Senate debates

Thursday, 27 June 2013


Fair Work Amendment Bill 2013; Second Reading

9:36 pm

Photo of Christopher BackChristopher Back (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

but Senator Cameron drew attention to logistics. I cannot help but draw attention to the first fuel industry B-double, a picture of which I am holding, that was ever brought into the state of Tasmania, which I did and which I paid for. I did so over the move of the Transport Workers Union, because I tried to keep my fuel industry drivers employed. You would not believe it, would you? I had to go to the industrial commission in Hobart to make sure that my own drivers kept their jobs. What was I trying to do? I was just trying to bring in an enterprise bargaining agreement, an EBA. You would not believe it would you?

That is why I am so disappointed with the contribution of Senator Cameron. He spoke of the need to change work practices. He spoke of the need to increase productivity. He spoke of the need for the development of business plans. What a shame the Labor Party did not take Senator Cameron on board when Senator Conroy and now Prime Minister Rudd had their little flight from Adelaide to Canberra when they developed the NBN on the back of a napkin. Senator Cameron is quite right: you need a business plan. You need a business plan for a business of $1,000, let alone one of $37 billion. What did Senator Conroy at the time stand up proudly in this place and tell us? He said, 'I don't need a business plan,' for a project which was due to cost $37 billion and which is now getting closer to $50 billion. Had he had done his business plan he might actually have realised that 37 was going to become 50. And had he done a risk analysis, which I am sure Senator Cameron would have drawn attention to, having developed the theme of a business plan—

Senator Sinodinos interjecting—

he might also have come to the realisation, Senator Sinodinos, through you, Mr Deputy President, that there were going to be problems with asbestos raising its ugly head so frequently. But, no, Senator Conroy did not listen to Senator Cameron with his wisdom about the need for a business plan.

So I say to this chamber that there are enormous needs on both sides—employer and employee. I also repeat that if the interests of the employer and those of the employee are not closely aligned long term then it will lead to the demise of both.

How interesting it is that Senator Cameron focused on penalty rates. Mr Deputy President, let me tell you a little bit about penalty rates in the hospitality and retail industries. As Senator Williams reminded me, just before he left the chamber, the cost now on a public holiday for someone who is running a pizza organisation—pizza deliveries or cups of coffee—is $52 an hour. That is $48 an hour plus super plus workers compensation plus other on-costs. Who in business can possibly afford to pay someone $52 an hour to deliver a pizza to someone's home or wash a coffee cup or, indeed, make that cup of coffee? That is why I say it is so disappointing that Senator Cameron would have reverted to type in the second half of his speech after he had spoken so eloquently and so correctly. But of course what he highlights is that some 14 per cent of workers in the private sector in this country are members of unions and better than 90 per cent of Labor members and senators in this parliament are from the union movement. There is a total and gross imbalance.

I am the deputy chair of the Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Legislation Committee, which examined all of the matters associated with the Fair Work Amendment Bill, which we are debating this evening. As Senator Cash alluded to, I did of course ask the members of the department who represented the government at the inquiry why there was no regulation impact statement. They could not answer my question. Why was there no regulation impact statement for a range of changes that would have a profound effect on industrial relations and particularly on the viability of businesses in this country?

It is regrettable that Senator Cameron, in his useful contribution, said, 'If you can't run a business then get out.' Armed with what has now been imposed on people by this Labor government over time—carbon taxes, now these ridiculous impositions under the so-called 'fair work legislation'—it is the case that so many people now are just exiting their businesses. People in Western Australia, the place where most—indeed, 70 per cent—of all new jobs in Australia in the last three years have been created are now saying there is just too much burden, there is just too much imposition, there is just too much red tape, there are just too many administrative fees, there is just too much in the industrial relations arena, and are they walking away from it.

I draw attention to a couple of points in relation to the legislation itself. It is the case that a review panel was put together. We on this side were not happy. I think Senator Abetz would agree. We were not happy with the composition of that review panel, but we cooperated with it. But the legislation that is being presented to us this evening did not contain most of the recommendations of the review panel—heavens no. Good lord, no; if you are a Labor government, you do not engage the services of experts and get them to go out and consult, come back and advise you, and then take some notice of it.

Senator Bilyk interjecting—

No, you do not do that, do you, Senator Bilyk? You cherry pick. You pick those bits that suit you, bring in those areas that do not even find their way into the review, then come here and say you consulted widely.

A couple of areas we believe should have been the subject of change in this particular legislation include the High Court's unanimous judgement in the case of Barclay v Bendigo TAFE. For those of you not familiar with it, it was a case in which an employee, himself a union boss, took the position that he was untouchable and therefore should not have been the subject of any discipline. It is interesting: once this matter went to the High Court of Australia, we saw a situation in which Minister Shorten, the gentleman who keeps either changing horse in midstream or stream in midhorse, actually acted as a union official rather than a minister of the Crown, foolishly intervening on the side of the education union. I quote the judgement and the comments of then High Court Justice Heydon:

… the Minister's stance before and during the oral hearing was not that of an intervener, but that of a partisan. For example, some of the Minister's oral submissions were directed to factual material. This is hardly the province of an intervener.

He sure as hell intervened last night, didn't he? He intervened three years ago to get rid of the elected Prime Minister of Australia and he intervened last night to create Kevin 57. I object to these headlines saying 'Kevin's Back'. There is only one Back in the Australian parliament—that is me! He might be Kevin 57, but I can assure you he is not Kevin's Back. That, in fact, is me!

It was in 2007 that Mr Rudd, then Leader of the Opposition, pledged, as I am sure Senator Abetz will recall, that the Fair Work Act would not allow the return of strike first, talk later, and yet the decision of the Federal Court in a second case—that of JJ Richards & Sons Pty Ltd—tells a very different story. It will be interesting. On day 1, of course, Prime Minister Rudd failed badly in the immigration area, on temporary protection visas. It will be interesting to see whether in the next few days he picks up on what was a commitment in 2007 and goes back to his belief that you should not have strike first and ask later.

I come from a background contrary to everything I hear from the now Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Wong, who goes on about our side of politics only ever wanting to see jobs destroyed et cetera. I happen to come from a background—and I think I have illustrated it this evening—that wants to create employment, that wants to get to a stage of creating not only creating useful, worthy and profitable employment for people, but I have a track record of people leaving my employ to go into their own businesses. That has always given me a huge amount of pride and pleasure.

I spoke earlier this evening on earlier legislation and that was the Migration Amendment (Offshore Resources Activity) Bill 2013. It has had the effect of driving offshore multinational overseas-owned ship owners and operators away from Australian waters. A member of my own family this time last week was in China with the objective of buying numbers of vessels to service the offshore industry. Members of the AMWU came to see me recently to see what we could do to stimulate and re-establish shipbuilding in this country. I put the challenge to them: 'Give me some level of satisfaction, if you can, on your commitment to work with employers, to work with bosses.' My son-in-law told me that the Chinese shipyard at which he was negotiating the purchase of ships only last week was turning out the best quality vessels for the offshore oil and gas industry. They are building one every 10 days. It almost is like the Liberty ships on the US coast at San Diego during the Second World War with 30 a year. I had to reflect on what would be our capacity to be able to compete with that and bring that sort of manufacture to Western Australia.

Let me reflect on a conversation I had during the hearing on this bill at the committee level with the MUA. I spoke at that time with a Mr Doleman. I put to him: What would be the relationship between the union and employers? I drew his attention to comments made by Mr Shorten—I do not know if he is a minister yet—at the opening of the MUA conference earlier this year in Fremantle where the MUA was quoted as being less than cooperative with industry. Mr Doleman said to me:

Whatever hype people talk at conferences it is not the proof of the pudding; the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

He added that he and his union and people:

… we engage in tripartite and bilateral negotiations and discussions with employers and industry and government bodies on a daily basis.

So I took him to an issue that we know we are dealing with, as Senator Abetz spoke about it earlier, and that is the question of bullying. I did raise with the MUA, the ACTU and a third union group—the SIA—the question of whether or not bullying could include a union official in a workplace. It is interesting because we put up as an amendment that the employer to employee, employee to employee, contractor on the workplace—and my own—experience of being bullied in workplaces has almost unanimously and uniquely been from union officials. Of course, that did not find its way into the legislation.

I said to him:

I go to the question of bullying. Give me your view of bullying and intimidation.

First of all he said:

… I am an arch villain against people who are bullies. For my own personal record: I am an ambassador of theRibbon Foundation—

and he had—

the honour of being ambassador of the year ….

We are very much opposed to bullying in the workplace.

So I said to him:

You and your union have a zero tolerance approach—I am delighted to learn that.

And he agreed.

That was evidence on 22 April. I then picked up a newspaper over the weekend of 3 and 4 May this year and—you would not believe it—a member of the MUA was speaking of offshore vessels brought into this country by overseas operators and owners, about whom I was speaking earlier, and had the audacity to suggest that with a vessel that is only a year old and has done very little work, with many bunks never slept in, that none of the MUA crew were or are dissatisfied with their mattresses. What sort of a reaction do you think that got in a climate of zero tolerance? This particular person in responding—Mr Doug Heath, an organiser with the union's Western Australian branch—called this person 26 times. Senator Bilyk has sensitivities, and I am not going to use the actual words because they would be unparliamentary. But some of these words started with 'f' and ended with 'king', and there were terms like 'maggot', 'snivelling grub', 'f---wit' and a piece of material that I probably as a veterinarian had my hands in at some time in the past. This is what we are dealing with. We have the head of the union—

Senator Bilyk interjecting—

You are very sensitive, Senator Bilyk, and I respect that sensitivity. We are dealing with a circumstance in which the officials of the union proudly say they oppose bullying, and yet nothing at all to discipline this particular person.

This is poor legislation. It is not family-friendly legislation. As I put to the officials, there are two things about family-friendly legislation: the first is getting a job and the second is keeping a job. If we are going to continue to see the sorts of attitudes presented to us this evening by Senator Cameron and some of these witnesses we will never achieve that. (Time expired.)


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