Senate debates

Thursday, 28 November 2019



9:56 am

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Trade) Share this | Hansard source

We've heard the arguments from those opposite on this motion, and those arguments have shown just what a pack of rank hypocrites they are. Firstly, they come in here claiming that they are caring for workers and for hardworking union members in their opposition to this legislation. But they ignore the fact that workers are the ones who pay the cost of the lawlessness of the CFMMEU. The CFMMEU has racked up $16½ million worth of fines and penalties as a result of thousands of different law breaches over the last few years. Who pays those fines, ultimately? The CFMMEU members are the ones who ultimately have to pay those fines, through their levies. They're the ones who pay the cost.

The Labor Party come in here and, perversely, they defend the law-breaking union leaders rather than standing up for the union leaders who don't break the law. Why do they want to continue a circumstance and a situation where union leaders face reputational damage across the board because of those who see breaking the law as a price of doing business, who see the current penalties as just a reasonable cost of doing business? That shouldn't be the case. Where we have laws, and penalties apply to those laws, those penalties are intended to be a deterrent to breaking the law. It is quite clear that the current legal frameworks do not deter the CFMMEU from breaking the law. They simply see it as the cost of doing business and they keep on going. How do we know that? There might have been thousands of breaches in the past, but there are still dozens of CFMMEU officials before the courts right now, so we know full well that the current deterrents are not working. That's why this legislation is here. It's here to create a deterrent regime that simply ensures people operate within the laws of the land.

It's not just the union members who pay the price of this lawlessness. All Australians pay the price of it, because the lawlessness of the CFMMEU drives up the cost of construction activity and the cost of building public infrastructure, and that means that we have a weaker economy and more expensive building projects, so ultimately taxpayers pay the price of that lawlessness, as does every single builder and investor right around the country.

Those opposite come in here claiming that they're standing up for workers, but in reality they're letting down workers, they're letting down taxpayers and they're letting down law-abiding union leaders in terms of the approach they're taking in opposing this legislation. Then they complain about the fact that the government is seeking to get the legislation through the Senate this week. It's legislation that has been on the books for months. It's legislation that we took to the last election. It's legislation that has now been subject to extended parliamentary sittings for the last two days and that the government's creating more time for today. Yet, of course, you'll hear howls of complaints from those opposite claiming that it is somehow being rammed through.

I remember sitting here on 23 June 2013. Do you know what happened that day? Fifty-three bills were guillotined in one day by the Labor Party. Fifty-three bills were guillotined by the Labor Party and the Greens. Do you know how much debate happened on most of those bills? None at all! Not one minute's worth of debate was accommodated. We gave you all of the time in the world. The Senate could have sat until midnight last night, but we ran out of speakers. We had all of the time in the world last night, but you ended up not needing all of the time. Today we're providing extra time for the committee stage so that you can debate the amendments.

These laws ought to pass because they will then provide for a circumstance where workers can have faith that their unions will actually operate in accordance with the law of the land and put their interests first and where we can have confidence that lawlessness won't drive up building costs. Your hypocrisy will be exposed when these laws work and change behaviour, as they should.


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