House debates

Wednesday, 24 November 2021


Corporations Amendment (Improving Outcomes for Litigation Funding Participants) Bill 2021; Second Reading

10:12 am

Photo of Bob KatterBob Katter (Kennedy, Katter's Australian Party) Share this | Hansard source

Speaking on the amendment, and of course the implications for the Corporations Amendment (Improving Outcomes for Litigation Funding Participants) Bill 2021 itself, I was, in fact, originally going to support this bill. I commend the Treasurer for his efforts to try and overcome some gross irresponsibility by major legal firms, in the main, but also other people who can see an opportunity for making an awful lot of money out of class actions and litigation and making a profession out of taking such money.

Having said that, I must reflect upon the fact that one of the greatest battles that has been taking place in my home state of Queensland has been over the taxis. We had 6,000 people employed in Queensland, and we've lost nearly 2,000 of those people who were employed in full-time employment, sliding into part-time employment with Uber. The major point with the class actions is: how do these people hit back? Nearly 2,000 taxi owners had licences worth $376,000. They'd mortgaged their houses to buy those taxis. They'd worked for decades in the mines, doing hard and very demanding work to save up to buy a little business. Some of the state governments in Australia made an effort to provide some sort of compensation, but in Queensland it was the brutality of a regime that is completely out of control. It's destroyed the taxis.

There's a message here for the people in this place. You think that you can just do that and walk away from the table. Well, there are certain people, like me, who you've done it to, and you think you can get away with it. I'm not going to talk about the Leader of the National Party who deregulated all of our farming industries, but his career in this place was destroyed. I'm not going to talk about the Prime Minister of Australia who cut off the live cattle exports and crippled the cattle industry—it may be the six biggest export industry in Australia—and brought it to its knees. I am not going to talk about the people that have done these things. In Queensland, the woman that was responsible for the taxis has been destroyed. I could argue that the Leader of the National Party, after deregulating all these industries, was destroyed. The Prime Minister was destroyed. So, if you think you can just do it to us and walk away from the table, I've got news for you, because our only weapon is to get even. Right? So you understand that when you do it to us we will attempt to get even with you personally. And, if that's a threat, I most certainly hope it's taken that way, and I would like you to record my own personal involvement in carrying out that to get square.

On my third week in parliament, the Leader of the Liberal Party and the Deputy Premier of Queensland destroyed 13 businesses in North Queensland. Well, unfortunately for him, four of those happened to be good friends of mine. But even if they had no association with me whatsoever, do you think you can just go and destroy people's lives and walk away? Well, I am sorry, because I'm not Robinson Crusoe. When I say, 'You don't,' you don't. We may not be able to get you and get square, but we will most certainly try—that we promise you. So do it, and do it at your peril. The lady who deregulated the taxi industry in Queensland has had her career destroyed.

I will proceed: the class action is the only weapon these people have. I don't know what happens in history in our schools, but we're not taught the fundamentals of freedom. The Magna Carta was one of the most important documents in human history, because up until then brutal war lords became kings and they did what they liked. In the Magna Carta, the people came together, under Archbishop Stephen Langton, and said: 'No, Mr King, you can't run around doing what you like any more. That time is over. We are moving into a much more civilised environment, so you can't go around destroying people's lives, burning their haystacks, taking their daughters, taking away their property rights or throwing them in jail without any due process of law. That ceases with the Magna Carta.' The history since Magna Carta has been a fight to keep those freedoms that we won on that day at Runnymede in 1215.

Let me return to the class actions. I represent 25, maybe 30, per cent of the electorate of Kennedy of First Australians, and I myself identify as a First Australian, and I speak often and continuingly. The welfare fund in Queensland was definitely used for purposes that may have been good purposes, but the welfare fund belonged to the people whose money had been taken and put into the welfare fund. A lot of people refer to stolen wages. There is no doubt whatsoever that the wages went into a fund and that fund went into the welfare fund, so the sons and daughters of the people that were owed that money never got that money. So they had a right to a class action, and they took it. The 'live ex' case, where the livelihoods of every single cattleman in Australia was put under threat with the ban on live exports to Indonesia, who have been wonderful neighbours of ours as a country. To have treated them so shabbily was a disgrace in itself, which former Prime Minister Rudd has commented on, and I compliment him for it. But in the live ex decision we had no redress. We just had our livelihoods destroyed with no redress. Well, we do have a redress: the class action. Our First Australians have a class action; our cattlemen have a class action.

Powerful corporate interests wanted the South Johnstone Mill. The accounting firm, of course, was in bed with them and the various other corporate bodies. The South Johnstone Mill had got into trouble because of extraordinary cyclonic weather—and I won't go into that. But they sold the mill out from under the owners for what was effectively $2 million, if you took out the cash in the bank and liquid assets and a number of houses they owned that they didn't want and didn't need. If you took that out then the mill was sold for $2 million—a mill that's worth, if you want to build that mill, $200 million. The cost of building or replacing that mill is $200 million. It was sold two years later, by the people who'd indecently, improperly and illegally seized ownership of that mill, for $70 million, and yet the owners, the farmers, got $2 million out of it.

Well, there is the class action. You think you can get away with it? God bless Magna Carta. God bless those men who died to deliver these freedoms and rights to us. The class action is our way of getting back. We congratulate the people in the taxi industry in Queensland, who haven't lain down and copped it but have fought back relentlessly. I deplore the courts of Australia because they simply don't understand Magna Carta. The government is an entity. It is the same as any other entity. The government—not the parliament but the government—stands in a legal situation in the same way as any other entity—me, you, Mr Speaker, or a corporation, or any other entity. And if they do something that harms and damages people then the people have a right to hit back, and that's called a class action.

The Treasurer is acting with the best will here, and I praise him greatly for trying to overcome some of the excesses and bad aspects of class actions, but I am afraid I just cannot be part of cutting down our rights to our only pathway of redress, the class action. Look at all the great commentators on democracy, such as Locke and de Tocqueville. De Tocqueville's famous book on the tyranny of the majority, and the works of people like Locke, are referred to continuously by commentators on democracy. De Tocqueville said that democracy is not a just system and it's not a fair system; it is simply the rule of the majority, and that can be very oppressive, and there must be restraints upon the rule of the majority. People must have rights.

I have always opposed a bill of rights because I think it gives outrageous powers to the judiciary. All I can say is that I think the High Court under Brennan and Kirby did a wonderful job. I think they understood the separation of powers. They understood Magna Carta. They understood that the rights of the majority and the power of the majority, through a democratic system, are restrained by our own personal freedoms and rights, including property rights. They understood that. I don't think the current High Court understands that at all.

Let me return. This legislation is to protect big corporations. This legislation has come from big corporations. Thanks to the free market policies of that side of the House and that side of the House, almost every big corporation in Australia is foreign owned. So if you take the money off the taxi drivers—if you take $200,000, $300,000 or $400,000 off the hardworking owner-operator taxi drivers—and hand it over to a foreign corporation then history will pass a judgement on you. And every state government in Australia did exactly that. They are the handmaidens of the big corporations. Uber, a foreign corporation, wanted the control and they got it, at the cost of the poor, hardworking owner-operator taxi drivers, who had hocked their homes and borrowed to the hilt to buy a taxi licence.

I represent the aspirational classes. Most of the Kennedy electorate would work in the mines. They are not there to be proud members of the working class, no; they are there to better themselves and better their families. They would work in the mines for 10 years, seven years, six years—sometimes they could work for three years and they'd buy a newsagency. The newsagencies are gone; Woolworths and Coles have put paid to them. They'd buy a supermarket, but they're gone; Woolworths and Coles have taken them out. They'd buy a taxi, but they're gone; the state governments have destroyed that. They'd buy a prawn trawler. Well, you have destroyed that industry completely, both through greenie bans and the deregulation of the fishing industry in Queensland.

All those owner-operated businesses that we aspired to have when we worked in the mines in temperatures that were unbelievable and did jobs that were unbelievable—and I will just go sideways for one moment.


No comments