Industrial relations reform and climate policy to dominate debate as federal parliament returns for latest sitting

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Debate over industrial relations reform is set to dominate parliament this sitting, as the government begins consultations to expand multi-employer bargaining in an effort to lift wages.

Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Tony Burke will start discussions with stakeholders including leading business groups and unions this week, with the government hoping to introduce legislation before the end of the year.

The Coalition has vowed to oppose the changes, claiming they would embolden unions, lead to crippling strikes and be bad for small business.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers has rejected the claims, saying ordinary Australians are falling behind and the reforms will help address stagnant wages.

“We want to see more agreement in industrial relations, not more conflict, and we want to see wages growth, and that’s why the changes that Tony Burke will be consulting on are so important,” Mr Chalmers told reporters at Canberra airport on Sunday.

Multi-employer bargaining would allow unions to strike pay deals for workers across multiple employers within the same industry.

The government announced it would begin drafting legislation during the jobs and skills summit last week, but the idea has received a mixed response from business groups.

A man with grey hair speaks in parliament
MP Tony Burke will meet with leading business groups and unions this week.(Supplied)

While the Opposition said it would fight the changes because they would hurt small businesses, the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia’s chief executive, Alexi Boyd, said the group’s members were open to reforms.

“What we are hearing from our members is some of them are saying that this is something they would like to look into, it’s as simple as that,” she told the ABC.

“We haven’t agreed to anything, but we are coming to the table with an element of good will and finally understanding that the system at the moment for small business is broken and we want it fixed.

“We’re here to actually create a simpler system, which removes the pressure off how difficult it is sometimes for people to hire their employees, and this is what our members want, they want this examined.”

However, Ms Boyd said there were clear red lines.

“We made ourselves abundantly clear at the jobs summit that we will not support sector wide bargaining, we will not support anything that is compulsory, or requires small business to any way reduce the autonomy that they in controlling their business,” she said.

Greens to table ‘climate trigger’ bill

Another tricky policy area is also on the agenda, with debate to begin on the government’s climate change bill in the Senate.

The Greens will back the bill, which will enshrine a 43 per cent emissions reduction target by 2030, but will also table separate legislation to introduce a “climate trigger” which would ban new coal and gas projects.

Greens environment spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young said current environmental laws were fundamentally flawed.

“Australia’s environmental laws are broken. They are failing to protect nature and our iconic wildlife,” she said.

“It’s crazy that in the midst of this climate crisis and environmental collapse that a new mine or development can get environmental approval without any consideration of climate pollution or damage.

“The climate wars will not end this week with the passage of Labor’s Climate Bill so long as they keep approving new coal and gas.”

Under the Greens bill, the environment minister would be forced to reject approval for any projects which emit above 100,000 tonnes of carbon.

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