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Liberal reignites industrial law debate

Labor says a Liberal MP's call for the coalition to "go on the front foot" over workplace reform shows penalty rates and unfair dismissal protections are in for the chop under a coalition government.

Influential Liberal MP Josh Frydenberg, a former adviser to prime minister John Howard and foreign minister Alexander Downer, has urged Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to overhaul workplace laws to deal with union "militancy" and a slump in productivity.

"Now is the opportunity for the coalition to go on the front foot and put forward proposals that make unfair dismissal laws less of a burden on small business," Mr Frydenberg wrote in an opinion piece.

He said the Fair Work Act should have greater individual flexibility arrangements and union power needed to be reined in.

"Standing still is not an option. In today's challenging economic climate, industrial relations reform is more important than ever and the clock is ticking," he said.

Mr Abbott has previously said that a coalition government would respond "decisively" to problems in the Fair Work Act to help small business and improve productivity.

He would also bring in new laws to penalise union officials who misuse members' funds, on a similar scale to the penalties faced by corporate cheats.

Acting Workplace Relations Minister Kate Ellis said Mr Abbott needed to spell out his agenda in detail.

"The Liberals' workplace relations policy has been in witness protection since 2007, but the Liberal Party's intentions for Australian workplaces are becoming increasingly clear," Ms Ellis said in a statement.

"The last time the Liberals had a workplace relations policy, it was to cut penalty rates, cut unfair dismissal protections and cut basic entitlements like overtime and leave."

She said given Mr Frydenberg's comments this agenda remained in place.

"Given the recent promotion of the chief architects of Work Choices to his front bench - Jamie Briggs and Arthur Sinodinos - it's clear that the workplace extremists in the Liberal Party have been given the green light," Ms Ellis said.

Mr Briggs and Senator Sinodinos have previously called for a renewed focus on workplace reform, but they - as well as Mr Abbott - have said that aspects of Work Choices had gone too far.

Mr Abbott has declared Work Choices "dead, buried and cremated".

A further round of changes to the Fair Work Act is expected this year, following a review of the legislation.