‘What a joke’: Industrial relations reform causes major Senate blow up

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A fight over controversial workplace reforms has thrown the Senate into utter chaos, with party leaders yelling at each other at the dispatch box.

The disruption began when the Coalition renewed its attack on the government after senior bureaucrats were accused of Googling the cost of its corporate industrial relations bill.

On Tuesday, the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations said it wrongly included an article by a ‘spiritual healer’ titled ‘How much should I charge as a consultant in Australia?’ as a footnote to the regulatory impact statement accompanying the bill.

The document accompanying the bill’s explanatory memorandum also contained a footnote on a webpage, “How much do payroll services cost?” on the business marketplace website bark.com.

Senators Penny Wong and Simon Birmingham face off in a voluntary debate during Question Time.
Camera iconSenator Penny Wong and Simon Birmingham went head-to-head in a harrowing Question Time debate. Credit: Provided

“Is this an acceptable source for government departments to use to calculate trading costs for businesses?” asked LNP Senator James McGrath.

Labor leader Murray Watt, who represents the Labor Relations Minister in the Senate, noted that the department had also used the Australian Financial Review, PayScale and LinkedIn as sources.

“Frankly, I think it would have been a better idea for the ministry to use some of these other more reputable sources on its website, rather than the one it chose to do,” he said.

“We are going to hear attack after attack from the Coalition over pay rises, despite the Australian people voting for them.”

Senator Birmingham was frustrated with Murray Watt's responses.
Camera iconSenator Birmingham was frustrated with Murray Watt’s answers. Credit: Provided

His comment did not sit well with Senate Opposition Leader Simon Birmingham, who rose to immediately arrest Senator Watt.

“Senator Watt continues to mislead the chamber about what the country actually voted for. The bill he’s talking about, people haven’t done it,” he began, before his mic was turned off.

It caused Penny Wong to immediately jump to her feet, as the pair yelled and aggressively pointed at each other as Chairwoman Sue Lines tried to regain control.

Penny Wong hits back at the Senate.
Camera iconPenny Wong fired back, accusing him of throwing “backbench meat”. Credit: Provided

“I know he wants to give meat to the backbench on an ideological issue, but he knows it’s not a point of order,” adding that she wanted the president to rule more quickly on the question.

Meanwhile, on the cross bench, a frustrated Greens senator, Lidia Thorpe, threw her hands up and shouted “Who runs this country. What joke.”

The shenanigans continued for the rest of the hour as the government fielded questions about everything from the battle with the EU over prosecco (“And the pizza? Will it be okay next?) and the report on the state of the climate.

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