House debates

Wednesday, 7 September 2022

Matters of Public Importance

Trade Unions

3:02 pm

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I have received a letter from the honourable member for Bradfield proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:

The role of the unions in setting this government's priorities.

I call upon those honourable members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.

More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

Photo of Paul FletcherPaul Fletcher (Bradfield, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Government Services and the Digital Economy) Share this | | Hansard source

The government is responding to the agenda of the union movement. This is a government of and for the unions, doing the bidding of militant unions such as the CFMMEU. We've seen that in their conduct at the so-called summit, and we've even seen it when it comes to the agenda in relation to disclosure by superannuation funds.

At a time when Australians are facing cost-of-living pressures and higher bills, this Labor government is choosing to back its mates in the CFMMEU over backing ordinary Australians. It speaks volumes about the priorities of the Albanese Labor government that one of their first orders of business was to abolish the construction watchdog and, by doing so, effectively give a green light to union thuggery. We know that, when there's a problem with costs in the construction industry, it has a flow-on effect right through our economy, and it is consumers who end up paying the price. This government's been busy engaging in backslapping in a talkfest, but businesses across the country are no closer to getting the policies that they're crying out for.

Hon. Members:

Honourable members interjecting

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! There's far too much noise in the chamber.

Photo of Paul FletcherPaul Fletcher (Bradfield, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Government Services and the Digital Economy) Share this | | Hansard source

The track record of the cosy and close relationship between the union movement and the Labor Party is very clear, particularly the thuggish, militant unions the CFMMEU and the MUA. Over the past two decades, the Australian Labor Party has received, on average, nearly $1 million a year from these two militant unions—in total, $16.3 million in donations over 20 years. Total funds going from the union movement to the Labor Party across fiscal year 2018 to fiscal year 2020 was $19.3 million. So it is perhaps unsurprising that the Labor Party in government will always seek to implement the agenda of the union movement, jumping to the tune of their paymasters.

We see the evidence of this in one of the very first acts of this government, from the minister at the table, through the move to weaken the Australian Building and Construction Commission and to execute their policy to abolish it. They are doing it for a simple reason: this is what the CFMMEU wants. They are turning a blind eye to findings from royal commissions and countless rulings from the courts that have highlighted the lawlessness of and use of intimidation by the CFMMEU and the need for strong workplace relations regulation. The Labor Party in government is happy to hand the keys to the front gate and the lunchroom at building sites back over to the CFMMEU.

We know that many of the cases that the ABCC has been taking action on involve thuggish behaviour, harassment of women or worse, but that is of no concern, it would seem, to this government. They just want to shut down the ABCC, as was done by previous Labor governments. Unlike this government, the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government at least acknowledged the need for a specialist building regulator, albeit the one they came up with was highly ineffective. But this government has wasted no time in jumping to the tune of the CFMMEU and other unions.

We have heard an enormous amount about the summit, but it is very instructive to look at who was there and what it tells us about the agenda of this government and what it tells us about the priorities of the Albanese Labor government. We know that less than 10 per cent of the private sector workforce are members of unions. There were 33 union officials, 33 representatives from the union movement, at the summit. Out of 142 people in total, 33 seats went to the union movement. Most Australians don't have unions in their lives. Most Australians have very little to do with unions. And yet, should they care to look at what actually happened in terms of the attendance, it sends a very clear message. When this government looks out at the Australian people, it sees one group who it says need to be disproportionately represented when it comes to making its policy, and that is the union movement, the union sector and union bosses. Of course, it is no coincidence that those are the people whose donations are key to the operation of the Labor Party. But, even more critically, those union bosses are critical to the preselection of every one of these people on the other side of the House. They represent less than nine per cent of private sector workers, but they have a deeply disproportionate influence on this government and a very backward-looking mindset when it comes to understanding the composition and structure of the economy.

This was not a summit for people to come together and talk about policy ideas. This was a summit to get people together to remind them that, under this government, any policy needs to be endorsed by the ACTU and it needs to be endorsed by the union movement. Apparently no decision could be made about immigration without first running it carefully past the ACTU to ask in tremulous terms: 'Would you agree to this? Please?' 'Would you please let us,' says the government, 'increase the number of people who are entitled to come to Australia under the immigration agreement?' Apparently that is the way things are now working under the Albanese Labor government.

Let's turn to some of the high-quality individuals who were given a coveted seat at this summit. We heard from the Prime Minister just the other day that he has nothing to do with John Setka—'No, we booted him out of the Labor Party. He's completely disgraceful.' But who was sitting at the table? It was CFMMEU boss Christy Cain. When John Setka launched a vulgar attack on domestic violence advocacy hero Rosie Batty, what did Mr Christy Cain do? He leapt to the defence of John Setka. Apparently Setka's actions were bad enough to be kicked out of the Labor Party, but Mr Cain's still free to turn up and participate in these policy deliberations. His personal track record includes promoting criminal activity by telling his members 'laws need to be broken; you're going to get locked up.' He's been charged with assault and has been found in contempt by the Victorian Supreme Court, but this quality individual was given one of the 141 slots. He—this quality individual, Christy Cain—has described John Setka, who the Prime Minister says is so distasteful he needs to be kicked out of the Labour Party, as 'one of the most fair-dinkum people in this country.' No doubt, if you need somebody to come and bash in some windows or vandalise a car, he is quite the man for that job.

Mr Kane said recently to his members in a circular that went to the members of the CFMMEU: 'It was the power of collective unionism that won the day and make no mistake it is now the Australian Labor Party's turn to deliver. The job for all of us is far from over. We have to actively keep our foot on the throats of every politician until they put through our demands.' This is a man who the Prime Minister invited to join in this summit, and it is no surprise that the outcomes of this summit have been the announced implementation of a range of matters that have been on the ACTU's wish list for a long time. Indeed, the call to reintroduce industry-wide bargaining threatens to take us back to the very worst of the bad old days of strike action across multiple sectors in our economy.

What else have we seen from the union movement? Unions New South Wales, from my own home state—I don't claim any association with them—want to introduce bargaining fees for non-union members when negotiating enterprise agreements—standover tactics from unions New South Wales.

It's not just with regard to these traditional industrial matters that this government has been jumping to the tune of the union movement. What's the Assistant Treasurer been up to? The Assistant Treasurer has been doing the bidding of the industry funds and the union movement. He put out a consultation paper wanting to do away with terrific reforms introduced when we were in government which would have increased transparency by requiring the disclosure by superannuation funds when they made donations to unions. According to the Australian Electoral Commission, $12.9 million was paid from super funds to unions in the 2021 financial year. Forty million dollars went to Labor Party affiliated unions in the past four years. We legislated for transparency on this because it's a pretty grubby connection, but the new Assistant Treasurer, in one of his first acts, said, 'We're going to try to reverse that,' jumping to the tune of their union masters across the full sweep of policy. That's the basis of how this government operates.

3:13 pm

Photo of Mr Tony BurkeMr Tony Burke (Watson, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) Share this | | Hansard source

I dearly want to think Manager of Opposition Business for bringing this forward today, because the extraordinary thing isn't that the government listens to various voices among trade unions; the extraordinary thing is that for 10 years those opposite wanted to shut out those voices completely.

Let's not forget what happened when the pandemic hit. When the pandemic hit, all of a sudden their normal motivation of just driving wages down wasn't the only motivation. All of a sudden they realised that we needed to get changes through every workplace in the country. So what did they suddenly do in the crisis? For the first time since we lost power, they picked up the phone to the ACTU and said, 'Can you help us?' And the ACTU said, 'Yes.' We had a completely constructive relationship, and at this very dispatch box one of the former leaders of the house—not the one who is now the Leader of the Opposition but the former Leader of the House who also held my portfolio—stood here praising and thanking the ACTU for the cooperation that allowed the changes to go through, that made sure that every workplace could function as best it possibly could.

With all of that cooperation during the pandemic, the moment the shutdown period of the pandemic was over, they went back to type and said, 'Oh, you can't talk to any of these organisations.' And what's the reason?

The reason is simple: the only motivation they have, now that they're not dealing with lockdowns, is wanting to keep wages low—that's the motivation. For 10 years, keeping wages low was a deliberate design feature of the economic strategy of the people who ran this country. And now it's not. Now a deliberate design feature of how we manage the economy is: we want to get wages moving.

So I am amused that, at a summit of 143 people, they found one they objected to and that was the reason that they couldn't come. The other thing I'm amazed by is this. And maybe I've missed this point, because we'd made a bit of a fuss over the fact that the Leader of the Opposition decided to cut himself out of any of the conversation about the future. But maybe that's the reason the summit worked. Maybe it was because the Leader of the Opposition wasn't there. Maybe it was because, when you take the wreckers out of the equation, the rest of Australia actually gets along reasonably well. When you take out of the equation the people who are determined that everything is about pushing people into their corners and finding as much division as possible, you actually get a situation where you do find levels of agreement. You find levels of agreement, for example, which really made those opposite angry. We saw the reports in the paper about how angry they were that COSBOA stood up for the interests of small businesses. They got really upset that the small business organisation said that, if small businesses want to be able to negotiate together, they should be allowed to. But that wrecked the narrative of those over there, of wanting to say, 'No, no! We want people in their corners.'

What this government is about is not more disputes. We want more agreements. The reason the BCA forged an agreement with the ACTU that went into the summit was that they want more agreements. The reason COSBOA forged an agreement with the ACTU that went forward to the summit was that they want more agreements.

With those opposite, what it comes down to is that they don't want people agreeing. And what's the key? Objection. Why would they have a problem with workers and businesses reaching agreement? It's really simple: those agreements put upward pressure on wages. Those agreements are part of getting wages moving.

There's the example I gave today with respect to the Victorian childcare centres. Those workers ended up 16 per cent above the award. When people talk about cost of living—I'm sorry: you can't have a conversation about how much living costs without also looking at how much money comes in. Wages are an essential part of the cost-of-living problem. The problem isn't only that at the moment we have inflation running at 6.1; it's also that we have wages running at only 2.4 per cent. People are going backwards by 3.5 per cent on average. Putting downward pressure on inflation is what the PBS legislation that was introduced today is about. Putting downward pressure on inflation is what our childcare policy is about. Putting downward pressure on inflation is what our skills program is about. Those things put downward pressure on inflation—all things that those opposite had no interest in doing.

But you also have to be willing to get wages moving again. No-one will forget that the moment that made them angriest during the campaign, which they thought was a gaffe, was when the now Prime Minister was asked: 'Would you support a pay rise for people on the minimum wage that keeps up with the cost of living?' and he answered: 'Absolutely.' They saw conviction and thought it must have been a mistake. They weren't used to looking conviction in the eye. Then we were told it was the 'loose unit' language—remember that? We were told what a disaster this would be. We were told that this would trash the economy. And they said it should be left to the experts. What did the experts then say when the Fair Work Commission came back with its decision? Five point two per cent! That was what came back from the annual wage review.

So, if you want wages moving, you need to act in three ways. There are three things you need to do. You need to use the commission. We've used the commission with respect, putting in our submission and arguing for pay rises on the annual wage review. We've used the commission in respect of the aged-care wage review, which is on as well, putting in a submission—which those opposite refused to do—to say these workers deserve a pay rise. Similarly, the commission is a critical part of the pathway towards trying to get closer to gender pay equity in this country. This side of the House and this government say a 14.1 per cent pay equity gap is not satisfactory at all, and we need to act to close that gender pay gap.

The first thing you need to do is use the commission; the second thing you need to do is to close the loopholes that are in the act. Those opposite say, 'Oh, but it's your legislation.' Can I ask: how many major acts went for 10 years with no serious amendments when courts found new loopholes in them? When loopholes were found in the tax act, four or five times a year, new pieces of legislation were brought in here to bring the act up to date and to close loopholes because no-one wanted to see government revenue fall. But when loopholes appeared, through different decisions of the courts, in the Fair Work Act, the decision of the previous government was to let it go: 'Don't act. Don't legislate. Don't do what we do with any other piece of legislation.' And why? Because they wanted to drive wages down. So, as the new rorts came through with respect to people doing the same job but being paid radically less, they just let it be. When the gig economy arrived in Australia, we had ministers and a Prime Minister standing here saying, 'It's complicated as to whether or not Australians should at least be paid the minimum wage.' They didn't act to close the loophole. I raised this issue only a few weeks ago: when some workers, who had previously been described by Liberals as heroes, were facing a potential 40 per cent cut in their pay, those opposite said, 'Oh, no; you shouldn't change that.'

The third thing you need to do to get wages moving is to get agreements moving. The parties at the summit came together on that. I don't know how those opposite think that if you only have the business leaders around the table somehow that's both sides at the bargaining table. I guess if you want to drive wages down maybe that's what you do. But at the summit, even all the business organisations, without exception, accepted that we need to get wages moving. Getting bargaining moving is part of that.

We need to be able to update the act and bring the Fair Work Act up to date with the modern economy. If you don't want to do that, by all means, vote against each change that comes forward. Continue the policy that 10 years of low wage growth as a deliberate design feature wasn't enough. If those opposite want to fight for a second decade of low wage growth and people going backwards, they can argue for that, but don't think they'll ever have credibility on cost of living. If you want to act on cost of living, you have to act on wages.

3:23 pm

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party, Shadow Minister for Trade and Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

After 100 days in office, I'm happy to give the government some free advice today on how they're going. There's a lot of hubris on the other side of this chamber. We wish them well—we're all Australian citizens and we want any government of Australia to do well—but my review might show that I don't think they are doing that well.

To put the hubris on the other side into context, we need to be reminded that this new government had the weakest support of any government incoming from opposition that we've seen for a long time. I am repeating myself, but I like some of these stats, so I will. I'll remind the government that they are in the weakest position of any incoming government with a two-seat majority since 1913. They got a 32 per cent primary vote—that's the lowest for a government incoming from opposition since 1903, so they nearly broke some records there. That's just to show the support they didn't have in the community. The public certainly weren't in love with them. Almost begrudgingly, they were voted in.

How has the first 100 days gone? Well, what we're seeing is that they've paid the piper. They've paid their master. That's what's happened in the first 100 days. The unions, we know, control the factions of the Labor Party. The unions control preselections, and the unions fund the Labor Party, so that means the unions now control the government. The unions control this new government. We've seen the actions that have demonstrated this. Within the first two weeks of sitting, what did the new government—controlled, owned and funded by the union movement—do? They abolished the ABCC in the first two weeks. What does the ABCC do? It's an independent umpire in industrial relations and on the workforce. They didn't like the independent umpire, so they obviously had to reward the people who fund them.

The jobs summit—there's an interesting stat here: 14 per cent of people in the workforce are unionised. I can tell you what, if you look over to the other side, the percentage there is a lot higher than 14 per cent. More than 14 per cent of that lot have been unionised. Probably 94 per cent of the people on that side have worked for or been involved in the union, not 14 per cent, which is actually reflective of the Australian public.

I encourage the new government to stand up to the union movement, because this Labor government does have some precedence where a previous Labor government has actually done that. If you look at the Hawke and Keating governments, you will see they actually did some quite progressive things economically and in the industrial relations system. I think Keating, with all due respect to him, will probably go down as one of the better Treasurers that the country has had—not as good as some of the Liberal Treasurers we've had but certainly better than any other Labor Treasurer. What he did was liberate the tariff system—or he progressed that along and the Howard government progressed it as well—opened the economy up and even did some movements with the industrial relations system.

What we have in the new government, of course, is a leadership that is taking us back to the seventies. What did the now Prime Minister say about Keating in 1987, when the then Treasurer was liberating some of the industrial relations system and our financial system? This is what Anthony Albanese said in 1987 about Keating:

Someone like Keating can put himself up as a possible Labor PM, but he is more comfortable mixing with millionaires and business executives than he is with working-class people .

That's what the current PM thought of a great Labor leader liberating our economy. That's what his core beliefs are. Nothing changes there.

I say to this new government—they don't understand this, because they can't understand why only 14 per cent of the Australian workforce belongs to a union. They don't understand that, because they're born of the union movement, they're funded by the union movement and their careers are controlled by the union movement. But I encourage members opposite to show some courage and to show some real strength of character: don't just kowtow to your union masters. Show some strength, like the Hawke and Keating governments did, and don't just do what you're told.

3:28 pm

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll tell you what, if stupidity were flight, that contribution would be done by a squadron of jet fighters. You've never seen anything so pathetic in your life in this place. The Labor Party is connected with unions—unbelievable!

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party, Shadow Minister for Trade and Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

You're a fool!

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The ridiculousness of that fool over there to come in here and carry on about all this stuff when they have nothing to stand by.

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party, Shadow Minister for Trade and Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

You're a—

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Page!

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Ten years of that government delivered nothing but low wages.

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party, Shadow Minister for Trade and Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

You're an insulting fool! Stop your insults!

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! This is not a two-way conversation.

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Oh, seriously. If I throw a stick, will you go and catch it? They had 10 years of deliberate policy to stagnate and lower wages, and they still do it today. Even the member opposite scurrying out of the chamber wants to do nothing but cause division and chaos, because that's all they know. They couldn't do anything about working together and delivering things. Let's think about the government that we've taken over from and what they did. We had 10 years of a government that kept wages low, 10 years of division and 10 years of doing everything they could to suppress the ability of Australians to pay their bills and get a better life.

They hate aspiration. They sit there and use these terms like 'union thugs'. Let's think about it—union thugs. They were happy to stand here over the last couple of years and say: 'Aren't they great, our nurses, who we send out there and make work during a pandemic? And the people delivering food to the stores?' With our truck drivers, they fought against a road safety tribunal to deliver proper wages and conditions for the people that carry this country. They just hate workers. There is nothing more they like than to see workers suppressed so they can sit back and feel superior, but in fact they are very inferior to the people that went out there, joined unions and worked together.

Collective bargaining is so important. I can remember when I worked at Mercedes-Benz. A 16-year-old kid came in to become an apprentice. He had to sit there with the entire might and negotiate and bargain with one of the largest companies in the world's HR department, lawyers and managers. That's why you have a union representative there. Unions fought to give those guys overalls, toolkits, safety and all the other things that matter to Australian workers right across this nation, but they sit there proudly saying, 'We should be against that.' It beggars belief that someone can come into this place and claim to be as intelligent as they do but then sit there and fight against the idea of protecting people and giving them safe workplaces.

Yes, we're getting rid of the ABCC, and a damn good decision it is, because it has done nothing to improve health and safety. You have got to ask: what is it you've got against stickers on helmets? How does that impact the economy or destroy the nation, if somebody puts a sticker on their helmet? But that's the pettiness you have in this modern rump of a leftover coalition we have sitting there. You think about everything they've fought against over the last 10 years. They fought against wage theft. They were quite happy to see people get their wages illegally docked and do nothing about it. They fought against collective bargaining. They've done that all the way through.

Photo of Russell BroadbentRussell Broadbent (Monash, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That is rubbish.

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

'That is rubbish'—seriously? They've fought against improving safety in workplaces on every single occasion. I say this now: why would anyone with any modicum of intelligence and support that party over there when at every single opportunity—and we'll go back to the previous member's views; even back in the eighties with the Industrial Relations Commission and then the Fair Work Commission—it has done nothing but fight against every single attempt to improve the wages and conditions of working Australians?

It's in their DNA to fight against it, because all they can do is attack people on low and middle incomes. We saw that through the last tax cuts. Remember those? You wouldn't give low and middle-income earners tax cuts unless you could give the high-income earners one. That was what you fought for vehemently. You couldn't find time to bring an anticorruption commission in; we know why. But you fought against supporting Australian workers on low and middle incomes getting tax cuts. So the next time you sit there and talk about union thugs, think about those people in the hospitals, the cleaners, the people who have worked their backsides off day and night through this pandemic, the people that deliver the food and the people that look after child care to keep this country running while you sit there your backside and attack them.

Your own leader was a former union member. He was a member of the police association. Do you call him a union thug? He's not a member of the union now, so you can still call him a thug but not a union member. Each and every one of these organisations works hard and fights strong for Australian families and workers, and you should be ashamed for bringing this to parliament. (Time expired)

3:33 pm

Aaron Violi (Casey, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The Albanese government's priorities are clearly misaligned. This government has again and again chosen to back union bosses over hardworking Australian businesses and families. The recent Jobs and Skills Summit showed where the Albanese government's loyalties lie. The union movement represented 25 per cent of the participants at the summit, in contrast to the less than 15 per cent of private sector employees that are unionised. Why are unionised workers afforded so much representation at this level?

This is especially shocking considering small business represents 41 per cent of our workforce but had one seat at the summit. We know small business is the heart and soul of the economy. They create opportunities in local communities and employ around five million Australians, the largest employer in this country. This group of hardworking Australians is being left behind by the Albanese government. It is an insult to all Australian small-business owners and employees that they were given one seat at the summit that Albanese labelled a huge success. A huge success for whom? The union donors is the answer, not hardworking Australians.

We want union bosses to be more transparent and accountable. When we restored the Australian Building and Construction Commission we had it in mind to protect Australians from predatory union behaviour. Now the Albanese government has decided to close this commission. This body protects 1.1 million construction workers and around 380,000 small businesses from the thuggery of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union.

In the past six years there have been countless cases of misconduct and law-breaking by this union. CFMMEU officials have physically and verbally abused workers, made homophobic and sexist slurs and intimidated people, with verbal threats of violence. These union officials have also exposed strikebreakers' identities on social media, a move a judge said was the modern-day equivalent of placing a person in the stocks to face abuse and assault.

These unions are supported by the Albanese government irrespective of their misconduct. It seems everyone but the Labor Party is aware of the CFMMEU's manipulation tactics. A union official has said, 'What we're actually going to do is take ownership and responsibility of the ALP,' and that they will demand influence. These unions use powerful manipulation tactics over the Labor Party, and the Albanese government have fallen into this trap.

The Australian Building and Construction Commission has been successful in substantially reducing days lost to industrial action in the industry. The commission has served its purpose well, protecting workers from the harmful side of unions. And guess what the Albanese government is doing to this commission? Dismantling it. Against the advice of industry leaders.

The government sides with the CFMMEU, time and time again, promoting militant unionists over Australian businesses, families and workers. The Labor Party has received nearly a million dollars every year from the CFMMEU and the MUA. In the last two financial years, unions have funded nearly $20 million to Labor, ensuring that the Albanese government will also be on the side of these groups over ordinary Australians. It's clear how the CFMMEU thinks they can demand influence from the Labor Party, when the Albanese government is more than willing to accept huge amounts of funding from these organisations.

Productivity will decrease for small businesses. This group of Australians risk it all to foster businesses and bring success and wealth to their families. Yet, again, they've been slapped across the face by this government, bearing the brunt of a union-led burden. It is time for the Albanese government to set its priorities by and for the success of Australians without the influence of harmful unions. (Time expired)

Government members interject ing—

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Before I call the next speaker, can I just remind those on my right that we're not having a two-way conversation. So, please, the members are entitled to be heard in silence.

3:38 pm

Tania Lawrence (Hasluck, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It never ceases to amaze me that every time those opposite bring up trade unions, in the context of the ALP, they act as if they've lifted the lid on some salacious secret. It is truly baffling. People are sick to death with the opposition's addiction to conflict.

While our government is prioritising getting wages up and bringing the cost of living down, with cheaper medicines and child care, the opposition clearly has different priorities. Let's talk about the types of people who are striking fear into the hearts of those opposite: the terrifying, menacing faces of teachers, university and TAFE lecturers, nurses, orderlies, aged-care workers, public administrators and public servants, essential service workers, electricity, gas, water and transport workers, and retail, construction and mining workers. The average union worker is a woman in her 40s. On average, union members earn 32 per cent more a week than nonmembers. Furthermore, the gender pay gap closes for union members. The median male nonmember earns $2.70 more per hour than his female equivalent, but for union members this difference is only $1. Union members are people from diverse backgrounds carrying out a diverse range of professions. They are Australians, and it is those Australians who are setting this government's priorities. They are the Australian people who voted for a majority Albanese Labor government.

It is unfortunate in the extreme that the Liberal and National parties have not developed proper and respectful relationships with unions and their members. I am meeting too many people, both union members and others, who consider the last nine years to be the lost years, full of lost opportunities and stagnation. A different set of attitudes amongst those opposite might have yielded different results. Of course, a different set of attitudes sometimes requires a different set of people. The WA Liberal Party are looking for a different set of people!

The question is directed to the role of unions. A union is a society or association formed by people with a common interest or purpose. The power of collectivisation is so persuasive that we see it harnessed by business and industry large and small. That's why even the member for Dickson was a proud member of the Queensland Police Union. I quote:

I was proud to be a member of the QPU. I was a member from the day I joined QPS and remained a member until I left the police. Every industry employs lobby groups and attempts to put their argument forward whatever way they can to their elected representatives and police unions and associations are no different in their role.

Photo of Joanne RyanJoanne Ryan (Lalor, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Who said that?

Tania Lawrence (Hasluck, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I think it was the member for Dickson.

From the local chambers through to the BCA and the AIG, the old adage 'stronger together' really does ring true. A government needs to meet and talk with peak bodies. This should apply regardless of whether the peak body is representing employers, industry organisations, community groups or workers. For example, yesterday I met with delegates and frontline workers from the Australian Services Union. I came out of that meeting better informed—better informed by John and Wayne of the fact that over the last nine years the NDIS has been turned into something else by the previous government and not something better; better-informed by Wendy, Julie and Jodie of the difficulty of retaining people in caring professions, where there is job insecurity, low wages and poor conditions.

On 23 August, in the lead-up to the government's very successful Jobs and Skills Summit, I hosted a green energy jobs and skills roundtable in Perth. Around the table were representatives of business, large and small, unions, governments and training organisations. If the union representatives had been missing, it would have been a poorer roundtable for it.

In the earlier debate in the House today we heard from members of all persuasions just how important workers are in aged care. More recently, my friends the member for Bean and the member for Bendigo quite properly emphasised the importance of unions working in the fields of aged care and health care. I encourage all workers to go and join their union. I encourage union members and anyone else to come and join the Labor Party because it represents the working people. (Time expired)

3:43 pm

Photo of Russell BroadbentRussell Broadbent (Monash, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

A couple of home truths: (1) I have been a member of a union; (2) when the CFMEU forestry division needed help in my electorate many years ago, who did they turn to? They didn't turn to Labor. They didn't turn to a Labor senator. They turned to me for help. They turned to me. A further home truth: if 45 per cent of unionists in my electorate didn't vote for me, I wouldn't be here. What I'm saying to you is this: there's a place for all of us in our communities.

In the short term, in the election campaign, I can understand the CFMMEU putting $100,000 into my Labor candidate to get rid of me. That's part of the process we're in. If I'm vulnerable and you can see a way to get to me, go for it. In the last election, sadly, they used the aged-care sector as a battering ram against me—I, who have been a solid supporter of those people that work in aged care for all of my career. The union came along and said, 'This guy, Liberal—bad.' Except my aged-care sector said, 'This guy, Liberal, good,' and I survived when others didn't because of our commitment to those people who work in aged care, work in the hospitals and work in all of those areas the member for McEwen mentioned. If we don't care for our least paid, our most vulnerable, our disabled and our elderly, we are the lesser for it.

The point I'm trying to make here is this. If I go back not too far, probably only 30 years, I remember there was a program run by the union to say that the education system in Victoria was a disgrace. You'd say to parents, 'In your school?' and they'd say, 'Oh, no, not in my school—in someone else's school'. The last campaign was: 'Aged care is in complete disarray. It's a disgrace.' 'Oh, in Mirboo North?' 'Oh, no, no, not in Mirboo North. It's wonderful in Mirboo North.' 'Do you mean down in Foster?' 'No, no; Foster's fantastic.' 'What about Lyrebird at Drouin?' 'Oh, no, no. Lyrebird's fantastic.' 'Well, what are you on about!'

There was one particular nursing home—a new nursing home in my electorate, which has never asked me once to come and visit—where there was a problem that the union could identify. There was one nursing home, in all my not-for-profit and for-profit nursing homes—one place where there was a problem. But that was all shock-horror and, 'Aged care in Monash is a disgrace.' We have this national campaign rolling through, telling everybody that their nursing homes are a disgrace, and they're not.

As I mentioned in a previous address to this House, the morale amongst workers in my aged-care centres was so low that I had to write to every aged-care centre to tell them how much we appreciate them, that they're doing a fantastic job and that the families of the people they're caring for appreciate everything they do and every move they make. Even those who don't have families and don't have visitors and don't have friends, when they go into those nursing homes, go into a family. That campaign was negative because it besmirched every aged-care centre, and that's what the workers felt.

That's what the union did. They ran a very strong campaign. They had demonstrations outside my office. They did the lot. During an election campaign, I've got to accept that, if that's the way you want to go. But there are always, always long-term consequences for those sorts of campaigns—like 'Mediscare', which was just an outrageous scare campaign, but it worked. The Labor Party said, 'No, no; it was good campaigning from us,' but there are consequences for everything that you do, and I appeal to everybody to be very careful of that type of campaign.

3:48 pm

Photo of Anne StanleyAnne Stanley (Werriwa, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Monash is right: there are consequences for every decision a government makes. Australia has always been an egalitarian society, a society where we are at our best when we all work together. Australia has a strong history of workers fighting for fair pay and safe working conditions. Their efforts are what created our weekends, our public holidays, our sick leave, and most importantly the safety regulations that mean that people who go to work in the morning come home at night. Those opposite are saying that the movements that brought about the economic prosperity of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s—which their government benefited from—were brought about without workers and that now the workers should be undermined and crushed.

The Albanese Labor government seeks to listen to all sectors of our community while we develop our policies. You saw that in our policy for climate change: the new government received approval from the Business Council, from small business, from the union movement, from educators and from universities—all the people that make a difference in our society. The Jobs and Skills Summit last week brought all sections of the Australian people together to find ways to improve the economy and the lives of all of us—small business, large business, families and pensioners. Yet the Leader of the Opposition chose not to join that. While we commend the Leader of the Nationals for being part of that debate, everybody needs to be there. Everybody needs to get together and find the things that make a difference.

Union members come from all parts of our society. They are our aged-care workers, they're our nurses, they're our police and they're our teachers. In 2020, in fact, the industries with the highest membership were in education, public administration, health care, electricity and transport. The membership of those industries ranged from 20 to 30 per cent of workers. It is clear that Australians think that unions are somewhere where they can have their cases heard and find support.

Workers in this country have suffered for nine years under the previous government, experiencing the worst decline in real wages since records began in 1998, a decline of 3.2 per cent. The previous government didn't advocate for aged-care workers. Perhaps if they had listened to the unions and the workers that were giving them that information, they wouldn't have been subjected to a royal commission that showed the neglect that was going on under their watch. Union members were talking to our side of the House and to their loved ones who were being looked after in aged care about all the things that were going wrong.

The previous government has admitted their policy on wages was built on intentional wage suppression. But wages aren't the reason we have inflationary pressures at the moment. The Australia Institute in May 2022 estimated that a five per cent wage increase across the entire economy would mean a price increase for a cup of coffee of about nine cents. It is not the reason why we have problems at the moment.

When the rest of the country came together last week for the Jobs and Skills Summit to find real solutions that the country needs, the opposition decided to live in their own reality. Are the opposition seriously saying to us that business, government, advocacy groups and individuals—and, yes, the unions—didn't have an important part to play and an important story to tell? What the opposition fails to understand with the way that they have embarked on their period in opposition is that the Australian people have conflict fatigue. The members of my electorate and electorates all over the country voted to have us talk to each other and talk together. We need to be together, and that includes unions, who represent such a large part of the Australian people—the people who, like the member for Monash said, voted for everyone.

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I call the member for Sturt.

3:53 pm

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

Thank you, Deputy Speaker.

I thank the member for Leichhardt! I did think that the new government would be a little bit more careful than they have been, from a reputational point of view, as to how they appeared in the early days of government. First impressions last, and how you look in your first 100 days is probably going to be an enduring view of you and your government—what the people of Australia think of you and of who controls you. That is why initially I was extremely surprised that this new Albanese government was so comfortable and happy to be viewed as being completely controlled and puppeteered by the union movement.

But, to be fair, I don't think that first suspicion of mine is very reasonable, because I do think it is embarrassing to this new Prime Minister and it is embarrassing to this new government that they have to be shown so publicly to be controlled by the union movement. Then, of course, you remember that they don't really have a choice, because they are controlled internally by the union movement. Despite their own judgement as to how things look publicly, in escapades like last week's, if that's what the union movement wants then that's what the union movement will get.

This also reminds me of just how deep the wounds of the 2019 election loss are for the union movement. Had Bill Shorten been elected in 2019, it would have been a very different government for the union movement—a union leader in charge of the country, working with the unions to do what the unions wanted from the Prime Minister's office. That, of course, was not the case, and the unions had to wait three years longer than they were expecting to take over the country and run it again. So we have a situation now where they're not wasting any time and they're not worried whatsoever about perception. They will flaunt and brag about the complete control they've got over this new government. There's some political benefit to this side of the House in that, but it is very disappointing to see the reality of it in full view of the people of this country—the unedifying display of the government being controlled by that narrowcast group.

In my home state of South Australia, we have a very regrettable situation right now thanks to the CFMMEU, which has been taken over by the Victorian branch. There was a guy called Aaron Cartledge who was the state secretary of the CFMMEU in South Australia. By all reports, he was a pretty good, reasonable guy, which meant he had no future leading that union. He was driven out of that union, and the Victorian branch have taken over the South Australian branch of the CFMMEU, because Aaron Cartledge didn't live up to the expectations of the CFMMEU when it comes to doing things like, you know, not breaking the law. So he's gone. He's been thrown overboard—poor old Aaron Cartledge—and John Setka is now running the CFMMEU in my home state of South Australia as well.

What we've seen in the period of time since that has happened has been extremely frightening. Criminal activity is occurring in South Australia. Senior members of the Master Builders Association have had their offices and their private premises vandalised. They've had to hire personal security because they fear for their safety and that of their families. That's the sort of low-level, bikie-gang-type tactics that you on that side of the House condone and that you're proud to be associated with. It's Tony Soprano and his mates in the CFMMEU in South Australia, and you want to come in here and defend them. You could be doing yourselves a favour by saying—

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! I'd ask the member to address remarks through the Speaker.

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

Those opposite want to come in here and defend that behaviour, when they'd be better off calling it out and saying, 'We don't want to have anything to do with the CFMMEU.' But the monetary cost of that for the Labor Party is too big a price to pay. Having any moral compass is much too high a price to pay for the government that is in power, because the CFMMEU funded them into power and if they want to stay in power they need the CFMMEU to keep picking up the bill for that. That is the moral compass of the government we have right now, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of unions like the CFMMEU. That means that people engage in criminal behaviour. That leads to the things that are happening in my home state of South Australia, where people are hiring security guards to secure their personal safety for fear of personal violence against them because they work for the Master Builders Association. That's the kind of people this government happily cashes the cheques from.

3:59 pm

Michelle Ananda-Rajah (Higgins, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

RAJAH () (): Colleagues, you all know that I'm a frontline doctor, and you all know that I've worked in one of the busiest hospitals and I've been a public servant my whole life. What you may not know is this: a few years ago, it came to my attention that I had been underpaid by my workplace. It was an inadvertent mistake, but it took a lot of advocacy to try and get this rectified. One of the groups I turned to, along with my two colleagues who, incidentally, happen to be other female doctors, was my union. I've been a member of a union my whole career. I joined when I was an intern 26 years ago. My union is called the AMA. It's still a union; it certainly advocates for doctors. The only difference is we have nicer shoes! That's it! Thanks to their advocacy, this wage problem was rectified.

The thing that's important here is I'm a doctor. I've gone through medical school and 12 years of specialist training. I even have a PhD. And it was hard. It was hard for me. It was hard for my colleagues. Imagine how much harder it is for our nurses and how much harder it is for our childcare workers. Imagine how much harder it is for the people who stack our shelves and put food on our table.

In my maiden speech, I said:

Healthy, happy workers make the economy hum …

I meant every word of it because I was talking about my own lived experience. And what do unions do? Unions are the voice for workers. Their mission statement is basically to keep workers healthy and keep workers happy. There is nothing radical about that. It is the right thing to do. And you know what? There is an enormous social and economic benefit that comes with that. We have seen through this pandemic what has happened. It has exposed the fault lines in our society—fault lines that were already there but have now been rent wide open. And what are these fault lines? Poor pay, poor working conditions and, for healthcare workers and aged-care workers and even teachers in schools and our childcare workers, probably suboptimal work health and safety. I have a lot of lived experience in that field.

Those opposite would rather pit Aussie against Aussie. They would rather pit workers against business, workers against industry, schoolteachers against their governments. That's what they peddled for nine long years. It was toxic division. And what has been the end result? The end result is it has weakened us all. It has nearly brought down the house. We as a government are not here to dwell on the past; we are in repair and recovery mode, and we are focused on rebuilding those foundations that have been crumbling under those opposite. We're going to rebuild them, we're going to make them stronger and we're going to rebuild this house called Australia.

I want to speak specifically about health care, aged care and child care. It's one ecosystem. As a working mother I could never have reached the heights that I did without the service and the dedication of childcare workers who looked after my two children. I couldn't have done it. They were like oxygen for me and my career. In health care I have watched nurses, social workers, physiotherapists, pharmacists and all the support staff be run down during this pandemic. There is only one government that is going to bring people together, and that is us. We are working in the national interest to repair these divisions so we can all prosper and we can stop this attrition from these critical industries. That only comes by valuing our essential workers, who, after all, as our Prime Minister said, are a national asset. Without them, mission critical industries like health, aged care, child care and logistics cannot function.

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The discussion has concluded.