Page 1560 - Week 05 - Thursday, 11 May 2006

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MR SPEAKER: Before I call the next question, I need to comment on a question that was asked of Mr Stefaniak to the “minister for corrective services”. Lest it causes confusion: there is no minister for corrective services; it is one of the responsibilities of the Attorney-General.

Industrial relations

MR MULCAHY: My question is directed to the Minister for Industrial Relations. Both the Sydney Morning Herald of Wednesday, 3 May 2006 and the Weekend Australian on the following weekend featured articles quoting learned lawyers on the Australian constitution and industrial relations casting significant doubt on the likelihood of the High Court challenge by the states and the ACT against the federal government’s WorkChoices legislation succeeding.

The Weekend Australian noted that “no respected legal academic expects victory” and that Peter Beattie indicated that he expected to fail. Why are you wasting $100,000 of Canberra taxpayers’ money for no other reason than to do as the unions tell you, when the High Court’s decision can have no impact on the ACT and is expected to fail in any case?

MR CORBELL: I will take that question as Attorney General. I am responsible for the representation of the territory in the High Court. Mr Barr is quite happy for me to answer this matter. And I am very happy to answer it. Mr Mulcahy’s supposition is simply wrong. The challenge by the states and territories to the WorkChoices legislation in the High Court is predicated on the basis that the commonwealth does not have the power, under the corporations power in the constitution, to legislate in this way.

However, it is very important that both the ACT and the Northern Territory be represented in this action because, if the High Court decides that the commonwealth is beyond power and has used the corporations power in an inappropriate and unavailable way, the territory and the Northern Territory will need to demonstrate to the High Court that, because the commonwealth’s intention is to establish a national scheme, the WorkChoices legislation has no effect in the territories.

The intention was to establish a national scheme. If the High Court decides that that national scheme cannot be established because it is beyond power, then we must demonstrate to the High Court that it should not be established in the territories either because it is meant to be a national scheme.

That is why the ACT is represented. If we were not there, we would be abrogating our responsibilities. If we were not there and the High Court decided that the WorkChoices legislation was beyond power, then no argument would be put to the High Court that it should not apply in the territory. That would be exposing ACT employees to being victims of a piece of commonwealth industrial relations law that would not be applied in the states but would apply to people in the ACT and the Northern Territory. That would be inequitable. That is why we are represented. It is entirely appropriate that the territory be represented.

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