Tuesday, 26 August 2014
Fair Work Amendment Bill 2014; Second Reading
As I was saying previously in this debate, Australia is a high-cost place to do business and we see the results of this right around the country. In fact, it is acknowledged that to get a project off the ground it can cost 40 to 50 per cent more than our competitors, which makes the cost of doing business in Australia an issue for those who seek to invest here.
The other issue I also want to mention is that fact that in my electorate of Forrest I see cafes closed on weekends in tourist hot spots, like Margaret River and Busselton, because they cannot afford to pay weekend penalty rates. There has to be a way to keep their doors open to keep people employed—flexibility is the key. I noticed an article in the Busselton Dunsborough Timesthat said the owner of Samovar restaurant was finding it very difficult to open over Easter because of penalty rates. It is also one of the biggest issues for Amalfi Resort owner, Cheryl Morris.
We are committed, as we said in the run up to the election, to implementing a number of amendments to this bill. Through the Fair Work Amendment Bill 2014 we are delivering on improving the process for negotiating the greenfields agreements to ensure that unions can no longer frustrate bargaining for these agreements through unsustainable claims and delays. These are the sorts of things that add the 50 per cent increase in the cost of investment in Australia and threaten investment and delay the commencement of major new projects. These projects are crucial to our prosperity. These are the types of delays that add to that 50 per cent additional cost of getting a project off the ground in Australia.
Through this bill we are committed to restoring union workplace access rules. This is in relation to the excessive right-of-entry visits by union officials. Previously in my speech, before I was interrupted, I touched on the hundreds of visits to Worsley Alumina in my electorate. Through this bill we are also committed to improving workplace productivity and flexibility, giving scope to employees to make those flexible arrangements that meet their genuine needs as determined by the employees. In closing one of the important parts of this legislation—closing the strike first and talk later loophole in the good faith bargaining rules, which Labor totally refused to address—we are maintaining the value of unclaimed wages recovered for workers by the Commonwealth.
These amendments are really important amendments that we have committed to through this bill and through the amendments to the Fair Work Act. One of the most important things that these will do is to increase the flexibility and of course reduce the cost of getting projects off the ground. The fact that it costs up to 50 per cent more to get a project off the ground in Australia should be of concern to everyone, particularly the workers who will be employed in those projects. The Fair Work Amendment Bill 2014 is a key part of that.
In rising to speak on this bill, the Fair Work Amendment Bill 2014, I will address the remarks made by the previous speaker. When I jumped university and went into mining, it took me two months from when I put the application in to take up a mining lease. You did not need anything else except a mining lease in those days; so I went out, pegged the country and put in my application for a mining lease. It took me about two hours to fill out the forms and within two months the dozers were in, clearing the site and the pads in preparation for us to commence mining. I was recently with the manager of one of the biggest mines in Australia. He has opened up a number of mines. I said: 'I'm being told it takes three to six years.' He said: 'Yeah, I'd say you're looking at about four years from when you decide to mine to when it actually opens up.'
Now, I have very great respect for the member for Forrest in Western Australia—she is one of the best members we have in this parliament—but that start-up time has got nothing to do with workers going on strike. It is due to the processes put in place by the state governments, nothing else. We have an LNP government in Queensland and there has been no change in the down time for start-up mining in the state whatsoever. The last mines minister in the Bligh government announced that he would be regarded and judged by history on his ability to reduce that start-up time; he would stake his job on it becoming a reasonable figure of some six months. It probably blew out under him and it has continued to blow out under the current administration.
We are on the cusp of opening up the great Galilee basin coalfields. It will be a great tragedy because the railway line will be owned by Adani, and all of the resource is foreign owned already. This is half of Australia's known coal reserves and the workforce will be section 457 workers. The ALP stand condemned by history. They were the people who introduced the architecture for section 457 workers, not the Liberal Party; but I will bet that the Liberal Party doubles those numbers over the next three years. The country will be submerged—our wages undermined, our pay and conditions undermined and our jobs taken. Jobs that were worth $150,000 a year will be going to foreigners who will be working for nothing remotely resembling $150,000 a year.
This is interesting because this is greenfields legislation. I suspect that this legislation is coming from the mining magnate from Western Australia, Mrs Rinehart, because she has said—as has the leader of the National Party; he uses exactly the same figures as she uses—that people in America work for $8 an hour. The leader of the National Party has said it again and again, so clearly he also believes that people in this country should work for $8 an hour. I would like to know how he would pay just the rent on a house—that is more than $300 a week. I would like to know how he would pay just the rent on a house, let alone food or any of the other costs of living we have to confront, including $7 now for going to a doctor or as payment to a pharmacist. It is interesting that he uses the same figure that she used. She said: 'Australians are lazy. They won't work. I've got to get my workers from overseas until Australians accept that they are going to work for $320 a week'—which happens to be $8 an hour. We can see a pattern of behaviour here where what is left of the National Party, which is really nothing very much, are out there ingratiating themselves to Mr Barnaby Joyce's good friend, Mrs Rinehart.
In sharp contrast to her, and unfortunately for her when the history books are written, the neighbouring mining operation is that of Andrew Forrest. Let me pay a great tribute to Andrew Forrest—a well-deserved tribute. He, in sharp contrast to Mrs Rinehart, has trained 2,000 First Australians to go into this work. Not only do they train them but quite literally they hold their hands. A lot of them are not used to working in a job—they have never had a job and have never dreamt of having a job; that has been something that has been in outer space or dreamland for them. Not all of them are trained to go on to his jobs but of that 2,000, over 500 are still working with Fortescue Metals. I am very proud and pleased to say that one of my own fellow little hometownsmen, Nev Power, a fitter from Mount Isa—educated in the boarding schools of Charters Towers like myself—is the CEO there. It is another wonderful achievement for Nev. The bloke that was handling the Aboriginal jobs there said to me—a big, tall, rangy, ringer bloke: 'It's not what we do at Fortescue. Creating 1,000 jobs for First Australians is not what we do, it is who we are.'
That could have been said of Essington Lewis, the founder of BHP. He took a little mining company that was working at a place called Broken Hill and turned it into one of the 10 or 20 biggest mining companies in the world, and one of the 50 or 60 biggest companies in the world. He started work with a pick—he actually worked at the coalface in those days with a pick and shovel. Laurence Hartnett, the founder of the Australian motor car industry, took great pride in the jobs he created for his fellow Australians and in how much he was able to pay them. Henry Ford in his early days said: 'Not only have I put a car within the reach of every American family but every single year, for 20 years, I have been able to put the wages of my workers up.' Even if he went bad later on, we will remember Henry Ford in his great years for that.
These people constantly advocate that the workers should work for nothing—they hate workers, they hate their workforce and their objective constantly in the media is to bash them. You can see, at the front of the banner newspaper, for want of a better term, of one of the press magnates in Australia, a constant, continuous and unremitting attack upon wage structures in this country. As an Australian, one of the proudest boasts I have is that we pay decent wages in this country. Those people sitting over there are going to be remembered as the people who advocated that we should not pay decent wages in this country. Having said that, the people on this side of the House are actually the bad guys. They are the ones who brought in the 130,000 section 457 workers.
Most relevant to this legislation is that it is greenfields legislation. Guess who has the greenfields in Queensland? Madam Rinehart from Western Australia owns a quarter of the greenfields, and she says she is going to work them with workers from overseas. It will be over my dead body, but, then again, she would probably consider that a bonus! One should be scared of the money and power these people have and their influence, but I think they expended all of their power and influence trying to get rid of me last time. If $10 million last time could not get rid of me, I will be pretty confident next time around.
What we are talking about today is greenfields sites in which, effectively, after three months there will be no arbitration commission, so we are back to Work Choices. The Liberal Party just does not seem to learn anything. It was said of the Bourbon kings: 'They have forgotten nothing and they have learnt nothing.' That would be a very suitable comment upon the LNP. They have forgotten nothing and learnt nothing. You just had your Prime Minister lose his seat in parliament for the second time in Australian history—and why did the first bloke lose his seat in parliament? Because he abolished the arbitration commission. One of the greatest achievements of this nation was arbitration and getting a fair go for both sides of the coin. We can play football without a referee, but it will not be much of a game. We can play the industrial game without a referee too, and I can tell you: you will have mayhem at the end of the day and people working for nothing.
Let me give you a quick picture of what it was like, because I can stand up proudly in this place and say I am a best-selling author of an Australian history book, with over 20,000 copies sold. At this time 100 years ago, one in 31 of us who went down the mines was killed. Almost everyone in my home state of Queensland worked in mining. When the state was settled, goldminers came to Gympie and Charters Towers and more than half the population of Queensland were in those two centres. My own family were there before there was a Charters Towers, so I can speak with authority. One in 31 of those people who went down the mines never came back up again. Whilst the Africans were protected by damping-down laws and whilst the Welsh, who were treated not much better than slaves in England, were protected by damping-down laws, there were no damping-down laws in Queensland. In the building of the sewerage ditches in Sydney, when sewerage was being put in there, there were no damping-down laws, so every single person who worked there for more than two years—I am quoting Humphrey McQueen in Social Sketches of Australiadied a terrible death due to miners phthisis. If there is any doubt in anyone's mind in this place that it was real, the first member for Kennedy left this place dying of miners phthisis of the lungs. The first Labor Premier in world history, Anderson Dawson, left the state parliament dying of miners phthisis, and his father had died of miners phthisis. The second Labor Prime Minister in this place, Andrew Fisher, left this place dying of miners phthisis.
So it was real, and that it was what it was like before we had arbitration. If I speak with passion, I am entitled to. My great-grandad put £3,000, $1 million in today's money, behind the strike fund in 1894, not because we were working class—we most certainly were not. I say that publicly and openly. But he had some moral convictions that this could not go on and that it had to be saved. And I can see today the forces at work taking us back 100 years.
In the cane fields of North Queensland, Mr Deputy Speaker Vasta—your own family were in the cane fields—one in 30, almost exactly the same figure, ironically enough, died because the big plantation owners would not burn. Because they would not burn, we died of Weil's disease. One in 30 of us died of Weil's disease in those days because the owners would sacrifice three per cent of the sugar content in their cane if they burned. So we died. If you have any doubts about what I am saying, in the big meetings and riots that took place in Innisfail there were three people shot dead because some of them were cane cutters at the same time as they were farm owners. Tremendous conflicts and passions ran riot during that period of upheaval.
When we won through on arbitration, what happened was they brought coolies, as they were referred to, to work the mines and they brought Kanaks in to work the cane fields. So they said, 'Two to the valley to you!' It is the same here. Because you lost on the arbitration, the ALP—not the Liberals; the ALP—brought in 130,000 workers to serve their corporate masters. And there is no doubt that the Liberals are going to do a hell of a lot worse—or a hell of a lot better, as they would see it. They will bring in 250,000 instead of 130,000. We are looking at a state where 20,000 jobs are going to vanish shortly; 10,000 have already vanished. We are not going to get those jobs because they will go to section 457 workers. (Time expired)
I am very pleased to speak on the bill before the House today, the Fair Work Amendment Bill 2014. This is one of the many pieces of legislation that seeks to ensure this government will deliver on its promises and commitments made to the Australian people during the 2013 federal election. Specifically, this bill seeks to bring a balance to the workplace relations system, protect the rights of workers and ensure that a culture which encourages cooperation and mutual respect is fostered. It is not one which rewards acts of industrial terrorism in the workplace.
I wish to remind the House, particularly those opposite, of what happened in the election of 2013. I stand here because over 61 per cent of people in the electorate of Canning believed that, if I were elected and became a member of the Liberal government rather than opposition, we would be a better option to lead this country. More than 53 per cent of people nationally agreed with this sentiment, and at a state level in Western Australia more than 58 per cent of people voted for the coalition. This is over 738,000 Western Australians who voted to abolish the carbon tax and mining tax. These 738,000 people wanted to see the ABCC re-established. That amount of people wanted this government to take a hard line on people smuggling. We have done that. This cohort of people who voted for us wanted the government to take the necessary measures to ensure the 'fair' is put back into the Fair Work Act when it comes to the conduct of militant unions in workplaces.
Predictably, once again, the Labor-Greens alliance is standing in the way of change that the overwhelming majority of Australians voted for in 2013. The Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, has decided to back his union mates over the prosperity of this country and its people. He would rather get into bed with Mr Noonan of the CFMEU than actually stand up for the 87 per cent of Australians in the private sector of the workforce generally who are not union members and want to get on and earn an honest day's pay.
But we know why those opposite do this. Every one of them has to be a member of a union to be preselected. We know that unions control their preselections. So they come in here, and you will hear speaker after speaker after I have sat down, defending the unions' militant behaviour on the work sites. You expect them to do so, because he who pays the piper calls the tune, and this is what happens in this place. The Leader of the Opposition talks about reforming the preselection process of the Australian Labor Party, yet it is all words; nothing has happened.
But I want to turn to the gamut of this bill. This bill deals, for example, with the right-of-entry provisions. Believe it or not, like a lot of people in this place and as that great Labor member of parliament once said, 'You don't really have a right to a say on these issues unless you've washed your hands in Solv-all.' I have washed my hands in Solv-all. As Mick Young was one of the former Labor members who got out amongst the workers and got his hands dirty, he had something to say which people would listen to. But, as we know, in this place today those opposite have either been members of the union or worked for another member of parliament. They have not washed their hands in Solv-all like their predecessors. They have not been in the workplace—though, as an aside, when I said this in the House once, the former member for Batman, Martin Ferguson, came up to me after my speech and said: 'I've washed my hands in Solv-all. I used to work down the mines when I was a young student, so I know what you're talking about.' And he was one of the good guys in this place because he had actually done a hard day's work.
I have worked on industrial sites. As a young guy I worked down at the Worsley refinery, digging ditches. One of the things that you like to do when you've come in for lunch or morning tea is go into the crib room and have a bit of peace and quiet, but you cannot, because those opposite put into the industrial laws the right-of-entry provisions for militant unionists, particularly those from the CFMEU.
Everyone in Western Australia knows the name Joe McDonald and his flouting of the industrial laws that existed under the previous government. There are plenty of articles—I have heaps of them here—but an article in the Herald Sunfrom 2 February 2014 shows Joe McDonald again invading the crib rooms of the workplaces in Western Australia continually with thuggish behaviour, threats and coercion along with his other CFMEU mates. He has cost the CFMEU over $1 million in fines. Workers' moneys are paying for fines for Joe flouting the law. McDonald organised an unlawful strike on the Pilbara project in February 2014. When asked if he had permission to enter the site, this article alleges, McDonald said, 'I haven't had one for seven years, and that hasn't stopped me.' He was expelled from the Labor Party in 2007 following reports he had called a building manager 'a parasite dog' who would be 'working at Hungry Jack's when you're finished and I'm still a union official'. Interestingly, though, Mr McDonald is back now as a member of the Australian Labor Party.
The rights of entry are a scam for recruitment, thuggish behaviour and intimidation on work sites, and this was no more borne out than in the Cole royal commission. Just about every examination by the Cole royal commission pointed out bogus safety issues where militant unionists decided to go onto sites to ply their trade of standing over workers, entering their crib rooms and giving them a hard time. I even had in my own electorate some electricians call me. They were trying to work on the yards. They said: 'You've got to stop this bloke. We're contractors and we're only trying to earn an honest day's quid, and in comes McDonald threatening us that we'll never work again.' So I did. I called the ABCC, and they went out and dealt with him. They got him off the site.
At the end of the day, this intimidating behaviour has to stop, and that is what this legislation moves towards, but you will not get any support for this from the other side. They will say, 'They're only entering the site because of safety conditions.' Most of the safety conditions were either conjured—not true—or used as a bogus means of getting on site. There has to be a better way, and the better way is that the union will have to apply to the Fair Work Commission for an invitation certificate. Before the certificate is issued, the Fair Work Commission will be satisfied that a worker who performs work on the premises and whom the union is entitled to represent has invited the union to the workplace and the union has not just invited itself. This is a commonsense move that does not affect any right of entry for any reasonable and responsible union official.
And I want to put on record that there are plenty of responsible union officials. I have told this place many a time that when I was a school teacher I was the union rep at my school because representing the workers and the teachers in a collective way at my school was something that I thought was a good idea. But I did not use this thuggish union behaviour. Being a member of a union is quite a good thing as long as you are doing it for the right reasons—that is, supporting the terms and conditions of those around you and not using it for empire building. Those opposite talk about the workers all the time. They use the workers: they use them to help finance the union bosses so that they become union elites and most of them end up in this place—see the former head of the ACTU. Most of them end up in this place as a member of parliament. Only recently, since Jennie George, have they started missing out.
This legislation is designed in a common-sense way that does not affect the right of entry. Employees and employers do not want their workplaces turned into battle grounds or territory disputes for or on behalf of the unions. The employers and the employees just want to get on with the job and earn some money so that they can pay their mortgages, and these coalition amendments help them do that. As far as the coalition is concerned, it is common sense to allow an employee to designate a reasonable and alternative location for a union official to meet with employees. When I was working up north as a young guy it was outside the gate. You did not have to meet on site; you could meet out at the front gate. The problem was they were all going outside the gate and it nearly brought Cliffs Robe River to its knees at the time because the workers were striking over things like not getting cream biscuits for morning tea. They had a whole lot of ore carriers 'hanging off the pick', as they used to call it, because they could not get the right biscuits for morning tea. This bill is a sensible vision.
One of the other things it deals with is what is known in the industry as 'helicopter tours'. These amendments seek to remove the requirement for employers to pay for the cost of a 'helicopter tour' to remote locations. The last thing hard-working employers and employees need is some jumped-up union boss getting onto a helicopter at someone else's expense. AMMA estimates that the direct cost of these joy-rides is $4,200 per visit, not including the cost of inducting, training and escorting the union officials around the work sites, and the costs associated with indemnity insurance issues.
Some offshore employers have also reported having to charter special service flights because seats were simply not available on normal flights that the workers were on and that this would have resulted in exceptionally critical people being excluded from the trip out to the rig or remote location offshore. This saw an operator pay over $80,000 simply so a union official could come on site to try recruit members. In this day and age, surely it is just as appropriate for officials to communicate with workers and members via programs like Skype. It can be done. They ask us here to do it by teleconference. Further, given 60 per cent of most of the offshore workers' time is spent ashore, why can't the unions simply organise information sessions when they are onshore instead of having to fly out to the rig at great cost and inconvenience to everybody. It is because no-one would be interested if they were onshore. They would not even turn up to the meetings—we know that—so they have to do this to head out there to invade their lunch rooms. The coalition is not trying to see unions not represent the workers in workplaces where they are invited to do so. In fact, that is against all rules of freedom of association. What the coalition is doing is putting 'fair' and 'common sense' back into the rules of entry and the way you get there. If the Labor Party was serious about supporting Australian jobs and supporting Australian employees, they would support this amendment.
In the very short time that I have left, greenfields agreements are part of this legislation. In 2012 the then Labor government tabled a review of the Fair Work Act. One of its findings related to the ability of the unions to veto greenfields agreements—a form of industrial relations extortion. Unions would refuse to accept any offer or refuse to make any agreement with an employer until the demands of exorbitant wages and conditions were met. In other words, a whole lot of ambit claims before they had even negotiated. Such tactics on these greenfields sites were extremely dangerous, often taking business to the brink of collapse. So unions would rather collapse a business than get their own terms and conditions up. How is that for looking after the workers and their jobs? They would rather business go down the tube and stop them from working than to give away their ambit claim.
These tactics are dangerous, and AMMA has stated that members have identified the union monopolies on greenfields agreements have not just been restricted to new projects. This has now permeated into other areas of agreement making. For example, unions are now commonly withholding greenfields agreements until a business—that business, or an alike business—concedes to the demands in other agreements for brownfields sites. In other words, sites that already up and running. So they are trying to crosspollinate the greenfields into the brownfields sites. The unions do not care about whether the company is solvent or about the welfare of the employees; they would rather head towards this vexatious agenda. As the former government's Fair Work review noted 'such practices potentially threaten the future investment in major projects in Australia.'
I am not alone on this. The coalition is not alone on this. In the Australian Financial Review on Tuesday, 1 April 2014 Simon Crean, former head of the ACTU, said, 'Clean out the CFMEU'. Martin Ferguson, former head of the ACTU, has been out saying the same thing: bring these rogue unions into line. Get fair work back into the workplace. Allow the workers to actually get out there and turn a dollar. And no matter what the member for Kennedy says, or anybody speaking after me, we have to get Australia back to being competitive. We know that in Western Australia and all around Australia—but I say Western Australia in particular because we provide nearly 50 per cent of this nation's export income—there are mines, potential mines and expansions on facilities that are not going ahead because of the cost of doing business. Why do you think Shell are providing their offshore platforms? Because putting anything onshore makes it prohibitive. People say, 'Shock, horror', as the member for Kennedy did, about the wage rates in Third World countries. I am not talking about Third World countries; I am talking about our competitors like Canada and Chile, who can remain competitive because they have their wages and industrial relations on a firm footing so that they are competitive. This legislation deals with this and I support this bill in the House today.
Can I start by just making some observations about the member for Canning's speech. It was all over the joint, which is typical. On the one hand, he said, 'I'm a supportive trade unionist, a former representative of my union, a workplace delegate.' On the other hand, he slagged them and slagged unions generally, not any specific union. In the latter part of his contribution, he said, 'Unions don't care about the welfare of their employees.' He said, 'Unions don't care if businesses are solvent or not.' What an asinine piece of nonsense. I do not know one union official, one union delegate or one union member around this country who is not concerned and not committed to looking after the welfare of the people in his or her workplace, or other workplaces—not one. Nor do I know any worker involved in working in a business who is not interested in making sure the business remains solvent so they can continue their job—not one.
Now we have this puerile attack on trade unionists in this country by the member for Canning, and no doubt from other members opposite, which has no substance. He started by talking about people having Solvol on their hands. Well, I think we have probably moved on to other products, but let me tell him that there are plenty of people on our side of this place who have worked hard all their lives and their families have worked hard all their lives. In my own case, I started working on a building site here in Canberra when I was 15. I was proudly associated with the then BWIU, the Building Workers Industrial Union. One of the people closest to me while I was working on that site, which was for a couple of months, was the delegate and union representative for the BWIU. What this person did for me was educate me about the workplace, about my responsibilities as a worker and about my responsibilities in terms of occupational health and safety. And this was not an unkind workplace.
Let me make it very clear that the sort of nonsense being spoken about by the member for Canning seeks pejoratively to accuse all unionists, effectively by dint of what he said, of somehow or another wanting to undermine their fellow workers in the workplace and of not being interested in the welfare or the future of their jobs because they do not care if the businesses they are working in are solvent or not.
I have had the experience of working on industrial sites and woodchip mills. I am probably the only member on this side of the chamber who has worked in a woodchip mill. There was another—there were two of us in the last parliament. Former minister Peter Garrett, unbeknownst to many in this place, also worked in a woodchip mill. I remember my experiences with this woodchip mill because it was a very unsafe working environment. I was just there as a labourer. What became clear was that we needed to make sure that the union that we were members of that we were associated with understood the nature of the work in that workplace, understood our responsibilities as workers and understood the need to make sure that that workplace remained safe not only for us but for other workers. It was very important to do that. We have this nonsense about the business of visiting people at the workplace, going onto building sites and into workplaces to talk to members, is all about signing up members. That may be a by-product of a visit on a workplace, but there are many workplaces around Australia today that could do with a visit by a trade unionist, by a union official, just to check up on the occupational health and safety issues in those workplaces.
Mr Ciobo interjecting—
You say that to those people who die on workplaces—in the building industry where people die. You have no interest in protecting their interests.
Well, I hope you have some. I hope you have a humane element in your body. If you did, you would say to those workers who are working in those workplaces, 'We want to make sure the occupational health and safety issues which your union and our employers have identified are actually what they should be, and we want to get rid of those businesses which don't look after the interests of the working people of this country and have slack working practices.'
I was also on the executive of the Northern Territory Trades and Labor Council, which I was very proud to be. People in this country, even those members opposite, do not know this but most Australians, if not all working Australians, owe their working conditions in some form or another to the work of trade union officials and trade unions. Let us be very clear about it, unlike the members opposite: we on this side of the chamber do not say, because we are proud of the trade union movement and are members of trade unions, that we are going to walk away from the fact that those trade unions work extremely hard for the benefit of working Australians, that they look after the interests of working Australians and do so with an obligation on them by their members to make sure they look after them appropriately. That is the job of a trade union official and that is what they are bound to do.
This Fair Work Amendment Bill 2014 seeks to amend the Fair Work Act in response to the Fair Work Act review. The panel which undertook the review made 43 recommendations. Prior to the election, as with other promises made by this government, the coalition promised to implement the recommendations of the review without change. Surprise, surprise—this, as with so many other promises, has been broken. The government has gone beyond the panel's recommendations, despite promising not to, and the central recommendations are not being implemented without change. This bill, like so much of what this government does, is a poorly disguised vehicle for attacking the conditions of workers and the right of unions to represent them. Consequently, we oppose central elements of this legislation.
We know—and even those on the opposition would understand and recognise the truth of this statement—that the Howard government was thrown out largely because of its very, very poor industrial relations record and, of course, the legislation which it had the gall to pass through this chamber. It was a record of attacks against the rights and conditions of Australian workers. The then opposition leader said Work Choices was 'dead, buried and cremated'. In part, this bill is a resurrection of some of those dead principles. It seeks to undermine workers' rights to fair representation and fair treatment in the workplace.
This government has quickly established itself as a government with total disregard for Australian voters and for the promises that were made to them prior to the election. That is the guts of a lot of this. You must have honesty and integrity. I saw at a book launch this morning where the Prime Minister spoke about integrity and what we should be doing. What he should be doing is being honest with the Australian people. That is what he should be doing. And what he should be doing is apologising to the Australian people for those things he said before the election, the promises he made before the election, and the lies that have been told subsequently, and apologise to the Australian people for his and his government's behaviour. His and his government's behaviour not only in the context of this piece of legislation, where, as I said, promises remain broken, but also of course the pronouncements about no cuts to education, no new taxes, no cuts to health, no change to pensions, no change to the GST, and no cuts for the ABC or SBS. We all know what this Prime Minister should be doing. He should get up in this parliament and apologise to the Australian people for the lies that have been told.
Surely that cannot be unparliamentary: 'Lies were told'. Let us be very clear about it: this parliament should see the Prime Minister apologise to the Australian people for what has happened in terms of the undertakings given prior to the election and what has happened subsequently.
Disregard for electors and for the truth clearly now spreads to industrial relations. The Prime Minister's promise to abide by the Fair Work review's recommendations when making changes to this industrial relations legislation has gone the way of his other promises. As the shadow minister has reminded us in his contribution to this bill:
It is now clear that the government could not be trusted to honour its most basic promise—namely, to implement recommendations from the 2012 Fair Work review without change. Instead, the government is putting down its own spin on Fair Work recommendations while trying to pass them off as a carbon copy of what the expert panel proposed.
Let us make it very clear: like in so much of what this government does, it has overstepped. Not only has it been dishonest but it has clearly overstepped. There is within this parliament the capacity for the government to seek to change the way it operates to make sure it does not overstep, that it does operate with honesty and integrity, and that it does not tolerate lies being told. It really has that capacity. Whilst we have these faux lectures from the Prime Minister about what we should as parliamentarians and what the community should be doing about our own honesty and integrity, he needs to demonstrate some in this place. He needs to demonstrate some of this place and he should do it as soon as possible.
We are not fools in this place and the Australian public are not fools. They know precisely what has been going on. Here is just another example. We know that, whilst there are some people in the broader community who might support aspects of this legislation, some believing it not going far enough, it is very clear that this bill, as described by the ACTU secretary:
… undermines a range of key rights at work and is an exercise in the Government ticking off the pre-election wish list of the mining industry.
If that is the case, that is clearly inappropriate and clearly another example of dishonesty and dishonest treatment.
I go back to the member for Canning. How could we not sit here—well, I was sitting in and therefore listened to him. I was confused, simply because he is a confusing fellow, but also because the message was so devoid of any reality about the rights of Australian working men and women and about the role of trade unions in this country. We on this side of the chamber are proud of the role of Australian trade unions in our history. We know, as we were reminded also very recently by a former Prime Minister, about the role the trade unions have played in the lives of every working Australian, whether or not they are a member of a trade union. We should applaud them for the work they have been doing and provide them with the capacity to continue their work in the future and make sure that they, like us—and you—have the responsibility of looking after the interests of Australian working people.