Senate debates

Wednesday, 14 March 2012


Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Legislation Committee; Reference

4:52 pm

Photo of Mary FisherMary Fisher (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to support Senator Abetz's motion. The Building and Construction Industry Improvement Amendment (Transition to Fair Work) Bill should and must be referred again to a Senate committee for inquiry because the amendment that was made to this bill by the House of Representatives in the previous sitting week has never, ever been subject to inquiry, and not only that; it stands to create precedent not just for building industry law or workplace relations law but for every law in this country. That is evidenced by the letter from Catherine Gale, the President of the Law Council.

What is the government really thinking in agreeing to this amendment proposed by the Greens in the lower house? It is pretty interesting and pretty evident that none of the Labor senators who have spoken on either Senator Abetz's motion today or his motion last sitting week to refer this bill to a Senate committee have explained what the government is thinking with this appalling amendment—not one of them. Senator Doug Cameron has complained before about being a 'policy zombie' in this government. Well, he sure is on this point, because not even he attempted to justify this amendment. He talked about John Lloyd being a Tory and he tried to wave the spectre of Work Choices, but there was not a word from him in defence of this particular amendment. There was not a word in defence of it or even an explanation from Senator Thistlethwaite today or last sitting week when he spoke on this matter. There was not a word in defence of it from Senator Polley when she spoke last sitting week on Senator Abetz's previous motion. And there was not a word in defence of the amendment from Senator Gavin Marshall, a veteran of workplace relations stoushes and chair of the relevant committee. Labor senators do not know what the government is thinking in agreeing to this amendment, but what they do know is that they cannot defend the indefensible. And this amendment is indefensible because, in the words of the Law Council president, it gives precedence to private interests over law enforcement.

So what is it really about and what could the government be thinking? That is part of exactly what the Senate committee should be inquiring into. Is the next step to prevent ASIC from investigating or prosecuting where one or more of the perpetrators of an alleged breach of law, or a perpetrator and one or more of the victims, reach a deal? Is that the next step, or is this government's planned next step to prevent the ACCC from investigating or prosecuting where perpetrators—for example, perpetrators of an alleged collusion—are involved? Is that the next step from this government, or is this government's next step, a bit closer to home, to prevent the Fair Work Ombudsman from prosecuting where an employer reaches a deal in respect of deliberate underpayment of its workers—or is where this government going even closer, closer, closer to home? Is this government going to the heart of Fair Work Australia if, say, Fair Work Australia is investigating the activities of a particular union and officials of that union at the time?

Let us take, for example, the investigation into the Health Services Union. I wish the member for Dobell well in terms of his hospital stay at the moment. But, aside from that, let us take the investigation of Fair Work Australia into the activities of the Health Services Union and the activities of those who were in office in the union at the time. It is very clear there has been a demonstrated go-slow from Fair Work Australia: three years and still counting, $1 million of taxpayers' money and still counting, and no result. Tim Lee, the previous general manager of Fair Work Australia, was moved sideways into a commissioner role in an ill-fated attempt to take him out of the public spotlight on this issue. Bernadette O'Neill, the new Fair Work general manager, has attempted to refuse to release information that might assist, for example, the police were they to be running any sort of inquiries on this issue. That was until Stuart Wood SC opined that were it, for example, to be the Federated Ship Painters and Doctors Union involved—


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