Office of employment minister baffled at RSRT outcome

By: Rob McKay


No action on FWO’s legal approach despite seeing off the tribunal swiftly

Office of employment minister baffled at RSRT outcome
The RSRT issues refuse to go away after its abolition.

 

The office of federal employment minister Michaelia Cash is mystified about how the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT) came to go down the path of losing the Coalition government’s confidence.

The dust has settled on one of the most divisive industry issue this decade but is being stirred up in New South Wales as a result, with the General Carriers Contract Determination (GCCD) extension issue.

What lessons have been learned in Canberra from this federal political, regulatory, industrial relations and industry debacle, however, are difficult to ascertain

Despite the department being responsible for the tribunal through the Fair Work Commission, Cash’s office was unable to cast any light on how it went so wrong in the government’s eyes.

Asked why the RSRT went in the direction it did, given that the related regulatory impact statement identified risks from rate-setting and given that then employment minister Bill Shorten pledged that the RSRT, once formed, would be mindful to avoid destructive rulings, it was at a loss.

"This is a question only the members of the RSRT can answer," a spokesperson for the minister says.

"Only they can explain why they sought to attack the industry in the way they did.

"The Tribunal should have been aware of the impact of its order.

"However, it proceeded with the order despite the hundreds of submissions put to it by owner-driver businesses.

"Only the members of the Tribunal can explain why they adopted the approach they did."

The government relied on the findings of two reports, from Jaguar Consulting and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), as well as a groundswell of industry opposition, to conclude the tribunal had to go.

While unsupportive of the body, both reports noted it was too early to say how effective it was (Jaguar) and its Road Safety Remuneration Order was (PWC).

But for the minister’s office, that lack of support was crucial.

"Both reports recommended that the RSRT be abolished," the spokesperson says.

"Furthermore, both reports rejected the supposed link between remuneration and safety, or found it tenuous at best.

"The tribunal was supposed to improve road safety and deliver positive outcomes for the community.

"Instead, the tribunal that was established by the former Labor government was seeking to decimate thousands of small businesses.

"The approach of the Tribunal did not improve road safety or deliver positive outcomes.

"Instead, it jeopardised the existence of an entire industry."

Cash’s office was less forthcoming about the behaviour of another body within its department, the Fair Work Ombudsman’s (FWO) office.

Despite the swiftness in seeing the RSRT dispatched for perceived shortfalls, the spokesperson would not be drawn on legal and industry criticism on the FWO’s approach to litigation.

The question of how wedded the government and its arms are to government’s ‘model litigant’ policy went unanswered.

"The Fair Work Ombudsman is an independent body," the spokesperson says.

"The Government does not have any power over the legal proceedings it chooses to bring or the approach it adopts.

"These questions should be put to the FWO."

ATN has requested an opportunity to discuss the issues from both bodies previously and been rebuffed.

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