Minister tells churches to stay out of IR fight

Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews has urged church leaders to refrain from participating in the debate on the Government's industrial relations changes, "until they know the facts".

The Weekend Australian reported that Mr Andrews also rejected criticism that the Howard Government had exceeded its mandate by abolishing unfair dismissal laws for companies with up to 100 employees.

The ACTU was buoyed by cautious support from some religious leaders for the union campaign against looming industrial relations reforms.

While details of the proposed changes were yet to be released, the National Council of Churches in Australia is uneasy about the direction of the Government's reforms.

Mr Andrews, routinely described as a "devout Catholic", had previously cited the Bible to defend the reforms.

"I don't mind church leaders or church spokesmen having views on issues but I think they ought to be informed when they have views on issues," Mr Andrews told The Weekend Australian. "If people want to talk about economic matters, they'd better have some economic basis for what they're talking about."

Mr Andrews, who has briefed a group of Catholic bishops on the reforms, said he was happy to argue his case to other religious leaders.

The Workplace Relations Minister has also rejected criticism from Nationals senator Barnaby Joyce that the Government had no mandate for the increased scale of its unfair dismissal reforms.

Having gone to the 2004 election with a policy of quarantining companies with fewer than 20 workers from unfair dismissal procedures, Prime Minister John Howard has foreshadowed plans to extend the protection to firms with 100 employees.

But Mr Andrews stoutly defended the unflagged increase. "I'm not a great believer in the mandate theory of politics, never have been," Mr Andrews said. "I believe that the responsibility of the Government is to look at the situation we've currently got."

Mr Andrews said he had yet to meet with Senator Joyce, who questioned whether a 100-employee firm could be categorised as a small business.

Stay out of IR row: Churches told (The Australian/The Mercury 9/7/05)

Anglican leader joins the IR fight (The Australian 11/7/05)
Church fears on Govt's industrial reform plans (Catholic Weekly 10/7/05)

11 Jul 2005