Senate debates

Thursday, 19 October 2006

Trade Practices Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2005

Consideration of House of Representatives Message

11:37 am

Photo of Stephen ConroyStephen Conroy (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Murray. You do not just need to be here in this chamber to realise how arrogant and out of touch this government has become, with the ramming through of legislation, ridiculously tight deadlines for legislation, changing the sitting pattern all the time and using the guillotine. It is turning this chamber, which for 30 or 40 years has been a chamber of accountability and scrutiny, into a farce.

In fact just yesterday we saw one of the government senators express complete disgust following the Scrutiny of Bills Committee’s examination of one piece of legislation. Senator Johnston stood up and said, ‘This environmental legislation has to go back to the drawing board,’ because it was so slipshod and such a damaging piece of legislation in terms of its poor quality, never mind its policy intent. It was tabled in one chamber and brought on for a vote within 24 hours, and it has hundreds and hundreds of pages of legislation. This is a government that will not accept scrutiny and that will not accept dissent.

To their credit, a number of senators have stood their ground on this. Senator Joyce understands the implications of this legislation. Senator Fielding understands the implications. Senator Fielding is not somebody who is antiunion. Senator Fielding has worked for many years in close association with some trade unions. But what Senator Fielding has to justify when he comes in here today and continues his remarks is exactly why the idea of choice has gone in this legislation. If it is okay for business groups and if it is okay for the National Farmers Federation and other farmers’ groups to represent their members collectively, what is wrong with the Transport Workers Union being able to represent its 10,000 members and their families in a collective bargain? This is just ideologically extreme behaviour by this government. This government is not interested in choice, and people should not be fooled by the rhetoric of choice.

I look forward to Senator Fielding giving an explanation of how he can support a piece of legislation that specifically mandates against freedom of choice by independent owner-driver contractors to have whom they want to represent them—and in this case the 10,000 members nationally of the Transport Workers Union. Senator Fielding may be feeling a little precious at the moment and that he is being criticised unfairly, but, as is made clear in a number of commentaries in today’s papers, Senator Fielding has an obligation to this chamber to explain the basis upon which he votes. It is an open and democratic process.

The tactics of Senator Fielding mimic those of former Senator Harradine, who famously played his cards close to his chest. But when it came to the vote, Senator Harradine would always give a comprehensive explanation of the basis upon which he voted. He played it close to his chest and he voted for us and he voted against us, but Senator Harradine had the capacity to come into this chamber and actually explain himself. He had a longstanding 50-year involvement in public policy debates and people understood the principles on which he made his decisions. When Senator Harradine made arrangements and had discussions, he would put them on the public record. He would say, ‘I’ve made this arrangement with the government’—much to the fury of many on our side occasionally and much to the fury of the government in other circumstances. But he had the courage to come into the chamber and articulate his position, and he was not bad at it at all. And you could certainly say that his state benefited at the expense of every other state from the cleverness and the tough negotiating style of Senator Harradine. Tasmania certainly was a beneficiary of Senator Harradine’s style.


No comments