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Fair Work appointments to undermine independence

Canberra 7 March 2013. Bill Shorten’s imminent appointments to the Fair Work Commission could damage the standing and independence of the tribunal and undermine the appointments process by laying it open to political interference.

Using the cover of some of the more benign recommendations from the Fair Work Review Mr Shorten has also legislated to create two new positions at the industrial tribunal. These would slot in at second and third place in the chain of command.

Senator Eric Abetz

Never before has a Government sought to undermine a quasi-judicial body like this by, in effect, demoting people currently in a role and slotting in new appointments above all others.

This move shows a bullish arrogance designed to give some jobs to the boys at the expense of the independence and standing of the Fair Work Commission. This is a clear message that from now on governments could use the Fair Work Commission as their own plaything and that governments could interfere in the judicial process by shifting people around.

The only way to maintain the independence and standing of the tribunal is for the Minister to appoint Vice Presidents Lawler and Watson – who are already doing the job – to the newly created posts.

Minister Shorten needs to come clean as to why he invoked the President of the Commission wanting these new positions given revelations in Senate Estimates that the President in fact did not seek these two positions as the Government categorically asserted while the legislation was in the Parliament.

Either the President misled the Senate or the Minister did.

The Coalition also notes the touted-front runner, Jennifer Action, is a former union official, Labor candidate and the wife of a former senior employee of Mr Shorten during his time as Workplace Relations Minister.”

The appointment of anyone but the two people already titled “vice-president” would further diminish the standing and the independence of the FWC. Confidence in the Fair Work system will be reduced if Mr Shorten continues to use these appointments as soft landings for Labor loyalists.