Thursday, 6 June 2013
Fair Work Amendment Bill 2013; Consideration in Detail
Here I am finding myself debating an important amendment that we put forward about the right of entry. The reason we have to debate this point is the Labor Party has done a backflip under the pressure of the unions—their paymasters in the unions. Shame on you, Labor Party! Shame on you! Not only is it good enough that 50 per cent of all votes at the federal Labor conferences go to the unions but 100 per cent of members of those opposite in the caucus are also members of the union. If you go to the number of members of unions across the private sector of Australia, only 13 per cent are members of the union. Here we have right-of-entry provisions that this government wants to introduce to allow union bosses to go into the lunchtime hours of private sector workers across the country. What about the 87 per cent of the workers who are not members of the union? They want to eat their burger and chips in quiet. They do not want to have the union bosses storm into their lunchtime hours and try to recruit them.
If it was not good enough that the Labor Party, whether in the childcare sector or in the aged-care sector, made someone's payments to those sectors contingent upon them joining a union, now they have taken it to the workplaces of every private sector employer in the country. That is not good enough, because it was not a recommendation of the Fair Work review panel hand-picked by those on the other side. They hand-picked their own reviewers, led by Professor McCallum, and those reviewers did not even recommend this amendment before the House. That is why the pieman, Bill Shorten, the member for Maribyrnong, said he was going to remove this amendment. But now he has got the phone call from the TWU and the CFMEU and the AWU—they have all rung his office at once and said, 'Bring back that right-of-entry provision.'
What is absolutely outrageous about this is that it is in breach of the Prime Minister's promise to the Australian people. We had a promise from the Prime Minister about the carbon tax. We had a promise from the Prime Minister about private health insurance. We had a promise from the Prime Minister about family tax benefit A. And we had a promise from the Prime Minister about right of entry. This is what the Prime Minister said about keeping the right-of-entry provisions as they were, in the National Press Club debate on 8 November 2007:
I'm happy to do whatever you would like. If you'd like me to pledge to resign—
yes, we would—
sign a contract in blood—
yes, we would—
take a polygraph—
yes, we would—
bet my house on it—
yes, we would—
give you my mother as a hostage—
yes, we would—
whatever you'd like.
She said they would keep the right-of-entry provisions as they are. How outrageous is that? I say to the Independents: how outrageous is it that the Prime Minister goes to the Australian National Press Club and tells the people across this country—all 23 million of them—'We are going to keep the right-of-entry provisions as they are'?
Again, Julia Gillard in a media press release on 28 August 2007 said, 'As of today federal Labor will maintain existing right-of-entry rules without exception.' They have not. We know, through the economic reforms that we introduced, that we delivered a 22 per cent increase in real wages and two million new jobs, paid back $96 billion of debt, lifted the credit rating from AA to AAA and doubled the crane works on our waterfront. That was as a result of our workplace relations reforms and our prudent economic management. Those on the other side have broken promise after promise to the Australian people, have come into this House and done a backflip out of all proportion and now are saying to every employer of Australia, 'Your lunchrooms are not safe because we will be in there at the first opportunity.' Shame on you, Labor Party! Shame on you!
I have to respond to that fairytale espoused by the member for Kooyong. First of all, what is most revealing is to hear the member for Kooyong enthusiastically embrace the workplace relations system of the Howard era. I know that he is waiting for some of his shadow front bench to move on so he can see his own ambitions fulfilled—it is an open secret. I read the Peter van Onselen columns as much as you guys leak to them.
But in terms of the member for Kooyong's speech, such as it was, he ran with his usual anti-union bile and prejudice. The provisions currently in the bill reform the right-of-entry regime in response to the recommendation findings from the independent Fair Work review panel. The provisions better balance the right of unions representing employees to be able to represent their members professionally, with the need for their employers to go about their business productively.
As a government we believe in freedom of association. We reject the language of the opposition where freedom of association somehow means an invasion. We believe that people have the right to choose to belong or not to belong to a union. We believe this is a fundamental right. We reject the proposition of the opposition that this freedom should be accessed only with the permission of an employer. We understand that the vast majority of trade unions and employer organisations are accountable to their members. We also believe that anyone in a position of trust or responsibility in a registered organisation has to comply with the law. We believe in balancing the right of employers to go about their business without undue interference, with the democratic right of employees to be represented in the workplace and to participate in discussions with their union at appropriate times. We reject the exaggerated language about joy-rides. There is no evidence that has been offered for that, not a scintilla of proof. That, as ever, has hardly stopped some of the anti-union, bigoted baiters opposite from attacking us.
Opposition members interjecting—
Touched a sore nerve there, I think. We do not believe employers should be out of pocket. We do not believe in employees being forced to talk to people to whom they do not wish to talk, but that is why the bill as it currently stands does not provide for any of the fears, concerns, dogma, propaganda, prejudice, bile and ignorance that we hear from those opposite.
This debate proves yet again that you cannot trust conservatives on workplace relations. The contributions of those opposite yet again prove that the coalition are never straight with the Australian people on workplace relations. The bile, the prejudice and the anti-union hysteria of the far-right extremists which seem to be emerging in the ranks of the employee-hating conservatives prove yet again that the Liberal Party's policy position is anathema—
Opposition members interjecting—
The debate proves yet again that the conservatives' policy position is anathema to cooperative workplace relations. We oppose the amendments moved by the conservatives.
One question, Minister: why the backflip? I have here government amendments: 'Excise schedule 4'. The entire right-of-entry provisions were going to be taken out of this bill by you up until lunchtime today. So my short, sharp question—not debating the right of entry or the increased right of entry per se—is: why the backflip?
We had today an arrangement that had recognised clear deficiencies in these right-of-entry and joy-ride provisions—something even the government recognised—but then at the eleventh hour the provisions are back on the table. What happened? Was it the fully owned subsidiary of the union movement, being the Gillard Labor government, not having done enough to pay their dues to their sponsors? Is that what happened? It is not clear, because we have had no explanation.
Bear a thought for the small businesses of Australia. It is bad enough that this government broke its promise not to disclose the addresses of home based businesses when it came to the Australian business name register. The small business community did not want their privacy breached by this national scheme that ignored the protections that were in the state based schemes, where home based businesses could provide another address as a point of contact and not have to tell the whole world where their home is. That promise was broken, and that broken promise on disclosure of people's home addresses for home based businesses is now matched by another one.
You can imagine a union fronting up to someone's home based business, where there might be one or two people in there, and banging on the door—because of the broken promise about not having that privacy matter disclosed—and saying: 'I want to use your lunch room. Hang on; it's your home. I want to take over your dining room. I want to go into the family area. I want to go into the house.' Why? Because these laws have not been thought through.
The only construct of economic contribution Labor understand is that of big organisations and big unions with big workforces where there are dozens of people who look after these tricky amendments and changes that this government is inflicting on people. Labor do not understand the nature of small business. Imagine if you were a corner store selling pies or something like that and someone came in wanting to talk to your staff—someone wanted to barge their way through the store area into what would be the family room of your home, if that business were attached to a home in a residential area.
There has been no thought given to how these measures—which were supposed to be off the table last night but are now back on the table—will be yet another affront to the small business men and women of Australia. They have been let down time and time again. Their privacy has been breached. That was a broken promise. The Prime Minister provided all of these assurances and even said, 'I will bet my house on it.' Minister, small business men and women bet their house on their business every day and, if they are operating from home, they do not need someone coming in and demanding entry under your laws and then taking over their dining room. Why? Because not all workplaces are big unionised shops like you seem to think. There is a vast number—millions of people—contributing to the economy and the wellbeing of this nation who do not fit this construct that you have.
The small business men and women of Australia have had a gutful of Labor, who have done nothing for them. Employment in that sector has gone down. The number of small businesses willing to employ is not even where it was back when this government was elected. We are seeing small business formation halved. Why? Because time and time again this Labor government has been completely insensitive and indifferent to the real-life challenges that small businesses face. Minister, this is an invitation for home based businesses to have their door knocked on—because you breached their privacy, in another broken promise—and to have someone demand access to their place. There is no lunch room; it is their lounge room; it is their dining room. It is their personal home. It is where their kids are.
This is why you have not thought this through. This is why we thought you had actually been sensible in your assurance to the coalition that you would carve out these provisions. But something has happened. You got a knock on the door and someone said, 'Oh, Bill, Bill, as part of a labour movement, you are a fully owned subsidiary of the unions that are demanding this be put back in,' with no interest in its impact on the small business men and women who are creating opportunities across this continent. You have no idea about the pressures they face. These provisions should be carved out because you have not thought them through. These provisions are offensive. They are an affront to small business men and women. We say to all those tens of thousands of small business men and women who operate from their homes to create wealth and opportunity: you cannot count on Labor—they have never done anything for you—but you can count on the coalition, because we respect what you do, we recognise your contribution and we value the risk that you take, and you do not need a union person coming in and taking over your dining room as well.
I will not detain the House for any longer than is absolutely necessary. I believe that, within the provisions of this bill, the Fair Work Amendment Bill 2013—and my audience is the crossbenchers—there is a genuine unintended consequence for family business and for larger enterprises. The provision I speak of is linked to the right of entry—the lunch room invasion. In and around my electorate I have businesses that employ up to 800 people on site. As a show of good faith, these businesses forgo business space on their sites and give that free of charge to the union movement so that the union delegates on site, who are free to come and go as they wish, can meet with—
The intimidation shown there is consistent with the intimidation that you get throughout the union movement. Minister, you have the power to repeal this one section of the bill. There are good businesses out there that have invested in locations on site where the unions can go and meet. The unintended consequence of this schedule in this bill means that there is no right of refusal for the business owner to be able to say, 'I have provided that to you free of charge; take that space.' There is no right of refusal for the business owner, when the union delegate comes in and says: 'I don't want that spot. I want to speak to the guys in the lunch room.' I will stand corrected, Minister, if that is not the case and then I will take that with humble pie. But, if it is an unintended consequence, I do implore you and the crossbenches to reconsider your support for this bill, because it is fundamentally wrong. There are other provisions in which union guys can get their message across.
Minister, in an earlier response you said that everyone has the right to be a union member. Exactly, but everyone also has the right not to be a union member if they so wish. It is unthinkable that if I were in a coffee shop or a public locality—as when a telemarketer rings my house and asks me to join, I have the right to say no. Under these provisions the unintended consequence is that there will be no provision for those people that wish not to be part of a union to remove themselves from the company or the union delegate on site unless they physically get up and leave the lunch room. This is unfair, Minister.
On the point the opposition makes about its core business, yes, it would have been highly desirable if an amendment had been moved to eliminate from the bill businesses under 15 or something of that nature. But members of the opposition clearly are not aware of what happens in a real place of work. If you had been in a crib room on a mine—
I am rather intrigued. If you had been in a crib room at a place of work then you would know what we would do to any union delegate that came in there if we did not want him in there, I can tell you. I speak from experience.
All the same, I would ask the minister to consider that maybe somewhere along the track that should be moved. If the opposition as a government moves it in the next parliament, I would most certainly back the sort of proposition that the opposition spokesman put forward with respect to small business.
by leave—I move amendments (1) and (2), as circulated in my name, together:
(1) Clause 2, page 2 (after table item 10), insert:
(2) Schedule 5, page 29 (after line 14), at the end of the Schedule, add:
4 At the end of Subdivision B of Division 3 of Part 5 -1
595A Conciliation and arbitration of disputes
(1) Despite any other provision of this Act but without limitation, the FWC may deal with a dispute in the following way:
(a) in the first 3 months of the dispute—by fixing a date to begin conciliation;
(b) in the 3 months following the date fixed to begin conciliation—by conciliation;
(c) after the end of the period referred to in paragraph (b)—by arbitration (including by making any orders it considers appropriate) on application by:
(i) an employee who is a party to the dispute; or
(ii) an organisation that is entitled to represent the industrial interests of such an employee.
(2) On application in accordance with paragraph (1)(c), the FWC:
(a) may arbitrate the dispute; and
(b) must arbitrate the dispute if arbitration by the FWC is agreed to by:
(i) a majority of the employees who are parties to the dispute, by a voting method approved by the FWC; and
(ii) any organisations entitled to represent the industrial interests of those employees.
(3) On request by an employee who is a party to the dispute or an organisation that is entitled to represent the industrial interests of such an employee, the FWC may, but is not required to:
(a) consider; and
(b) approve or refuse to approve;
a voting method for the purposes of subparagraph (2)(b)(i).
I will speak very briefly. The issues that I am talking about are extremely complex, so I will just give generalities without going into all the specifics. But the generality is a fairly simple principle: where people are having an argument about whether they should get a pay rise or whether they should not, for 110 years in this country when that dispute occurred it was resolved by way of arbitration. I tend to feel that I am looking like an extremist insofar as I am putting up a proposition which successive governments have subscribed to in this country for 110 years.
When we play football, we have a referee; it is a fairly simple concept. When we have a disagreement between the employer and the employee, we then go to a referee called an arbitration commission to make a determination. The opposition abolished our right to get a fair go and, of course, the government has not restored it, because the current access to the arbitration commission is really no access at all, except for the purpose of stopping a strike. There is no ability for either side to go to the arbitration commission and ask for an award determination. That power is not there. All I am asking is what every successive government in 110 years in this country agreed to—anything but an extremist position. The fact that I actually have to defend that position is a reflection upon every person in this House who is not going to vote with me and the member for Denison. We are simply asking for a restoration of the parties' access to arbitration.
There are other bits and pieces here, but, the time being late, I know I will not be given the time to complete an explanation of the other aspects of the bill, so I will just state the central thrust of what we are talking about here. The Liberal government removed arbitration. They said, 'You will now play football without a referee'—a touch of humour, Madam Speaker. We did it last night and I didn't think it was a real good idea, but that might be a viewpoint of a New South Welshman! But to put aside the humour and come back to the seriousness of this debate: all I am asking for is that, when an employer and an employee cannot agree about, for example, a CPI increase, the parties have the right to go to arbitration—we are back playing football with a referee, which every single government in this place for 110 years has considered a reasonable proposition. When that right was removed, the people thought it was so unreasonable that they threw Prime Minister Bruce out of parliament altogether. John Howard—except for this little aberration, a very decent Australian, in my opinion—they threw out as well.
Our position is not unreasonable. Our position is the position that every single Australian, if they thought about it, would have. They would be in here voting the same way as me and the honourable member for Denison.
The question is that the amendments be agreed to.
A division having been called and the bells having been rung—
As there are fewer than five members on the side for the ayes, in this division I declare the question negated in accordance with standing order 127. The names of those members who are in the minority will be recorded in the Votes and Proceedings.
Question negatived, Mr Katter and Mr Wilkie voting aye.
Bill, as amended, agreed to.