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Senate backs protections for penalty rates

parliamentNationals MP George Christensen has said he will not support an amendment currently before the Lower House that would overturn the penalty rate cuts, putting a stopper in Labor’s plans to hijack the Coalition’s legislative agenda.

Having passed an amendment to overturn the cuts through the Senate on Monday morning, Labor had hoped Christensen would cross the floor to pass the Fair Work Amendment (Repeal of 4 Yearly Reviews and Other Measures) Bill through the Lower House.

But the Nationals MP has withdrawn a threat to vote against the Government, saying he cannot support the amendment because there’s no guarantee in the text of the Bill that small businesses would not have to back-pay “thousands of dollars” in penalty rates.

This is despite the fact that the legislation states that the changes will be prospective in nature.

“I have spoken to the Minister for Employment Michaelia Cash and there is confusion over whether or not Labor’s amendment would mean small businesses in my electorate…would have to give back pay, costing them thousands of dollars,” he said.

“I am not going to act on the say so of Labor Senator Doug Cameron that it will be in the amendment – it needs to be clear and present. As such, I can’t support the amendment as it is.”

Christensen was unavailable to provide any clarification on his view prior to publication, but should Labor support further amendments Christensen could still support the Bill.

Nevertheless, his decision puts the plug in Labor’s attempt to capitalise on the Turnbull Government’s lack of a majority, which began with a successfully vote to prioritise debate of the amendment in the Senate last Friday.

The return of Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce to Parliament following his byelection victory in New England over the weekend will bolster Coalition ranks, and as Inside Retail understands could occur as soon as Wednesday.

Christensen crossed the floor to support an attempt to pass an amendment to overturn the cuts in June, but the move was narrowly defeated 73-72.

The change of heart also comes days after he withdrew a threat to quit the party if Malcolm Turnbull remained leader by Christmas.

Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Brendan O’Connor said the “heat is on” Christensen to come good on the amendment.

“Now the heat is on George Christensen to see whether or not he will cave into his Canberra masters or remain loyal to his commitment to his electorate to stop cuts to penalty rates,” he said.

Australian Retailers Association Executive Russell Zimmerman flew to Canberra on Monday morning to meet with policy makers ahead of the Senate vote and now says he will stay until Wednesday.

“[Christensen’s statement] gives us a little bit of comfort, but it’s certainly not a guarantee,” Zimmerman said.

It is unlikely that Labor would be able to muster the numbers to pass the amendment without the support of Christensen.

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