Wednesday, 9 December 2020
Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Withdrawal from Amalgamations) Bill 2020; Suspension of Standing and Sessional Orders
The ordinary course under the standing orders is that when a bill's introduced it's then considered on a later day, at a later sitting, and there are very sensible reasons for that. It allows people who have to vote on the bill time to read the bill and then consider the bill—and potentially hear from others who are going to be affected by the bill about what their views are—and then form a considered view, hear the debate and vote. We got this bill about five minutes ago. Copies were laid on the table at 9.35 am—so, seven minutes ago. There's not been time for anyone in this chamber to read the bill. Perhaps the government's provided secret copies of the bill to others; I don't know. But there's not been time for anyone in this chamber to read the bill.
The bill has significant implications. As I understand from the minister's speech and from a quick read of the bill, it applies across the board to all unions in this country and therefore all the members of those unions and makes some changes to a well-understood system of industrial relations and how unions go about their affairs. It may be that the bill is ultimately unobjectionable. It may be that this bill, once people get to see it, has widespread support. But I just don't know. As a matter of process, I don't think anyone in this chamber, especially members of the crossbench, who may not be privy to getting secret drafts of the bill—and I don't know whether that's happened or not, but the minister can enlighten us—should be forced to vote on a bill that we see for five minutes. That is not good process.
I accept that there are situations in which there is a need for urgency and where a bill might have to pass—for example, in the last couple of days of the year we need to get something done because there's some urgency. The minister had the opportunity in his second reading speech or in his speech moving this motion to explain that there was a need for urgency, and the minister gave no suggestion that there's any urgency for this whatsoever. In the context of not even one argument being put about urgency for this bill, and given that the bill has significant implications for the functioning of industrial relations in this country, the ordinary course should be followed. I see no reason—and the minister's put no reason—for the ordinary course to be followed, which is that you introduce a bill, the debate gets adjourned so that people have a chance to read the bill and then you have considered debate and vote on it.
We find ourselves in this situation quite often, where it's the last couple of days of the sitting year and a bill is lobbed and forced through and people don't have a chance to read it. I think that process should be resisted. So, as a matter of principle, I do not support further consideration going on today. Again, the bill may ultimately be unobjectionable—who knows? But we should have a chance to read it. From what I understand, from looking at the daily program, the government wants a vote on this bill within the next half an hour or so.
That's not a good way to make laws, to give people five minutes' notice and then have less than 20 minutes or so debate on a bill. To then vote on it without even having had the chance to read it, that is not the way this House should function. I think in fact it's treating this House with contempt. I ask nothing more than, if there's urgency, for the minister to explain what the urgency is and, in the absence of hearing that urgency, I ask that the normal process be followed and that the bill consideration be deferred. It would still allow the government to pass the bill, but it would allow people time to read it before we have to vote on it.