Article by Katina Curtis courtesy of the West Australian.

Miners slam sneaky senators for deal with Labor that allowed ‘toxic attack’ on resources
Big business and miners have lashed out at crossbenchers and the Federal Government for a “sneaky” deal that has led to the surprise passage of changes in industrial relations, saying it amounts to a “toxic attack” on the resources sector.

They have pledged to continue campaigning against the changes — and the Government.

Industrial Relations Minister Tony Burke struck a deal with crossbench senators Jacqui Lambie, David Pocock, Lidia Thorpe and the Greens to split his mammoth legislation and pass some of its 23 measures into law on Thursday.

It separated measures on wage theft, industrial manslaughter, PTSD, domestic violence and labour hire into a smaller Bill. The rest of the measures will be dealt with early next year after senators Pocock and Lambie indicated they wanted more time to examine changes for casual workers and the gig economy.

The deal was announced minutes before Parliament began its final sitting day of the year and passed through the Senate by lunchtime. Before dinner, it was law.

Shadow industrial relations minister Michaelia Cash said Mr Burke deserved “a 10-out-of-10 Olympic gold medal for the backflip that has been done”.

She also took aim at the crossbenchers.

“We backed you every step of the way concerning the four measures you wanted split off. It was Mr Burke who wouldn’t,” she told senators Lambie and Pocock.

“People can’t even afford to rent now, and don’t even start me on energy prices. So well done on sacrificing the employers of Australia and, ultimately, the employees who will be affected by this productivity-sapping measure. Merry Christmas.”

Senator Lambie pulled no punches, saying she’d “had a gutful” of big companies not properly paying flight attendants and miners.

“They’ve got massive profits, these bloody little buggers, and they’re not doing the right thing. Well, now you’ll be made to do the right thing,” she said.

The labour hire crackdown comes into effect immediately while other measures will take longer. Industrial manslaughter becomes an offence from July next year while the criminalisation of wage and superannuation theft starts in 2025.

The Minerals Council of Australia has spearheaded a campaign against the labour-hire changes, which will stop companies from contracting workers through a third party and paying them less than rates agreed in existing enterprise agreements.

On Thursday, chief executive Tania Constable labelled the crossbench deal “an act of economic vandalism”.

“Today, the Albanese Government has declared war against the Australian resources sector and weakened Australia’s economy,” she said.

“For the resources States of Western Australia and Queensland, this Bill represents a devastating blow that will reverberate throughout their economies and put a ceiling on growth.”

Chamber of Minerals and Energy WA boss Rebecca Tomkinson said the laws were completely at odds with the Government’s objective of seizing opportunities in critical minerals.

Instead, she said, “it seemed the Federal Government was intent on slaying the goose that laid the golden egg for the WA and Australian economy”.

WA’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry took a similarly dim view, saying the passage of the Bill was a “toxic attack” on labour hire that would “ricochet right through the WA economy” and worsen the cost-of-living crisis.

Premier Roger Cook wrote to his Federal colleagues in October pleading with them to consider the impact of the laws on WA.

Subsequently, Mr Burke reached a deal on the labour-hire changes with the Australian Resources and Energy Employers Association to strengthen carve-outs for service contractors — though that did not allay fears of big miners, including Roy Hill.

Deputy Premier Rita Saffioti said on Thursday the legislation had reached a balance between supporting business growth and making sure workplace deals were fair.

“I think the compromise positions so far will be good for the national economy,” she said.

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry boss Andrew McKellar vowed businesses’ resolve to knock off the rest of the measures would not ease.

“This dishonourable deal has been done in the shadow of the Christmas recess. The Government has sneaked this in, sneaking around the back corridors of the Senate to try to secure desperate support for its flawed legislation,” he said. “One of the things the Government has to consider in this is does it really want to trash the relationship with the business community?”

Master Builders Australia head Denita Wawn also warned that any remaining trust between the business community and the Government hadbeen eroded.

Mr Burke said despite the complaints “at no point did that business campaign, in fact, defend the underpayment of workers through the labour-hire loophole”.

“If you’ve had a choice between spending money on ads or paying your workers properly, the message is pay your workers, pay your workers properly,” Mr Burke said.