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Divisive workplace reform to face split in parliament

Federal parliament will debate workplace reforms, the Murray-Darling Basin plan, judicial immunity and propose an inquiry into menopause.



Contentious workplace reforms will lead the federal parliament's agenda when politicians return to Canberra this week.


The Senate will sit from Monday for five days, while the House of Representatives remains on break for another week.


Independent senators David Pocock and Jacqui Lambie will table private senator's bills aimed at splitting the government's industrial relations reforms. 


"David and I are taking a sensible approach to dealing with this beast of a bill that will have broad ranging impacts," Senator Lambie said.


In its current form, Labor's proposal attempts to close loopholes that allow companies to pay labour hire workers less, add protections for gig economy workers, and create opportunities for casuals to transition into permanent work if they wish.


The proposals have been heavily criticised by the coalition and various business groups who claim it would increase operating costs, worsen the cost-of-living crisis and make many business operators unviable. 


However, there is broad support for reforms that would also make it easier for frontline responders to access claims for post-traumatic stress disorder, protect employees when businesses become insolvent, improve protections for workers experiencing domestic violence and bring silica dust regulation in line with asbestos to better support workers at risk of contracting deadly disease.


Senator Pocock and Senator Lambie are hoping to split four less-controversial elements into a new bill to fast-track the reforms.


"These changes are urgent, and I would love to see the parliament put politics aside and get behind some really straightforward measures to benefit workers rather than making them wait," Senator Pocock said.


The rest of the government's bill would be debated in the new year.


The government also hopes to push its controversial Murray Darling Basin plan through the Senate.


The original proposal aimed to return 450 gigalitres of additional water to the environment by June 2024, but the new laws push the deadline back to December 2027 after it was revealed Victoria was the only basin state on track to meet its water recovery targets.


This comes after a Productivity Commission report revealed the plan had not made enough progress on water recovery and the extended deadline was insufficient.


The government is also set to introduce laws, expected to be backed by the coalition, that will ensure Federal Circuit and Family Court judges have the same protection through judicial immunity as other federal judges.


This follows the case of a man who successfully sued Federal Circuit Court judge Salvatore Vasta, after claiming he was wrongfully jailed during divorce proceedings.


The Law Council argues judicial immunity allows judges to do their jobs without worrying about personal liability and is crucial to the independence of the system.


The Greens will move to set up an inquiry into menopause while a Senate inquiry into attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is expected to release its report.


Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will be on a diplomatic trip in China until Tuesday, when he will fly straight to the Cook Islands for the Pacific Islands Forum.


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