Ai Group Chief Executive, Innes Willox

Speech to Queensland Industrial Relations Society
Brisbane, Friday 23 June 2023


The Australian Government is part way through the implementation of a significant workplace relations legislative agenda. Some who are misguided call it reform. Others would call it retrograde changes that are having a chilling effect on Australian industry. 

The changes that have been introduced since the last federal election, coupled with those that are currently under development, represent the most profound and radical alterations to our system since the previous Labor Government implemented the Fair Work Act in 2009. 

This comes at a time when our national economy is slowing, if not contracting. 

It comes at a time when inflation remains high and sticky. 

It comes at a time when unemployment and underemployment are creeping up and are expected to rise further as businesses adapt to increasingly worsening conditions. 

It comes at a time when interest rates have had their steepest ever recorded rise in response to high inflation with households and businesses already feeling significant pain and with more increases and pain likely to come. 

It comes at a time when business closures are rising and new business registrations are more than 20 per cent down on a year ago. 

It comes at a time when the Fair Work Commission has just increased the minimum wage by 5.75 per cent, the second increase in a row way out of balance with both what business can bear and how our economy is faring. 

It comes at a time when labor and skills shortages are holding back our progress and industry is more and more looking at automation, robotics and new technology such as artificial intelligence to drive much needed productivity growth. Just imagine for one of many examples the efficiencies AI will bring to inventory control and warehousing. 

It comes at a time when building productivity at a business level should be a national priority but the appetite to build that sustainable growth seems to have waned. Productivity is a word that seems to have disappeared from the political lexicon. It is certainly not mentioned as a rationale for changes now being contemplated. 

While a policy to strangle business growth and innovation and the employment that is created is never a good one, to implement such an approach at a time of immense and increasing economic stress I have to say borders on the reckless. 

In my comments today, I want to talk about the risks inherent in the IR measures the Government has already taken and the directions in which it appears to be headed.    

In particular, I will focus on the following areas:

  • Changes to bargaining laws
  • Same Job Same Pay
  • Changes to casual employment
  • Regulation of contracting arrangements, including:
    • Regulation of the gig sector
    • Further regulation of the road transport industry
    • Unfair contracts jurisdiction

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