Government blames typos for improperly costing negotiations between multiple employers

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The Federal Government says a typo is to blame for a false calculation of the economic impact its controversial workplace relations changes will have on small businesses as it struggles to convince Senate crossbenchers to back the overhaul.

Labor wants to pass its massive industrial relations bill within the next week, but the elements of multi-employer bargaining are proving contentious with the opposition and with Senate crossbenchers whose support the government needs.

In a regulatory statement prepared by the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, it was estimated that engaging in negotiations and paying for a consultant could cost medium-sized businesses around $74,000.

However, the coalition says the actual figure is $5,000 more.

Speaking on the ABC’s Capital Hill programme, Small Business Minister Julie Collins tried to play down the error.

When asked if the government had been let down by its department, she repeatedly described the failure as a “distraction”.

“They absolutely should be correct,” Collins said of the estimates.

“But we think … what we saw yesterday was a big distraction from what is essentially a typo.

“What we’re trying to do is make it cheaper and easier for small businesses to access enterprise bargaining. That’s what the bill does.”

The Government needs the support of ACT Senator David Pocock or Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie to pass its Industrial Relations Bill.

Both have called on the government to split its bill so they can pass the bulk of it and return to negotiations with more employers next year.

Coalition frontbencher Michaelia Cash has seized on some of the sources the department used to estimate how much the legislation would cost businesses.

Bureaucrats have been accused of using Google to foot the bill, with parliamentary documents citing a website – written by a self-described “spiritual healer” – titled “How Much Should I Charge As A Consultant in Australia?”.

A separate footnote cited a page “How Much Do Payroll Services Cost?” from the website bark.com.

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Michaelia Cash calls on Labor to withdraw industrial relations legislation

“What we’ve now seen is that the department and the government are using websites (where) the guru is a modern healer (and) is now advising the government on how much a company should charge per hour for consultancy,” Senator Cash said.

“And then they also conveniently forget to tell you now when calculating payroll services that they use bark.com, which lists as its most popular services: dog walking, dog and pet grooming, private investigators, limo rentals, and magicians.

“This process has now gone from the absurd to the absolute farcical and it shows that this legislation is not fit for purpose and should be withdrawn by the Government.”

A Labour-led parliamentary report on the federal government’s Industrial Relations Act earlier this week recommended excluding a greater number of small businesses from multi-employer negotiations.

The committee recommended that the definition of a small business employer be increased from fewer than 15 employees to fewer than 20 employees, including regular casuals.

On Thursday, Ms Collins said crossbench talks were continuing but the bill still set the threshold at 15 staff.

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