Senate debates

Thursday, 27 June 2013


Fair Work Amendment Bill 2013; Second Reading

8:21 pm

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) Share this | Hansard source

The Senate is debating the latest instalment of the 400 pages of amendments to Labor's so-called perfect Fair Work laws. Remember the laws that were so good they were sacrosanct? The right balance had been achieved! No change was needed! Well, here we are, 400 pages of amendments later, in circumstances where Labor have previously said that there should be no change, especially before an election. Indeed, whilst Labor themselves were in government, way back when they actually had principled ministers and a principled government, right back when they used to know what they believed in, they were concerned to ensure that a genuinely right balance was achieved in workplace relations law, when they were about reform, and when they were about the national interest. They had a Minister for Industrial Relations, one Ralph Willis, who in 1987 said:

The government has decided not to go ahead with the industrial relations bill this session. The legislation will not be debated and will be left to lie on the table. There is already a large measure of agreement between employer groups, the union movement and the government on the legislation, but some significant differences remain. This government has constantly pursued a process of consultation rather than confrontation. Because of the remaining differences of view over the legislation, the government will have discussions …

That was the principled stand way back in 1987. Isn't it a pity that the current Minister for Workplace Relations, the man who thinks the job of Minister for Workplace Relations is simply that of an upmarket trade union boss, cannot show us the same sort of integrity, the same sort of commitment to the national interest. That was Mr Willis all those years ago. It is interesting when you consider that, only last year, the current Minister for Workplace Relations had this to say in relation to some amendments proposed by the coalition:

The reason we are opposing the amendments is that we had a policy on workers' entitlements before the last election, and we are implementing them. We do not believe that we should adhere to opposition amendments which were not flagged at the last election and are not part, as far as we can tell, of any appreciable opposition policy. It is policy on the run, which we have learnt about today.

Well hello, let us revisit where we are today. Where did these amendments come from? Was it part of Labor's policy at the last election? No. Was it part of Labor's Fair Work Review Panel recommendations? No. Where did they come from? Nobody will tell us—other than 'it is government policy'. Why is it government policy? Because certain trade union bosses have dictated it must be so. What we have here tonight is the Labor Party breaking their own rules that they have applied to the opposition and the principles that they used to apply when they were in government.

It is a matter of regret that, because of the Labor government's ruthless and arrogant guillotining of legislation, we will not actually have a committee stage to this bill. And how is it that the Labor Party, without a majority in this place, is able to guillotine this bill?

Senator Lundy interjecting—

Senator Lundy asks how this might be so. Of course, it is because the Australian Greens are complicit. The Australian Greens, thus far in this parliament, have guillotined over 200 bills. When we rise tomorrow, the Greens will have voted and facilitated the guillotining of 216 bills. When the coalition, the Liberal and National parties, had control of the Senate we were accused of guillotining far too many bills through the Senate. Do you know how many bills we guillotined? Was it 200, 100, 50? It was 32 bills—and the Greens were apoplectic about it; it was 'an affront to democracy'. And here they are tonight, yet again complicit with the Australian Labor Party, guillotining 216 bills. Let there be no mistake, a Greens-ALP alliance in this place will abuse any majority given to it—and we do not only have exhibit A or B, we have 216 such exhibits. The Liberal and National parties are clearly the better custodians of the important role of the Senate in relation to the consideration and review of legislation.

Returning to the bill, I do ask Labor to explain the reason for, in this bill, expanding the right of entry for union bosses, allowing them to invade lunch rooms and go on joyrides. It has not been explained to us at any stage. It has been unable to be explained by the officials, the bureaucrats, the departmental officers who do their very best to defend the indefensible. Today Australia woke up with a new Prime Minister—and nothing has changed with this reincarnation of Kevin Rudd. With hands outstretched he says, 'I'm going to reach out to business. I'm going to be business's friend. We can work with business.' Well, he was given an opportunity this morning in the House of Representatives on 457 visas and he squibbed it. With all his talk about doing the right thing for business, he did completely the opposite on the floor of the parliament. Tonight Mr Rudd has the opportunity to ring his colleagues in the Senate and say, 'I actually for once meant what I said.' We know that Julia Gillard cannot rely on his word, and we now know that we cannot rely on his word either.

But this is what Mr Rudd said about right of entry when he was Leader of the Opposition in 2007:

Obviously a number of unions may be disappointed with elements of what we put forward, in particular in relation to right of entry provisions.

On another occasion, he said:

We believe it is important that we have a clear cut set of rules around that which does not provide unnecessary burdens for employers. We've got to make sure that when it comes to what's referred to as the union right of entry that that is prescribed to defined areas and properly authorised, and on the detail of all that, we're confident that we are going to get that balance right as well.

And he promised that there would be no change to the right of entry laws, as did Ms Gillard. In typical style it is already another broken promise, so two broken promises on his first day of being Prime Minister.

I turn to the right of entry provisions in detail. Labor moved amendments to their own bill in the other place to remove these provisions. Mr Shorten told my office that that is exactly what they were going to do. Minutes before he was going to move those amendments, do you know what he did? He told us he was not going to. You know what? I know how Julia Gillard feels, promising one thing and then doing the exact opposite moments later. He is a man with whom you cannot talk and make a deal or talk about the best way of running the workplace relations system in this country.

So ashamed are the Labor Party of this bill that they have ensured that it does not have a regulatory impact statement attached to it. This bill will affect every single employer and employee Australia. In those circumstances, would not a regulatory impact statement be appropriate? No, not when you are trying to rush things through in the death throes of a parliament and possibly a government and trying to ensure that everything is booby trapped on the way out. But we were told, were we not, by Ms Gillard and Mr Rudd themselves when they introduced the Fair Work Act:

I consulted for hour after hour with business leaders, with union leaders, with small business leaders to get the balance right.

And then she said:

We built a modern and fair system that has got the balance right.

If the balance was right, why is it that we now need these other changes to increase the right of entry entitlements of trade union bosses, which will allow them to invade the lunch room of every workplace in Australia in circumstances where only 13 per cent of the workforce are actually members of the trade union movement in the private sector. Why would you do something like that unless you were beholden to them lock, stock and barrel and especially financially? Clearly, that can be the only motivation because it did not come up out of the Fair Work Act review panel recommendations. It came up nowhere other than through the minister. The minister was so concerned, he himself moved amendments to have all that excised from the bill and then, at the last moment, said, 'I'm going to squib on the deal.'

I have been told by many a person in the business community that they had agreed to the Fair Work Act and its provisions on the basis of undertakings that they had made a deal and the balance was right. But then as soon as it was put through we have had amendment after amendment, 400 pages worth, overwhelmingly favouring the trade union bosses. Whilst we are on trade union bosses, isn't it interesting that Mr Rudd was willing to have Mr Joe McDonald expelled from the ALP? He is back in the ALP these days. I wonder whether Mr Rudd made some deal not to have him expelled again. What is the bet Mr Rudd, like on other issues, sold his soul to regain the Labor leadership, not on the basis of any policy change but because it is all about what he, the Prime Minister, wants, not for the nation but for himself.

Now here we are in the Senate, with the country Independents having sold out to their electorates and leaving this parliament in disgrace and shame. What I say to the workers of this country is: whenever a trade union boss invades your lunch room, consider it as the Windsor invasion because it was he that allowed this outrageous provision to remain in the legislation. He will wear that with shame as he does the past three years. He knows that his electorate never wanted a Labor government. His own personal bitterness in relation to the National Party ensured that this dysfunctional government was sworn in and then kept on life support for the past three years.

I turn to some of the family friendly provisions in the legislation to simply say they are good and they have the coalition's support. In relation to bullying, let me indicate that bullying is without doubt a scourge. It should be, as far as possible, removed from Australia. It is unacceptable behaviour. Having said that, we are debating workplace relations. Bullying should be removed from Australian workplaces. It is a scourge. The Productivity Commission has told us the huge economic cost. I would imagine that nearly everybody, if not all of us, in this place would say, sure there is a huge economic cost. But what also perturbs us is the social cost and the personal cost; they should be dealt with as well. We are all agreed that bullying does need to be addressed.

Why is it that when we put forward an amendment that suggests it might be an idea to have union bosses included, no, the Labor Party and the Greens, and the country Independents in the other place, could not have that? Union bosses do not engage in bullying! Employers might and workers might engage in bullying of each other, but they have never heard of bullying by union bosses—that has never happened! You know those horses that got bashed up at the Grocon site at the Myer Emporium?—that never happened!

When members of the CFMEU—actual paid-up members—are reduced to putting advertisements into newspapers pleading with their CFMEU bosses to stop harassing them and threatening them and to allow them to get to and from their place of work without intimidation, you know something is wrong. When that happens you know bullying is taking place. But we cannot have bullying in relation to union bosses included in this legislation! And that says it all about this government. They say bullying is something only employers do. Union bosses would never do it, would they? So the government ensure that union bosses are protected from this legislation.

Why is it that Mr Shorten and this government cannot realise that their task of being the Australian government goes beyond simply being a jumped-up trade union boss? Government ministers are ministers of the Crown. They have a duty to the national interest. They have to ensure that they look after all Australians and protect Australians who suffer bullying from trade union bosses.

The bullying regime was dreamt up quickly—so quickly that when we asked about it at Senate estimates just a little while ago the manager told us that they had not even advertised for the position to create this new jurisdiction. It was all supposed to start on 1 July—that would be in three days time—and the parliament has not even passed the legislation. So, to the government's credit, they accepted our recommendation that the start-up date should be delayed by six months.

But we also said that there should be a filter in this system—a filter that would ensure that somebody could not get all steamed up about being bullied in the morning and then go down to the Fair Work Commission and file proceedings at lunch time. And I got support for that proposition from the most unlikely quarters. People who are not the natural allies of the coalition said, 'It makes sense.' Do you think the government could see the sense? No. Dogmatic as always, they ensured that that amendment did not see the light of day.

I will move the second reading amendment standing in my name and also indicate that there are two lots of amendments to excise completely from the bill the right of entry and to ramp up the bullying provisions to ensure that they are practical. I move:

At the end of the motion, add “but the Senate notes that the Government:

(a) circulated amendments in the House of Representatives to excise Schedule 3 of this bill which would have removed the right of entry provisions, but decided at short notice to not proceed with these amendments; and

(b) has not explained why it decided to not proceed with these amendments”.

The reason I cannot speak to those amendments in detail and the reason we cannot probe these issues in the committee stage is because of the Green-Labor alliance guillotine. (Time expired)


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