Monday, 22 February 2021
Matters of Public Importance
As an Australian who has been elected to serve the people of Queensland and Australia, I'm very proud to say that I have worked in many countries and I am genuinely proud of Australian workers. We have a phenomenal human resource in this country, unequalled anywhere in the world—the initiative, the hard work, the honesty and the integrity of workers in this country, and of many businesses in this country, especially small businesses, which are the engine room of our economy. More people are employed in small business than in any other sector of the economy. We need to get back the dynamism that has been lost in Australia—lost largely because of the decisions that come out of this building.
The MPI is 'The Morrison government's failure to address job security is giving companies that exploit workers an unfair advantage against honest employers.' Let me talk about the example in the Hunter Valley of the exploitation, the abuse and the casual discarding of people who are tossed on the scrap heap when they're burnt out. Casuals have been exploited in the Hunter Valley by BHP, a major mining company, and Chandler Macleod Group, one of the world's largest labour hire firms, an offshoot of Recruit Holdings from Japan, with the complicity of the Hunter Valley division of the CFMEU. It would not have happened without all three being complicit and working together.
But let's go back to the root cause. The root of casualisation started in small business because employers were so confused by the complexity of hiring people and so confused by the complexity when there was a problem to discuss, so they went to employing casuals because it became too hard to deal with disciplinary issues in small business. Quite often we see a small business having problems with an employee who's stolen something from their business, and the small business owner then simply trying to address that ends up just paying $8,000 or $10,000. We heard last week from COSBOA, the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia, about some companies, some small businesses, paying $20,000 in shut-up money for problems to go away. One of the root causes of the insecurity in this country is the highly complex, needlessly complex and destructive industrial relations situation. Then what we saw was large companies taking the small business model and using casuals for a 'try before we buy'. In other words, they would watch the casual worker on their mine site, in their business, and if he or she came up with the goods then they would hire them. That has led to extreme abuse of workers in this country. It's led to safety hazards, which I have complained about in my submission to the Grosvenor inquiry. But in the Hunter Valley it led to miners being intimidated and being threatened with the loss of their jobs if they reported safety incidents. How stupid is a company when that happens? They're losing that prime source of information about their company.
I want to give Mr Bukarica, the national legal adviser for the CFMEU mining division, a huge compliment. In Townsville he had the guts, the integrity and the courage to acknowledge that the Hunter Valley CFMEU is part of the problem at those mines in the Hunter Valley because they enabled casualisation to happen. I also want to give him praise because he said that the CFMEU has not done enough for casuals. Indeed, they have caused the casual issue in the Hunter Valley and the casual abuse of casuals. And he's admitted that his union will need to do more about it.
So what we see is the mess that's been created in the past by labour laws that have become far too complex and by the Liberals not addressing this issue in 2016 when they should have. Casuals show us the pain of people at work. Casuals are also a sign of the failed industrial relations situation—no getting away from it. What the government is doing in its latest industrial relations legislation, proposed to come before the Senate next month, is shifting the liability for that mess from large business to small business. They're helping a couple of large companies manage their risk.
We've approached this differently. We've gone out to listen. We've written to 80 different organisations—employers, employee groups, unions, union bosses, welfare associations, organisations, small business groups—and we've asked them for their advice, their views. They have come and given us their advice. They said no-one else has invited them to do that; we're the only ones. In addressing this legislation, we have three aims that ensure security for Australian workers, whether they be in small businesses or large businesses, and security for small businesses and large businesses. Our three aims are to protect honest workers, to protect small businesses and to restore Australia's productive capacity. We see the employer-employee relationship as fundamental. It is the primary workplace relationship, and that's what's needed to empower workers. We've got the best workers in the world. What's needed is for employers and employees to work together—empowered employees and empowered employers—because that is the only way to create jobs. Government doesn't create jobs. As much as the Labor Party and the Liberal Party talk about it, government does not create jobs. Honest workers create jobs. Small businesses create jobs. Large employers create jobs. The government creates the environment. Labor and Liberal governments have stuffed this country's workplace environment.
The Morrison government talks about security and recovery from COVID. How can that be possible when we've destroyed our electricity sector? How can it be possible when we've got one of the worse tax systems in the world? How can it be possible when we're not supplying the right infrastructure? How can it be possible when we haven't got the skills development needed? How can it be possible when we've got overregulation? Just go and talk to people, not only small or large business employers but also employees, who are sick to death of energy prices, which have gone from the cheapest in the world to the highest in the world under this government and its predecessor, the Labor Party.
Instead of propping up the industrial relations club with excessive, needlessly complex legislation, we need to simplify it. In fact, I put that to Peter Strong when he was in my office last week. I said to him that regulations are written at the moment for the few people, employers and employees, who do the wrong thing. They should be written for the majority of good people, the fine Australians, with severe penalties for the bad. We need to turn it upside down: instead of penalising the 100 per cent with the ridiculous workplace arrangements, we need to penalise the real shonks, the real criminals. Instead of assuming people are bad—employees are bad, employers are bad—we need to free people to produce. We need to penalise and handicap those who deserve it. That's what we need in this country: empowering, not frightening.
What we see at the moment is an IR club of big employers, big industry associations, large unions, employee consultants, employer consultants, industrial relations consultants and, above all, lawyers. Again I come back to the ETU legal adviser in Townsville, Michael Wright, and Mr Bukarica from the CFMMEU, who both said that we have far too many lawyers involved in industrial relations and that's why it's a mess. They both said they want fewer lawyers, that they want to remove the lawyers. Full credit to the CFMMEU mining division and full credit to the ETU for saying that. The big companies and the crooks are the ones who do the best out of the industrial relations club, because they have deep pockets and they can afford to fund the lawyers and others who live off the backs of Australian workers.
What we need to get back to is a simple workplace relationship. Will Labor make a commitment to properly and honestly reform IR? Will you? Will the Liberal Party and the National Party make a commitment to properly and honestly reform IR, to free people so that they're free to compete with the people in Korea, China, India, Africa, Malaysia and Singapore? That's the way to get security of employment: by empowering people. One Nation is the party of energy security and affordability. One Nation is the party of job security. (Time expired)