the commission. Integrity was a big issue at the election and the Coalition would have nothing to gain and a good deal to lose by failing to support the bill. The issue has already cost it a lot politically.
Independents Helen Haines in the House of Representatives and David Pocock in the Senate want a change made to the provision that the commission would only hold public hearings in “extraordinary circumstances”. They will press for the qualification to be taken out, so widening the opportunity for public interrogations.
That, however, could jeopardise Coalition support – which the government would like to have, to underpin the new body with maximum political authority. Anyway, Labor is determined to keep the provision for public hearings narrow.
The NACC bill is in the lower house this week and the Senate next week.
The government is currently going through the process of selecting a head for the NACC. This is a crucial appointment. For the commission to work well and gain all-round respect, that choice needs to have support from both sides of politics.
The anti-corruption commission is a necessary step, but we shouldn’t kid ourselves that it won’t bring its own problems and face its own challenges. That’s obvious when we look at the operation of comparable bodies in NSW and Victoria.
Before the next federal election political players could try to use it as a weapon, with referrals. That’s why its head must be someone of stature, also possessing a certain quality of savviness, and its processes have to be rigorous.
The fate of the industrial relations bill is more up in the air, with Pocock the key player at the moment.
The Senate report on the bill comes out on Tuesday, and it will divide along party lines.
Pocock, among other parliamentarians, and the bill’s business critics, have complained of inadequate time for consideration of this complex legislation. Albanese said on Sunday the government was willing to extend the Senate sitting if necessary. This could be done by sitting on the next couple of Fridays (which might be necessary anyway to get through its program) or going into a third week as well.
The crunch will be what more concessions the government is willing to give to get Pocock over the line. It’s already signalling it will agree to a review to determine how the changes are working.
In addition, Pocock wants a higher threshold for the definition of small business. He also has concerns about unions being able to veto the holding of a vote on a proposed multi-employer agreement, and about some other aspects of that bargaining.
One thing that has to be squeezed into the Senate sitting for Pocock, who represents the ACT, is a vote on the territory rights bill – already through the lower house – which will allow the ACT and the Northern Territory to legislate for voluntary assisted dying. It’s a free vote and the numbers are there to pass it.
Before Christmas Pocock will be doing his own “ticking off” on his list of demands.