Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Corruption of the Legislative (Advisory) Process?

9. The Corruption of the Legislative (Advisory) Process?The Victimisation' clause of the Industrial Relations Act 1993196 asa case in Point?

Further to this suggestion of public service `conflict of interest'is the seat jockeying in the political and legal arenas. A clear example was the workings in 1995 of the advisory body known as theIndustrial Relations Legislation Secretariat (IRLS). On paper this body was composed of all major interest groups in the NSW Taxi Industry and was willing to accept extensive written submissions onproposed changes to the 1990 Industrial Relations Act (as amended1993). The earlier legislation (i.e. under IRA/93, Section 674 ,subsections 'c'& 'd') enacted protection for taxi drivers against victimisation by bailors (employers) to the extent of imposing fines of up to $10,000 for a single offence.

Despite assurances from members of the IRLS during their 1995 deliberations that changes to the legislation in the proposed 1996 IRA amendments would be of further benefit to bailees (non-owningtaxi drivers) and, that these changes would merely "remove ambiguities" to the `93 legislation, the final drafting saw much fudging. Indeed, the IRA/96, as legislated, substantially removed all protection for drivers! A clear win for the sectional interests ofthe "Taxi Council".

So decisive was this legislative removal of all protection for drivers from victimisation under the new IR Act/96 that the thenMinister for Industrial Relations and Attorney General Mr. Jeff Shaw expressed both surprise and dismay when the true impact of the IRAI96 amendment was pointed out to him. Indeed, this annulling of drivers rights was totally at odds with the simultaneous political campaign by his federal ALP counterparts under Beasley to oppose the removal of the former Keating Government's unfair dismissal legislation by the incumbent Howard Government under federal industrial laws.

The issue that ICAC must grapple with concerns the influences that were brought to bear, if any, on the IRLS between the time period of acceptance of submissions in late 1995, the IRLS's apparent undertaking to continue the reform package of the IRA/93 during these submissions, and, the final outcome, namely, a complete reversal of stated intent when the drafting of the IRA/96 came before State Parliament and was subsequently enacted (without debate on the relevant clause changes) in 1996, (although even here there is somedoubt about the consistency between the new act and the regulations there under).

Some questions that should be examined by ICAC relate why the workers' representative on the IRLS, Transport Workers Union (TWU) lawyer Mr. Adam Hatcher did not brief his membership on the reversal of the victimisation clause in the new act. Indeed, was he aware of its redrafting? Did he support it? Was his subsequent severing of his links with the TWU at all associated with his taking up of chambers in the same legal office that Jeff Shaw emerged from prior to his appointment as Attorney General? Similarly why was the most experienced Commissioner in taxi matters, (Ms. Donna McKenna), stood aside from this role following her participation in the IRLS 1995 submissions? Was it related to her objective stance prior to the drafting of the new provisions?

Clearly all these issues are matters of conjecture to outsiders. However should ICAC take evidence from the individuals mentioned, and others omitted for space reasons, there may clearly emerge a pattern of both outside interference with and undue coercion upon people inpublic office. I fully concede that it is one of the fallibilities of our democratic system that unjust legislation may pass through parliament without proper consideration and debate. However, the element of corruption here relates specifically to the influence, real or imaginary, over public officials (IRLS members) entrusted with the initial drafting of the amended legislation. Were these individuals compromised and how?

Source: Sydney Taxi Corruption

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