By David Bates

Some things should be above partisan politics, and employment law should be one of them. 

Despite the obvious vested interests - unions with the Labor Party and big business with the Liberals – the constant partisanship and endless bickering over our nation’s hopelessly complex employment laws is eroding confidence and stifling everyone’s ability to comply.

Take the new Queensland Government as a case in point. Despite their precarious grip on power, Queensland Labor has already announced – you guessed it – a review of the state’s employment laws.

And who will conduct this review I hear you ask? The answer is an expert panel comprised of academics, trade unionists, and bureaucrats. Yes, that’s right, there’s not a single representative of the state’s employers in sight. Partisanship at its very best.

It’s true that Queensland’s employment laws no longer apply to most private-sector employees as a result of the states transfer of industrial relations powers to the Commonwealth during the Gillard years. But surely having at least one private sector employer on the panel would ensure a more balanced overall ‘review’.

For the avoidance of any doubt, this criticism does indeed cut both ways. Reviews of employment law commissioned by the conservative side of politics should also include trade unions. That said, I’d still exclude those unions that habitually break the law and have complete contempt for both parliament and the courts. 

Our nation’s employment laws are nothing less than a partisan disaster. They are subjected to seemingly endless - and all too often meaningless – reviews and inquiries every time a new government is elected.

When you explain how our system works to employers in New Zealand, Canada, or the UK, they simply shake their heads in disbelief. In those counties, employment laws have stayed relatively stable for decades, despite regular changes in government.

For as long as any one side of politics continually believes it has the right to comprehensively change Australia’s employment laws, we will continue to swing wildly between extremes such as WorkChoices and the rather Orwellian-inspired ‘Fair Work Act’.

Our politicians could exhibit true courage – and earn genuine respect – if they set aside their partisanship and set about ensuring the nation’s employment laws served the nation’s long-term interests.