House debates

Monday, 7 December 2020

Private Members' Business

Workplace Relations

6:43 pm

Photo of Jason FalinskiJason Falinski (Mackellar, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) condemns:

(a) lawless activity on workplaces in Australia;

(b) the use of vessel bans, overtime bans, acting up bans, shift bans, and stop work meetings by the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) that has created chaos on Australian wharves;

(c) the use of industrial action in support of pay increases of over 30 per cent for people earning over $300,000 while damaging the capacity of so many other businesses to pay workers on much lower salaries and create jobs; and

(d) industrial action that threatens supply of critical medical supplies in the middle of a pandemic;

(2) notes that:

(a) many industry sectors including agriculture and road transport have reported supply chain problems which are linked to the MUA's actions;

(b) it is estimated that $165.6 million of imports and $66.9 million of exports per day were disrupted; and

(c) vital medical supplies are being disrupted, at a time when they are needed the most;

(3) further notes that this industrial action is:

(a) not in support of any safety or other related issue but rather pay increases for many people who are earning over $300,000 a year;

(b) supported by many other associated entities of the labour movement such as the Australian Labor Party, industry super owned proxy adviser Australian Council of Superannuation Investors, industry super owned media companies such as The New Daily, class action law firms, and others; and

(c) consistent with previous actions that have hurt our national interests such as during World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War and other times; and

(4) notes the failure of the interest based bargaining that has handed over management control to the MUA and still resulted in out of control industrial action and disempowered workplaces, and threatens the Australian dream.

We are a nation of laws, not a nation of bullies. We believe in a world of law where the strong are just, the weak are secure and the peace is preserved. We want this to be true, but it is not. On our wharves every day we see how far our nation has departed from its promise and its values. We have allowed powerful vested interests to prevail over the common good. There is no better example of this than the Maritime Union of Australia. Here the weak are stood over, might is right and the peace is rarely preserved.

Until recently, the situation was this. At Port Botany there were bans on shift extensions, bans on upgrades and bans on overtime. At Brisbane, there were bans on upgrades, bans on shift extensions, bans on overtime, bans on call-ins, bans on working advanced or delayed start times, bans on the operation of RTGs beyond the safest minimum operating speed as determined by the driver, bans on the operation of the quay crane beyond the safest minimum operating speed as determined by the driver, bans on operating RTGs for more than two runs in a three-run shift or one run in a two-run shift—one hour stoppage at the start of each shift, three stoppages per day. There were bans on shift extensions, bans on upgrades, bans on overtime. In Fremantle, there were bans on upgrades, bans on shift extensions, bans on overtime, bans on call-ins, bans on working advanced or delayed start times, bans on the operation of RTGs, bans on the operation of quay cranes beyond the safest minimum operating speed as determined by the driver and bans on operating RTGs for more than two runs in three. In Melbourne, there was a ban on accepting subcontracted vessels.

It just goes on and on, but it is all possible because of the parasitic victories that have enabled this, from one to the next—from superannuation schemes that were meant to reduce inequality but have exacerbated it to industrial laws that enable the strong to bully the vulnerable, supported by IR academics and union aligned litigation lawyers that continue to be virtually unregulated, as we have seen in the Banksia case. The MUA tried to put a vessel ban on the six shipping lines that represent more than 80 per cent of our cargo. They've also tried on a 24-hour stop-work ban and they've put on two hour bans per shift. All the while, empty containers are piling up in Australia, with overseas suppliers now demanding that they build new containers, at US$1,500 per container—more cost, more reputational damage and more people out of work.

Some may ask: Who cares? If there are delays, businesses may have to pay up to 50 per cent more for their cargo, but they will eventually get it, right? The problem is that while they are waiting for products to sell, their staff still want to get paid, their children still want to be fed, the tax office still needs to be paid, banks kind of like to eventually get their loans repaid, landlords want their rent and councils want their rates. Let us not forget councils; they pretty much want their rates straightaway—the only level of government not to offer anything in terms of relief for Australians during this pandemic.

Ms McBain interjecting

I note the former mayor in the chamber disagrees with that. Oh well. As one small business in my community told me—

Ms McBain interjecting

Hang on, Member for Eden-Monaro. This is a person speaking now. 'I am not speaking on behalf of big business. I'm just a small, insignificant retailer in the wider economy. I'm speaking on behalf of thousands of small family businesses that are desperately relying on the import process to survive. For us, this strike action does not simply mean foregoing a pay rise next year or the year after. It means losing my income completely—potential insolvency, bankruptcy, losing my home, my family and my kids.' As a female entrepreneur also told me: 'I don't begrudge unions working for their members to gain fair pay and safe working conditions or to fight against workplace abuse, but this has nothing to do with any of those issues. This is just about getting more money.' (Time expired)

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

Photo of James StevensJames Stevens (Sturt, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

6:49 pm

Photo of Matt ThistlethwaiteMatt Thistlethwaite (Kingsford Smith, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Financial Services) Share this | | Hansard source

This motion is a disgrace. It contains assertions that are simply not true. It implies that Australian workers held up vital medical supplies to sick Australians—in particular, cancer patients—when this simply did not occur. It criticises hardworking Australian maritime workers and belittles them for the work that they do. And I say that it's not on. Many of those workers who this motion criticises live in the community that I represent. They're hardworking, community-minded people, and I'm here to defend them from this outrageous and untruthful attack on their character and their work.

This motion condemns maritime workers for their actions during a pay dispute that occurred with Patricks in September. The motion is inaccurate, it's misleading, and it's simply not true, and I'll explain why this is so. When the dispute between Patricks and the MUA hit the news in September, I telephoned the MUA delegate to verify the media reports and he explained the truth regarding the dispute. I want to go through some of the claims that are made in the motion. The first claim made by the member for Mackellar is that workers were seeking a pay rise of 30 per cent for people on $300,000. The MUA delegate explained that the bargaining claim was for six per cent. It was settled for 1½ per cent. Now, I know the member for Mackellar has great difficulty in counting, but even a child will know that there's a big difference between 30 per cent and 1½ per cent. As to the claim that these workers are on $300,000 a year, when I put that to one of the wharfies, he said to me: 'Do you think if we earned $300,000 a year we'd be out on strike?' That, I think, explains it all. It's simply not true. The other claim that was made by the Prime Minister during this dispute is that the maritime workers were holding up ships from unloading materials during a recession. What the Prime Minister said at that time, is—listen to this:

… 40 of them out there. You can go down to Port Botany or down to Kurnell and have a look out there and you can see them lining up and every single one of them lining up is being held back from Australians getting what they need in the middle of a recession.

That's what the Prime Minister said. So, again, I asked the MUA workers that work on the docks if any of the ships were being held up. None of those vessels were held up. And—if you don't believe me, Deputy Speaker—then I thought, let's consult the company. So I went to the Patricks website, where, very handily, you can look and see where a particular vessel is. And here is what it looks like: these are the 40 vessels the Prime Minister claims were offshore—

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The member for Kingsford Smith will not use props.

Photo of Matt ThistlethwaiteMatt Thistlethwaite (Kingsford Smith, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Financial Services) Share this | | Hansard source

Okay. Here's one of them, the Ever Ulysses, off the coast of the Philippines—legit—in the middle of the Indian Ocean! Here's another one, Synergy Keelung, to the east of New Zealand. If the Prime Minister thinks that you could stand on the deck at Port Botany and see a ship that's in the middle of the Indian Ocean, then he has a very powerful set of binoculars. I can just see the Prime Minister standing there at Port Botany, saying, 'I can see New Zealand from here'. What a complete load of rubbish. The Patricks website proves that this is simply untrue. But the most despicable thing about all of this is that this motion says that:

… vital medical supplies are being disrupted, at a time when they are needed the most …

Those opposite know that that is simply not true—to say that Australians are not getting medical supplies is simply not true. I read from a Sydney Morning Herald article on 30 September, which says:

The head of Patrick Terminals has admitted the industrial dispute roiling Australia's ports has not led to any containers of medical supplies being held up …

Elizabeth de Somer, chief executive from Medicines Australia, says: 'There are no shortages related to this action'. That is the voice of the industry telling the truth about this dispute—yet those opposite want to play on the anxiety of cancer patients, believe it or not, during a pandemic, and say that Australian workers are holding up their drugs. It's despicable. It's downright disgraceful, and, on behalf half of the workers that I represent, I'm not going to put up with it. You've got to stop telling lies about Australian workers. (Time expired)

6:54 pm

Photo of James StevensJames Stevens (Sturt, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As the seconder of the motion, of course I rise to speak in favour of it and commend the member for Mackellar for moving it. I mean, what kind of low-life union leaders—in the middle of one of the greatest challenges in the lifetime of anyone in this parliament—would behave in the way that they have in recent months? Of course it comes as no surprise, because this is nothing new. If you go back in time, this has been happening for generations and generations. I refer particularly to the disgraceful conduct of the precursor of the MUA during the Second World War, when they were holding up the loading of critical war supplies going to Australian and Allied troops in the South Pacific. This was extortionate behaviour. They held up the loading of arms and food and medical supplies to relieve our troops who were fighting the imperial Japanese forces that were trying to invade this country and subjugate the continent of Australia. It's absolutely disgraceful. It goes on and on and on, and still goes on to this day. Soon after the war, even Chifley had to stand up to the Barrier labour council in Broken Hill; it spread up to Mount Isa, of course, and there was the collaboration with the communists, seeking to overthrow our democracy. And of course now, in the middle of the once-in-a-century pandemic, we've got the union leaders of this country disrupting the supply chains that are keeping Australians safe and keeping our economy ticking over, at a time when our economy has had the greatest challenge since the Second World War—which was the last time they behaved like this, in such a disgraceful way—and they continue to seek to extort, as to the supply chains of this country and the businesses of this country.

We've got some significant trade challenges at the moment. That's obvious when you open a newspaper. It's obvious when you see the different industries that are struggling with our relationship with our major trade partner, China. Could there be a worse time to add uncertainty and disruption to the supply chains that are taking our product to export markets and bringing vital supplies in, when we're in the middle of a health pandemic in this country, when we're trying to expand our markets around the globe and when we're trying to support jobs and businesses and ensure that people stay in employment and off the unemployment queues? The reality is: 20 per cent of the jobs in this country in the private sector are linked to export industries. So, when you constrict supply chains, when you make it difficult for businesses to export overseas, you're putting jobs at risk.

I would've thought that the Labor Party, who claim to be the party of jobs and the party of the worker, would be against this sort of thing. But instead we've got them in here defending—not the workers; this is not about the workers—the behaviour of the unions, who are their overlords, their masters, as the member for Mackellar has pointed out. We know full well that the decisions about these disruptions, the decisions that have been taken on the waterfront, in the middle of a once-in-a-century pandemic, have been decisions of union leaders interested in the unions' interests, not in the interests of workers, and particularly not of the workers who rely on the jobs in the businesses that can't export their product overseas and around the world. The future of this country—

Honourable Member:

An honourable member interjecting

Photo of Jason FalinskiJason Falinski (Mackellar, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

They hurt other Australians. They're lawless and they hurt other Australians.

Photo of James StevensJames Stevens (Sturt, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Quite right. The future of this country will always be linked to our ability to export. As a country of 25 million people, we're not going to get rich selling lattes to each other. We have to export. We have to produce things in this country—to produce more than we need for our population—and then sell that great value-added product around the world. That's something that I spent a long time doing, before coming to this House, in the wool industry.

The wool industry is one of the great industries in this country. It built this country. It has a great history of being disrupted by the union movement—particularly by the wide comb strike. We had to have primary producers delivering wool to port and loading it onto ships during the strikes that the union movement incited in the eighties and before.

These are the industries that create jobs and are fundamental to the prosperity of our country. If you were a party that represented the workers, you'd back export industries and you'd back access to overseas markets. But it's all changed for Labor. If it was ever different, it's certainly not the case now that they're interested in backing the Australian workforce and the workers of this country. It's all about the union leaders and what they want to do to extort things from Australian businesses and Australian export industries, at the expense of higher paying jobs.

If you want to grow productivity in this country, if you want to increase real wages, we have to export. And if you want to export, here's a tip: you've got to have a waterfront that is efficient and can take high quality Australian product from this country to overseas markets. The behaviour of the MUA, not just in the past few months but particularly in the past few months, has been an absolute and utter disgrace. They should be condemned, and I thoroughly support this motion.

6:59 pm

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am a member that actually has a port in her seat and something to say on this issue. I rise very proudly to speak against this dangerous and, frankly, reckless motion before the House tonight. It is a good opportunity, however, for me to recognise the terrific work of the Maritime Union of Australia—the mighty MUA—in supporting Australian seafarers and, indeed, the entire Australian coastal shipping industry. I would like to pay a very special tribute to the Newcastle branch of the MUA, including the branch secretary and the honorary deputy branch secretary, Denis Outram. Members who don't have ports or don't have the slightest idea about ports like to mock me right now, but I am giving that shout-out because I have had literally thousands of seafarers operating in and out of the port and calling Newcastle home over many years. Shipping's an important part of our economy, our environment and, indeed, our national security.

This is a matter close to my heart, and Newcastle has a long and proud maritime history. The Port of Newcastle is central to our regional economy. Indeed, it is vital to our national economy. It is, yes, one of the oldest unionised ports in this nation—proudly so. It was established in 1799. It's played a key role as a critical link in our national supply chain ever since. With 25 operational berths, it handles more than 25 different cargoes, and 2,200 vessels visit each and every year into the largest port on the east coast. As a representative of the very proud city of Newcastle, I have seen again and again the extraordinary contribution of MUA members and seafarers. The fact that this government's members will do anything they can to besmirch the MUA just shows what a great job the union is in fact doing and what a threat they are to the Liberals' toxic work agenda.

When I think of the MUA, I think of the thousands of men and women they represent and work hard for every day to advocate for safe, secure and fair workplaces. I think of the times when they have intervened to protect Australian seafarers from shocking exploitation. I also think of their steadfastness in supporting workers during the worst of times, like when BlueScope and BHP sacked 80 seafarers overnight without warning. This was utterly shameful. They were on the high seas, thousands of miles away from their homes, without any support or union representation, when they found out they'd lost their jobs. But the MUA were very quick to get a link through to the seafarers, providing them with the support they needed, connecting them back with their families.

I also think of the MUA's achievements working alongside the International Transport Workers Federation under the leadership of Dean Summers, calling to account those foreign flagged ships that are exploiting vulnerable workers. These are seafarers who have now, because of COVID, spent 18 months on board their ships without a single day off. These are ships that have become floating sweatshops. They are the face of modern slavery, and I am looking at both of you who took part in the modern slavery bill legislation. That is right here on our shores today.

Most importantly, I'm now thinking of just how hard the MUA have fought against successive Liberal governments' brazen attacks on Australian shipping. Indeed, one of the most memorable parliamentary achievements of recent years was the day when the Senate shot down the Liberal government's toxic coastal shipping bill back in 2015.

Mr Falinski interjecting

Photo of Maria VamvakinouMaria Vamvakinou (Calwell, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Mackellar is too loud.

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

If passed, that appalling piece of legislation would have in fact created incentives for companies to sack their Australian crews and hire foreign workers for as little as $2 an hour. Its very purpose was to shrink the Australian shipping sector and to encourage ships to register their vessels offshore. One cruise ship operator in Newcastle—

Mr Falinski interjecting

Madam Chair.

Photo of Maria VamvakinouMaria Vamvakinou (Calwell, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The member for Newcastle will be heard in silence.

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As an island nation, Australia's got a strong national interest in fostering its own coastal shipping industry. You should be backing Australian seafarers and Australian coastal shipping instead of taunting members in this parliament.

7:04 pm

Photo of Tim WilsonTim Wilson (Goldstein, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support the important motion moved by my good friend the member for Mackellar. Labor should not be holding vital medicines hostage and turning Australia's wharves into battlefields during the COVID-19 crisis. With the complicit silence of federal Labor, the Maritime Union of Australia has been leveraging the COVID crisis to run industrial action at ports in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Fremantle. Under the cover of pay-rise strike action, the MUA is refusing to unload containers of vital medicines. At the beginning of October, it was estimated that over 100,000 containers were already caught up in the disruption. Thirty-eight ships were also facing delays to their berthing schedule. This meaningless chaos is creating additional expenses for Australian importers and exporters, who are already suffering under the COVID recession. The actions have threatened trade worth 5.4 per cent of GDP in New South Wales alone. With cargo banked up, imported goods are at risk of becoming more expensive, and this will hurt Australian consumers. In short, everyone loses as long as the MUA wins.

But, even more astonishingly, the union has been slowing the supply of vital medicines that Australians have needed. The CEO of Patrick Terminals says he has fielded calls from freight forwarders who were waiting weeks to unload vital diabetes medications. Medicines company Arititek has revealed it was facing order rejections from overseas suppliers due to the uncertainty over delivery and payments. Medicines Australia CEO Elizabeth de Somer was warned the unions' calls for reduced work hours would likely lead to entrenched medicine shortages. The strength and flexibility of each nation's health system has drawn a fine line between lives saved and lost during this crisis. Frankly, it's sickening that the MUA was happy to squeeze out our health system's resources in this context.

During the pandemic, Australians have made all sorts of sacrifices to protect their neighbours from COVID-19. Frontline hospital workers, doctors, nurses and GPs have put their own lives at risk to ensure Australians could be tested and treated, and we give thanks. We would expect that so many other people could do similar things. Business owners have shut their doors to stop the virus spreading. Tragically, many will never open again. Workers in hospitality, retail, tourism and other sectors have lost their jobs. Many have been forced onto welfare for the first time in their lives. Young Australians have sacrificed months of schooling and time with their friends. Victorians have surrendered their freedoms and their mental wellbeing through a long and painful winter in lockdown. Instead of embracing this spirit of solidarity and helping build resilience in our community, sadly, the MUA has held Australians hostage to extract their own selfish objectives. While the union demands pay rises, other Australians are dealing with the realities of COVID-19 in lost jobs and collapsed businesses. Now is the time that we should be backing our fellow Australians, not pursuing selfish, sectional, self-interested concerns which only hurt the broader community.

Sadly, of course, this is not the first time that unions have done exactly this type of action and undermined our nation in a time of crisis. Historian Hal Colebatch has described how union action during World War II undermined food and ammunition supplies to Australian troops facing the Japanese in New Guinea. As the Prime Minister has said, the MUA's action campaign is nothing but an extortion against the Australian people in the middle of a pandemic and a recession. Australians should be disgusted and are disgusted. Even the union itself is quietly ashamed of its own conduct. Rather than taking ownership for the disruption and delays, it has told false tales of faulty equipment and poor executive management. So far, the Labor Party have been silent in condemning this despicable action and runs interference for it in this parliament. They are complicit. If they had any concern for anything other than their own careers and their own puppet masters, the Leader of the Opposition and his apparatchiks would have the courage to stand up and condemn this despicable behaviour. As true as ever, Labor is happy to back militant unions against the interests of Australians and Australia—a gaping contrast to the productive approach taken by the Prime Minister during this crisis. It is time for the MUA to end this campaign of extortion and allow its members to get back to work and to back Australians and not to indulge in this selfish, self-interested, self-inflating practice again.

7:10 pm

Photo of Fiona PhillipsFiona Phillips (Gilmore, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have to say that I am very disappointed in this purely political motion by the member for Mackellar. Our maritime workers have had it tough enough this year and have stepped up when they were needed. Quite frankly, they simply don't deserve this kind of slanderous motion to be brought against them. This year, our maritime workers supported our bushfire evacuation and recovery efforts. They have worked hard to keep our goods moving during a global pandemic, and they have been 'rewarded' with job losses and unfair attacks from this government.

Let's start with the work that the Maritime Union of Australia did to raise funds to support bushfire relief efforts. MUA offices across the country became collection points, taking in food, clothing and personal hygiene products. They also collected financial donations, which were given to several schools in my electorate to help support local kids impacted by the bushfires—really important and really appreciated work. In the immediate aftermath of the bushfires, many people, including myself, called on the government to activate the Defence Force to help with evacuations and bring supplies to those who were desperately in need. Those calls took a long time to be answered. But, luckily, in some parts of the country, seafarers were there to do the work the government was avoiding.

In Mallacoota, Australian and New Zealand seafarers were the first on the scene. They brought much-needed supplies of food, water and diesel. The Norwegian-flagged ship Far Saracen was there a full 24 hours before the first naval vessel arrived. During the bushfires, they proved what a vital role shipping plays in times of crisis. They were needed and they were there. Civilian crews of the training vessel MV Sycamore and supply vessel Far Senator and the SeaLink Kangaroo Island Ferries were also there helping firefighters, helping stranded people and doing what they could to make a difference. In Eden, tugs were helping to protect those on the beaches and wharfs by using their hoses.

With coastal communities all across Australia cut off, seafarers did what they could, where they could. Imagine what we could have done if those were Australian-flagged ships. When the Aurora Australis was due to take its final voyage, after three decades of service to the Australian Antarctic Division, the Morrison government had the opportunity to acquire the ship and make it a specialist emergency response vessel for disasters just like the one we had just experienced. Our seafarers had shown what they could do, and I can tell you that many people on the South Coast would have been grateful for this assistance. There were fantastic efforts by volunteers in marine rescue, surf lifesaving and many other ocean based organisations all across the South Coast. They stepped up when they were needed. They were there for our community. But they could have been magnificently supported by Australian seafarers if only we had the capacity. But the Morrison government squandered this opportunity. If we had a formal coordinated emergency capacity we could have large-scale emergency relief and rescue operations.

Since the bushfires, people have continued to question why this didn't happen. Our seafarers showed it was possible. Instead, local people in my electorate who were employed on the Aurora have now lost their jobs. The Aurora Australis is set to be replaced but, due to delays, many of the seafarers who were expecting jobs on the vessel have been left in limbo, while others have been made redundant. The temporary vessel that will be arriving on Australian shores, the MPV Everest will have a foreign crew. We have local seafarers who could be manning this vessel, but instead the crew will come from overseas. Why is this government allowing this to happen? Why isn't the government stepping in to make sure Australian seafarers have jobs?

Instead, we have motions like this. Our seafarers, quite frankly, deserve better.

The truth is that our maritime workers are out there every day, doing their best, delivering high levels of productivity and trying to make a difference in what has been a hell of a year for them all. But the Morrison government have shown time and time again that they don't support our maritime workers. They won't stand up for workers—period. Well, I will always stand up for workers. I will stand up for local people who are losing their jobs. I promise you: their work has not gone unnoticed by me.

Photo of Maria VamvakinouMaria Vamvakinou (Calwell, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned, and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.