Monday, 17 August 2015
Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2014 [No. 2]; Second Reading
I will respond briefly to some of Senator Lambie's contribution before I move to other aspects of the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill. It is good that Senator Lambie acknowledges that there is serious corruption on our construction sites and in other parts of union activity. Issues around deregulation are certainly worth rising. I am not sure of the legalities of that. I would have thought it would need the support of parliament, although I could be wrong; obviously, it is not simply within the remit of government to make a decision like that. Whether or not support from the parliament would be there is an open question.
In relation to this bill, to say that you acknowledge some of the corruption—and some of Senator Lambie's contribution suggests that—but then to vote against this bill is to try to have a bet both ways—saying that you are against corruption but you will not support any serious penalties that would help prevent it. Let us be clear: when it comes to issues in Australian building and construction, obviously deregistration of one union, which is Senator Lambie's preferred option, does not actually address the issues. In the past when unions have been deregistered, they have come up again in a different form and as a new entity. The rule of law should be that, regardless of whether it is the BLF, the CFMEU or any other entity representing construction workers, to the extent that they represent those workers well, they should be protected by the law. They actually have a special status under the law at the moment, and that would continue. But, of course, to the extent that they misuse that status and to the extent that they engage in the kinds of practices that we have seen outlined at the royal commission and well before that, they should have the rule of law applied to them.
You should not just be able to make it a financial decision, which is what, unfortunately, organisations like the CFMEU have made at times. They are prepared to wear the fines because they see more benefit in breaking the law, knowing what the maximum fine is. I think that to sit here and say that you are against those kinds of practices but then actually to vote against any sort of reasonable sanctions and penalties simply does not make sense.
What I wanted to do was just go through what the bill actually does and then, of course, talk about some of the practices to which we want to see serious penalties applied. It is why we believe it is important that we actually have proper sanctions. And just finally on Senator Lambie—she talked about corporate criminals being held to account. The reality is that the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill is actually about saying that those in some of these organisations, like unions and employer groups, should have similar penalties, or the same penalties, to those that apply in the corporate sector. If you actually want to be fair dinkum in saying that it should be the same—whether it is wrongdoing in the corporate sector, in a union or in another registered organisation—then I agree with that. That is what this bill does. If you actually believe that, you may well support this legislation because that is exactly what it is a designed to achieve.
It says that this type of wrongdoing, in whatever form, should be dealt with similarly—with serious penalties. I do not care if you are corporate crook or a union crook. If you are doing the wrong thing—if you are deliberately breaking the law or if you are not complying with your duties at law—then you should have the same penalties, regardless of whether you are representing workers, shareholders or anyone else. That is what this legislation is about. So let's not pretend that this is about one versus the other. This is actually about applying a level playing field to wrongdoing. It is extraordinary to me that people can come into the Senate and argue that when the Craig Thomsons of the world do the wrong thing that they should be treated with a lesser penalty—