Senate debates

Thursday, 22 November 2012


Australian Labor Party

3:37 pm

Photo of George BrandisGeorge Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

At the request of Senator Fifield, I move:

That the Senate notes the challenges for good government posed by the culture of the Australian Labor Party and its special relationship with affiliated trade unions.

The subject matter of this motion raises issues of very grave concern to the Australian community. They are not matters that can be dismissed as being the ravings of hysterical people or, to use the phrase that the Prime Minister once used, of 'nut jobs on the internet'. The terms of the motion address the Senate to the challenges for good government posed by the culture of the Australian Labor Party and its special relationship with affiliated trade unions.

This parliament has since its inception in September 2010 been consumed with scandal after scandal arising from within the trade union movement and touching upon Australian Labor Party members of parliament arising from that culture. In the early part of the parliament, we heard a great deal about the member for Dobell, Mr Craig Thomson, and his conduct as an official of the Health Services Union. Time and again, time beyond number, the Prime Minister defended Mr Craig Thomson. Time and again the Prime Minister was asked whether she had full confidence in Mr Craig Thomson and she said repeatedly, 'I do have full confidence in the member for Dobell and I trust that he remains the member for Dobell for many, many, many years to come.' It was only earlier this year, after findings concerning the behaviour of Mr Craig Thomson, including findings—not allegations but findings—by an exhaustive inquiry by Fair Work Australia, were published that the Prime Minister was shamed into excluding Mr Craig Thomson from the Labor Party caucus. The point I seek to make is this: both the presence within the Labor Party caucus and the continued protection of such a person by the Labor Party leadership, including by the Prime Minister herself, was only possible because of the relationship that exists between the trade union movement and the Australian Labor Party.

When at last the Prime Minister was shamed into excluding Mr Craig Thomson from the Labor Party caucus and abandoning her protection of him, it was not as if anything new had been learned, because what the Fair Work Australia findings disclosed were the very allegations that the opposition had been making in the House of Representatives since the beginning of this parliament, and indeed which my colleague Senator Michael Ronaldson, initially, and my leader, Senator Eric Abetz, subsequently, had made in the previous parliament, in Senate estimates and in this chamber. So nothing new was learned. But at last, having sought to defend the indefensible for a period of years, the Prime Minister abandoned the member for Dobell.

We now know that Mr Thomson is a person of interest in a police investigation. In fact he is a person of interest in two police investigations—one initiated by the New South Wales Police Force and one initiated by the Victoria Police. Both of those police investigations were initiated after complaints made by me. When I made those complaints in August and September of last year, I was denounced for being on a witch-hunt. So fanciful was this 'witch-hunt' that already a man who was the Federal President of the Australian Labor Party, Mr Michael Williamson, has been arrested. Let me say that again: a man who was the Federal President of the Labor Party has been charged with serious crimes. So much for the assertions coming from those in the Australian Labor Party who are the protectors and guardians and custodians of its culture that the allegations I made, and others in the opposition made, were fanciful and without merit. We also know that Mr Craig Thomson continues to be, according to Detective Superintendent Dyson, who is in charge of the New South Wales Police investigation, a person of interest in that investigation. Where the investigation goes we will wait and see. We will abide the process. We will allow the process to take its course. But that process would not even have begun had the opposition, in the teeth of the most virulent criticism from the government, of both our motives and the substance of our concerns, not initiated it.

Unfortunately, the matter concerning Mr Craig Thomson is not the only matter of scandal with which this parliament has been concerned arising from the relationship between the Labor Party and the trade union movement and the culture which it promotes. I have many friends who are members of the Australian Labor Party, and all of us in this chamber, on a daily basis, deal professionally with Labor Party senators. I look across the chamber at the Labor Party senators I know—I see Senator Wong, Senator Bilyk, Senator Doug Cameron and Senator Brown—and I am sure they are all honest people. I am sure they are. I am sure those of my friends who are members of the Australian Labor Party are honest people, and I cannot bear to imagine how difficult it must be for them, as honest people, to be representing in parliament a political party of which they are undoubtedly proud but which is nevertheless home to a culture in which large sections of their party are controlled by people who are not honest, controlled by people like Mr Michael Williamson, who are accused of serious white-collar crime. It is not individual wrongdoing; it is a culture. It is a culture that allows such behaviour to occur, that nurtures it, in some cases encourages it and protects it, as Mr Craig Thomson was protected for years, including by the Prime Minister of Australia.

Turning to the Prime Minister of Australia, this parliament has increasingly this year been concerned with the scandal of the AWU and, in particular, the AWU Workplace Reform Association. When this story initially broke in the latter part of last year, as a result of the work of two intrepid journalist, Glenn Milne and Michael Smith, both of those journalists suffered serious professional consequences. Both of them were effectively dismissed from their news organisations by a pusillanimous management as a result of threats from the highest levels of government made to their news organisations. But I am pleased to say that that pusillanimity, that cowardice by the management of some of the largest news organisations in Australia, has not continued. And increasingly the Australian public are coming to realise that the Prime Minister does indeed have serious questions to answer in relation to her role in and knowledge of the activities of the AWU Workplace Reform Association.

In her press conference on 23 August this year the Prime Minister said that these allegations were only being made by 'misogynists and nut jobs on the internet'—to quote her elegant language. Well, there is no misogyny in saying of a politician, 'You have done the wrong thing'. There is no misogyny in saying of a politician, 'We are concerned about the probity of your conduct'. There is no misogyny in saying of a politician, 'We doubt your integrity'. There is no misogyny in saying, 'There are certain matters that remain to be explained and we ask you to explain them to the parliament'.

The people who are examining the matters alleged against Ms Gillard include arguably the most distinguished and highly awarded investigative reporter in Australia, Mr Hedley Thomas—twice the winner of the Walkley award. Mr Hedley Thomas has pursued this issue in a diligent and tenacious and professional way, not to be deterred by the claims 'There's nothing to see here'. When I was a young man living Queensland, I was involved in politics peripherally at the time of the Fitzgerald inquiry. I remember hearing the same excuse in the mid-1980s from National Party ministers who ended their careers in prison. 'There's nothing to see here.' It is the same argument that we hear from Labor ministers, including the Prime Minister, today that we heard from the other side of politics in Queensland in the 1980s: 'There's nothing to see here'.

These are serious allegations. They are allegations now being pursued, appropriately, by the two national newspapers: the Australian and the Australian Financial Review. These newspapers represent both of the great newspaper groups in Australia: the News Limited group and the Fairfax group. So much for nut jobs on the internet. Until the government comes to terms with the fact that these are serious allegations, reaching the highest levels of government, impeaching the personal probity and integrity of the Prime Minister herself, then the government is not doing itself justice and it is certainly not doing the Australian people justice.

Earlier today, in question time, I directed a question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Evans. I directed him to some remarks by Mr Bill Shorten—a former senior trade union official, well familiar with the affairs of the AWU, of course—on Lateline last night, when he said that it would be absolutely inappropriate to use members' money to fund or finance an internal trade union election and that to set up a slush fund to do so—because that is what he was asked about by Mr Tony Jones—would be quite wrong. Yet that is the very thing to which the Prime Minister herself admitted, in an interview conducted by the partners of Slater & Gordon with her on 11 September 1995, a redacted transcript of which was tabled by me in the Senate today.

Of course, in 1995 Ms Julia Gillard was not the Prime Minister. She was not even a member of parliament; she was a private citizen. She had a spot on the Victorian Labor Party Senate ticket, but she was a partner in the law firm Slater & Gordon. On 11 September 1995 an interview with Ms Gillard was conducted by Mr Peter Gordon, a senior partner of that firm, and Mr Geoff Shaw, the general manager of that firm. That interview was taped and it is the redacted transcript of that interview that I tabled today.

Let me pause for a moment to say that it is a very unusual thing for a lawyer of a law firm, let alone a partner of a law firm, to be required to undergo a formal tape-recorded interview by the senior management of that firm. That would only ever happen if the senior management of that firm had serious concerns about wrongdoing by the lawyer concerned—in this case, Ms Julia Gillard. She was asked about her involvement in the establishment of the Australian Workers Union Workplace Reform Association. She admitted that she was responsible for the incorporation of that association in Western Australia. Then she said this:

… every union has what it refers to as a re-election fund, slush fund, whatever …

Lest it be thought that Ms Gillard was acting entirely on somebody else's behalf, she was asked by Peter Gordon:

PG: And to the extent that work was done on that file in relation to that, it was done by you?

JG: That's right.

PG: And did you get advice from anyone else in the firm in relation to any of those matters?

JG: No, I didn't.

Then we learnt that two pages immediately following that answer have been redacted. Astonishingly, we now learn that the file created at the time, containing all the contemporaneous documents relating to the incorporation of the Australian Workers Union Workplace Reform Association, has disappeared and cannot be located in the archives of the Western Australia Corporate Affairs Commission. We learn that the conveyancing file which contained the contemporaneous documents relating to the conveyance—which Ms Gillard admits that she was responsible for the conduct of—of a property in Melbourne alleged to have been bought with funds laundered through the AWU Workplace Relations Association has also gone missing and cannot be located.

We also learnt, most recently, that the Federal Court files in two matters in the Sydney Registry of the Federal Court, both bearing the name Ludwig and Harrison, in which Mr Bill Ludwig, the President of the Australian Workers Union, sued various people to recover and track down the moneys that had been laundered through the Australian Workers Union Workplace Reform Association, had also gone missing. And I received as recently as yesterday a letter from the Registrar of the Federal Court telling me that, despite exhaustive searches in both the Sydney and Melbourne registries of the Federal Court, those files could not be found.

If the Prime Minister thinks that, by continuing with her stonewalling denials, she can maintain the fiction that there are no more questions to be answered by her about this matter, this scandal, then she is kidding herself. What she ought to do is what Mr Craig Thomson did and make a statement to the House of Representatives next week, fully and truthfully explaining her role in these events.

3:58 pm

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I come to this debate with some experience of the relationship between the trade union movement and the Australian Labor Party. I am finding it very difficult, after listening to Senator Brandis's contribution, to see exactly how his contribution went to the issue that is before the chair. Be that as it may, there have been some great lawyers and some outstanding parliamentarians in the Senate, and I have to say, after that performance, Senator Brandis, that you have a long way to go to be deemed a great lawyer. One of the great lawyers in this Senate was former Senator the Hon. Lionel Murphy, who went on to become a High Court judge, and he knew a bit about the law. Senator Murphy, back in 1972, had something to say about the role of the Attorney-General—and we have the shadow Attorney-General here, smearing and trying to set up a kangaroo court in the Senate against the current Prime Minister. This is what Senator Murphy said at that time, when he was talking about the conduct of Senator Greenwood. Senator Greenwood was trying to put legislation through this parliament that people should be tried on the basis of their known character. Luckily enough, the Senate had the knowledge and the wisdom not to put through that from the coalition. The then shadow Attorney-General, Senator Lionel Murphy, said:

The Attorney-General must rigidly exclude party politics. The Attorney-General—

And we have Senator Brandis, who wants to be the Attorney-General—

must act in the interests of all citizens…. One of his functions—

it was a bit sexist in those days—

is to determine whether proceedings should be instituted to protect a person facing a charge from prejudicial statements. It is part of the rule of law that persons should not be made the subject of prejudicial statements before their case is tried …

And we have seen plenty of prejudicial statements here from the would-be Attorney-General, Senator Brandis.

To suggest guilt is prejudicial …

You know that.

The publication of any matter indicating bad character on his part or otherwise disparaging an accused may be prejudicial …

It is not necessary to impute guilt. To disparage is enough.

And we have had nothing but disparagement from the coalition against the Prime Minister, who is not charged with any issue. It is about impugning her character and it is about going back to where they were in the late 1960s and early 1970s, where your known character, or what they believe is your character, should affect how the law is implemented.

We should never have Senator Brandis as an Attorney-General in this country if he is so devoid of understanding of the basic principles of the law. I am not a lawyer, but I can understand what Senator the Hon. Lionel Murphy was saying when he outlined these issues. It is not necessary to impute guilt. To disparage is enough. I ask the shadow Attorney-General to think about that. Think about what you are doing, as the would-be Attorney-General of this country, standing there disparaging the Prime Minister, without any evidence, without any basis of fact—

Photo of George BrandisGeorge Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. Senator Cameron is reflecting on me. In taking the point of order, may I point out that it follows necessarily from what he is saying that no criticism of the probity of the conduct of any member of parliament by another member of parliament in the parliament would ever be allowed.

Photo of Scott LudlamScott Ludlam (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Brandis, you know full well that that is a point of debate and not a point of order. Senator Cameron.

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I think that goes to the same position that Senator Brandis takes with his legal arguments—you know, misuse the processes of the Senate. It just shows again why Senator Brandis should actually go back and read what Lionel Murphy said in this place back in 1972.

I will leave that just for a minute, because I am not a lawyer. But it is actually nice being able to draw to the attention of the would-be Attorney-General of this country some of the basic principles of the law—some of the basic principles that are being trashed here. We have been through this time and again, and I would have thought someone who was standing up and foreshadowing that they wanted to be the Attorney-General of this country would have some basic understanding of the law and the principles that underpin the law.

I want to come to the proposition we have before us. It is about special relationships. No-one denies that there is a special relationship between the trade union movement and the Australian Labor Party. Why? Because the Australian Labor Party is a labour party—a party representing workers and labour in this country. It is the party that actually stood up for workers when Work Choices was foisted upon the community during the Howard government. We are a labour party. There is a special relationship. The relationship between the trade union movement and the Labor Party is a root-and-branch relationship. If we stood here every time one of the big business mates of the coalition ended up in court on an embezzlement charge, we would spend a lot of time of the Senate talking about special relationships between corrupt businessmen and the coalition. We would be doing a lot of that.

You talk about special relationships. Let's look at special relationships in the coalition. Look at the special relationships of the lobbyists, who are now becoming a huge force, working away under the surface of the Liberal Party—the lobbyists who have both offices within the Liberal Party and operate as lobbyists. Senator Brandis should know this well, because it has been a huge controversy in Queensland, where Campbell Newman has had to face accusations that lobbyists are getting special privileges in Queensland.

Just look at some of these lobbyists. If you want to talk about the Australian Financial Review and how good the Financial Review is, I would draw your attention, Senator Brandis, to Pamela Williams's two articles back on Friday, 2 November and Saturday, 3 November. She talks about a growing number of top business executives getting phone calls from Santo Santoro

Photo of George BrandisGeorge Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. I direct your attention to the terms of the question before the chair, which is: 'That the Senate notes the challenges for good government posed by the culture of the Australian Labor Party and its special relationship with affiliated trade unions'. I accept entirely that a degree of latitude is involved in applying the relevance test to this debate. I accept entirely that it is perfectly in order for a senator to make comparisons between his side of politics and his political opponents—but only in the context of the question before the chair. I respectfully submit that because this is a debate about the Labor Party and the trade unions, not about the Liberal Party, Senator Cameron has trespassed beyond what could be regarded as relevant.

Photo of Scott LudlamScott Ludlam (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Brandis, as you yourself observed, these debates do customarily range fairly widely. There is no point of order.

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Let us go back to the Australian Financial Review, which was quoted by Senator Brandis, and this issue of special relationships, because this debate is about special relationships. I am happy to have a discussion about the special relationships the coalition lobbyists, who have relationships with big business, have with the Liberal Party, and that is a legitimate issue here. Pamela Williams, who is a highly respected journalist, says:

It's the phone call a growing number of top business executives receive: Santo Santoro is on the line.

Santo Santoro, a former Liberal senator, is on the line. It goes on:

Santo is your man, they say, if you want something pushed in Queensland by a lobbyist …

But Santo Santoro is not just a lobbyist with rolled-gold cronies across Queensland's Liberal National Party. He is a political fund-raiser on a wider stage, too, personally backed by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott as a federal vice-president of the Liberal Party with the role of helping round up big-dollar donations for the party, ahead of the next federal election. … Which Santoro is it who lifts the phone? The political bagman for the federal Liberals, or the highly paid private lobbyist looking for a contract, who happens to be a party elder with the ear of Abbott and a speed dial in Queensland?

It says that Santoro's political lobbying business has almost tripled in size in one year, from 10 clients in July last year to 28 clients now. How has this happened? It has happened because there is a special relationship. There is a special relationship between Santo Santoro and the Liberal Party. Is there any doubt that this would be a special relationship of some note, taking up two articles in the Financial Review? Let us go to some of Santo Santoro's clients. If you see the list of clients, and then you listen to the coalition defending a number of businesses around this country, you will see that there is quite a connection between the clientele of Santo Santoro and the arguments put up here defending businesses' rights in this country.

And then we have other special relationships. We have the special relationship that Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Ms Julie Bishop, have with Gina Rinehart. An article in Crikey,whichrefers to an article in the Age, says:

… Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce tapped the taxpayer for $2,000 last week to attend the lavish wedding of a granddaughter of an Indian billionaire engaged in delicate negotiations with iron ore matriarch Gina Rinehart to buy two of her Queensland assets.

So here we have a special relationship. We have Gina Rinehart actually flying out the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Senator Barnaby Joyce to a wedding in India. I just do not understand this, but that is what happened. Gina Rinehart was in negotiations with one of these Indian billionaires to buy two of her properties. So what is being done, according to Crikey, is that she is getting added status. She says to Senator Joyce and to Ms Bishop: 'Jump in my jet. I'll fly you out to India, and you can stand by my side and I'll look pretty good. I've got these senior politicians on my side. It'll show how important I am.'

If ever there was ever a special relationship, that is it. And what did Senator Joyce say about this massive function he went to? He said he’d 'enjoyed a brief encounter with a Bollywood actor'. He didn't get any lessons! When you see Senator Joyce in action, you know the Bollywood actor didn't give him any tips. According to the article, he described the actor as 'India’s Brad Pitt' and said, 'I must admit it was absolutely mind-blowing.' So here we have Senator Joyce out at the big shindig in India, flown out by the billionaire—a special relationship, a fantastic relationship. I do not know what he was supposed to be doing. Why would you have two coalition politicians in your jet going to an Indian billionaire's wedding? But there they were. Senator Joyce said it was mind blowing. I do not think he has ever recovered from that mind-blowing experience; it is getting worse every week! But there you go. Why would he be at this billionaire's wedding? That is a special relationship, and we will just have to wait and see where that special relationship leads us.

Another person who had a 'special relationship' was former Senator Helen Coonan. Helen went off and left here and her seat was still warm when she became a director of Kerry Packer's Crown Ltd, on the payroll of Kerry Packer. That is fine; people can do that. But you cannot simply talk about special relationships without understanding—

Senator Brandis interjecting

You have to understand the special relationship of the coalition with all of these billionaires. You have to understand it. That is why they are in here defending the tobacco industry, the gambling industry and the healthcare industry. That is because there is a 'special relationship' between the coalition and big business. Make no mistake about it.

There are some weirder special relationships. Take Senator Mathias Cormann. What about his special relationships? Senator Cormann took a trip back in 2011 to the United States. It is on the public record. He said the purpose of the trip was to explore the United States's economic, fiscal and monetary policy and their approach to financial services and to deepen relationships in the US—it went on and on. What else did he say? He said: 'My visit to the US was an invaluable opportunity to develop contacts to draw on in the future.'

Let us see who he is drawing on. He is drawing on a mob called FreedomWorks. What are they about? They are major supporters of the Tea Party in America. That is why we see all this nonsense all the time from over the other side of the chamber. They went over at public expense to talk to all the loopy people from the Tea Party. Then they came back here and tried to behave every bit as loopily as the Tea Party in the United States. What else do FreedomWorks do? They sell high deductible insurance policies and tax-free medical savings plans to individuals at group discounts. So they are in the private health industry. They are really up to their necks in a whole range of things. One of their main funders is Philip Morris, the tobacco company. These are the types of people that Senator Cormann met over there.

Senator Brandis interjecting

Senator Cormann interjecting

Photo of Scott LudlamScott Ludlam (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Order, senators on my left! Senator Brandis was heard in silence through his contribution; Senator Cameron should be extended the same courtesy.

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

FreedomWorks were also out there funding a campaign against legislation in the American House of Representatives to give rights to people who had contracted asbestos related disease— mesothelioma and that type of thing. These are the types of people that the coalition have a special relationship with. They went over there and talked to people who are trying to stop ordinary Americans getting any access to help, support and money to keep their families going after they have contracted asbestos. That is their approach.

They went to the Cato Foundation. They have a special relationship with the Cato Foundation. They have a special relationship with the Heartland Institute. They say they are a think tank. These are the climate sceptics in chief. They think that there is no global warming and no problem with the climate and it should all just be left alone. I think the Heartland Institute are crazy. I could go on. There is much more.

I have just come across this. I will keep this and I will come back some day and take you on another walk through the special relationships that the coalition have with big business, with the climate sceptics and with all the nutters in the Republican Party in the United States, and you will say, 'Why do we listen to these people?' Senator Brandis, go and read the biography of the former— (Time expired)

4:20 pm

Photo of Concetta Fierravanti-WellsConcetta Fierravanti-Wells (NSW, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Ageing) Share this | | Hansard source

Before I get into the substance of my contribution, I just want to share with the Senate that some senior shadows on the coalition side will be visiting China during the first week of December as guests of the Chinese Communist Party—they are Senator Brandis, Senator Johnston, Senator Scullion and Senator Bishop, along with Mr Morrison and Mr Truss. Just because they are visiting China does not make them communists, Senator Cameron. That is the fallacy in your argument. Indeed, I confess that I myself have visited Vietnam. I visited a number of people in Vietnam, but does that make me a communist? Absolutely not. Senator Cameron, would you describe me as a communist? I do not think so.

I will now move to a number of matters that address the motion before us. Before I do, I would like to pick up on some comments that Senator Bob Carr made today in answer to Senator Fifield. He stated that:

… there was not even an allegation in all those question times over 10 years—all those question times in the bearpit of the New South Wales parliament, regarded as the toughest in Australia.

Which rock are you under, Senator Carr? Did you not listen? Obviously you were not interested in listening to what I had to say yesterday as I reiterated allegation after allegation. Indeed, I only shared with the Senate a smattering of allegations in relation to what has happened in New South Wales. The issue here is for you to answer, Mr Carr. It goes to your very judgement. That is, it was under your watch that Eddie Obeid was made a minister in New South Wales. It was under your watch that people like Mr Macdonald continued to be ministers. What is coming out of New South Wales at the moment, speaking as a person from that state, is absolutely appalling. I am ashamed when I open the newspaper and read those things—the shocking revelations that are coming out of New South Wales and the ICAC hearings.

It is not just the coalition saying so. Kevin Rudd was on Q&A the other evening. He said earlier in the week that the whole future of the Labor Party could depend on cleaning up these matters. Let us not forget that it is the Sussex Street machine that gave us Eddie Obeid, that gave us Ian Macdonald, that gave us the stinking system of patronage, the culture that did really bad things in New South Wales under a series of governments, all of the Labor persuasion. It is the same Sussex Street machine that organised the political assassination of a Prime Minister in this country, an assassination in which the Prime Minister of today was complicit. It is the same Sussex Street machine that has given us political family upon political family, that gave us Karl Bitar and Mark Arbib. We all know their history in this place. This is the same Sussex Street machine which is today sustaining the Labor government in Canberra. That is the reality. New South Wales and Sussex Street and all their dirty machinations have put this woman into power and they are the ones sustaining her in power.

I am sorry that Senator Cameron is no longer in the chamber because he is absolutely right when he says that the people of western Sydney are sick and tired of this Labor government. They saw it for 16 years. They saw it under successive premiers in New South Wales—including you, Mr Carr. The gestation of the corruption that is now finding its way into the public with these ICAC inquiries had at its heart a time during your government, Mr Carr, because you are the one—

Photo of Scott LudlamScott Ludlam (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Fierravanti-Wells, I just ask that you refer to ministers by their correct titles.

Photo of Concetta Fierravanti-WellsConcetta Fierravanti-Wells (NSW, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Ageing) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you—Senator Carr. Senator Carr, I would remind you—

Senator Williams interjecting

Senator Bob Carr. I apologise to Senator Kim Carr, sitting across the chamber.

Photo of Kim CarrKim Carr (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

That's right! Another tearful apology is required here.

Photo of Concetta Fierravanti-WellsConcetta Fierravanti-Wells (NSW, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Ageing) Share this | | Hansard source

You will not get too many tears from me, Senator Kim Carr—don't you worry about that! I am no shrinking violet that gets into tears. Minister Carr had the hide to come into this place yesterday and tell us, in answer to my question:

There was never a finding against the government I led on the grounds of corruption—never.

Maybe he did not stick around long enough. He continued:

Not once between 1995 and 2005; not about the government I led. Australia's record and that of New South Wales in the years I can speak for is exemplary.

Exemplary! Does he know what the definition of exemplary is? Of course he does not, because if he really knew the definition of exemplary he could never describe his government and what we are seeing in New South Wales today as exemplary.

I would remind Minister Carr that yesterday in this place I trawled through a whole series of allegations—the dates, the person who asked the question from the opposition. Let's airbrush that out of history. Let's forget the time that you were Premier and all the things that happened, forget the time that you gave birth politically to the ministry of Eddie Obeid and others in this government.

Photo of Claire MooreClaire Moore (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator, I do not want to interrupt, but everything should be directed to the chair rather than directed at someone else in the Senate.

Photo of Concetta Fierravanti-WellsConcetta Fierravanti-Wells (NSW, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Ageing) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Madam Acting Deputy President. Because Minister Carr obviously was not listening yesterday, let me repeat some of the issues that I raised yesterday again today. On 9 September 1999 there were questions asked of him by the then Leader of the Opposition, Mrs Chikarovski, in relation to the pecuniary interests disclosures of Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid. She asked him:

… to explain why he—

Mr Obeid—

asserted yesterday that he held no shares in Hapgeti when the company's own annual returns—prepared by Mr Obeid's son—shows the Minister to be the sole registered shareholder?

It is pretty obvious. The documents are on the public record. What was then Premier Carr's response? He ignored the question. Mrs Chikarovski asked:

Is Mr Obeid lying or is he just incompetent?

Then Premier Carr's response was simply to ignore totally any mention at all of Minister Obeid, to basically bat off the question, to stonewall. Stonewalling was invented by Sussex Street. Therefore, the same tricks that have been used for many years—the stonewalling of these allegations in New South Wales—have now found their way into Canberra. That was one example, Minister Carr.

Let us go to 3 September 2002, when there were a whole series of allegations surrounding then Minister Obeid in relation to the Oasis Liverpool development. Perhaps, Minister Carr, you have forgotten about the evidence that was given up to ICAC.

Photo of Claire MooreClaire Moore (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator, address your remarks through the chair.

Photo of Concetta Fierravanti-WellsConcetta Fierravanti-Wells (NSW, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Ageing) Share this | | Hansard source

Perhaps, Madam Acting Deputy President, Minister Carr has forgotten completely—it was somewhere in the dim, dark days—about the absolutely disgusting evidence that was provided at that time. But Minister Carr yesterday said that there had been no allegations made.

We get to 3 September 2002. Let us have a look at these allegations of attempted bribery by the Minister for Mineral Resources and Minister for Fisheries. Mr Brogden asked the then Premier Carr what steps he took to satisfy himself of the minister's innocence and the Premier said that he had full confidence in the minister, describing the allegations as false and reckless. Premier Carr's response was: 'The Leader of the Opposition would be the only one trying to breathe life into ludicrous allegations.' He completely bats it off as being ludicrous allegations; there was no response whatsoever. On that same day, we had other members of the opposition asking questions. We had Mr Brogden asking supplementaries. We had Mr O'Farrell asking questions on the same point. Indeed, Mr O'Farrell was reminding Premier Carr that Eddie Obeid:

… is the only Minister to have bought his place on the front bench by bankrolling backbench members of the Labor Party. He paid his way into the Ministry, and the Premier ought to reveal to this House the questions he asked the Minister for Mineral Resources, and Minister for Fisheries, Eddie Obeid, about his disclosures, what the ministerial Code of Conduct obliges the Minister to tell the Premier, and why the Premier continues to help a man who tells lies to this Parliament time and time again.

In the end, Premier Carr completely ignores the question. He does not ever respond to questions asked by the opposition. Mr Souris was asking questions in relation to some of the evidence that had been given and some articles that had appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald that morning and about asking Mr Obeid to stand down pending investigation. That was in September 2002.

On 23 October 2002, again Mr Souris from the opposition was asking questions. He said that Mr Obeid had given sworn evidence the week before to a parliamentary investigation looking into his pecuniary interests that he had had no business dealings since becoming a minister, which had been directly contradicted by further sworn evidence. Yesterday I put on the record a whole series of correspondence and indications that Mr Obeid had made to the clerk of the New South Wales parliament going to this very point. Mr Carr's response was, 'I believe the minister answered those questions fully in the Legislative Council today.' He completely batted it off.

On 19 November 2002, in relation to the Valhalla Stables lease, Mr Brogden asked questions of the Premier about a briefing note from the Director of the National Parks and Wildlife Service back in 1988, when Mr Carr was minister for the environment. That briefing note referred to the minister requesting that the service review the request of Eddie Obeid with a view to providing alternatively worded provisions that could meet the requirements of the lease. This related to Mr Obeid's Valhalla Stables snow lease development and so forth. Forget it—Mr Carr refused to answer, despite the specific questions that the opposition were asking and the specific allegations they were putting to him on that occasion.

We then come to 30 October 2003. Again, questions were being asked of the Premier in relation to the personal business interests of former ministers, including minsters Face, Allan, Whelan, Knight and Obeid. The Premier was asked whether he could give guarantees that none of his former ministers or parliamentary secretaries had used their positions to set up businesses or jobs to fund their retirements. Again, Premier Carr simply dismisses it—no issues, no research on the other side. There ain't anything happening that the opposition can get its teeth into. Then there was this classic comment from Premier Carr: 'I have often said that this is the period of best governance in the history of New South Wales.'

An opposition senator: That's what they thought!

That's what they thought—wonderful governance. What a great example of governance! And here is Minister Carr refusing to answer questions asked by the opposition in this place in relation to corruption conventions and the like. Goodness me—with a history like this in New South Wales, it is a wonder that he is not an expert in the field. I am sure that his meetings with all sorts of people in this area will be very interesting.

The issues before the ICAC inquiry at the moment go to the very heart of Mr Obeid's suitability to have remained in parliament, let alone be promoted to the ministry. They go to the question of the judgement of then Premier Carr, who promoted him to the ministry. They go to the very heart of the corruption over those years that saw a two-way protection racket. The question remains: who was protecting whom and why were they protecting them? How much damage is being done to Australia's good standing as a country and to New South Wales's good standing as a state in which to do business as a consequence of the evidence of serious corruption that is now emerging from the ICAC inquiry?

Mr Obeid and Mr Macdonald were both men that Mr Carr saw fit to include and retain in his ministry during the time that he was Premier of New South Wales, most especially in the case of Mr Obeid, whom he frequently and vociferously defended and protected when serious questions about his integrity were raised. This is what this is about. This is what the opposition's legitimate questioning of Minister Carr is about now. It goes to his judgement, just like the questions that are being asked of the Prime Minister about her time at Slater and Gordon go to her judgement, to her integrity. That is what it is about.

Minister Carr, it is wrong when you come into this place and assert that no allegations were ever put to you by any member of the opposition in New South Wales. That is blatantly wrong. What I have referred to today is only a small example of the many allegations over a long, long time in New South Wales put to you and other Labor premiers about issues going to corruption in New South Wales. It is my strong belief that, in the ICAC inquiry which is currently on foot, we will see ongoing revelations about those years in New South Wales. It really is very sad for the people of New South Wales that they daily see the decadence and the corruption that occurred for many years. If that is exemplary government—to use Minister Carr's words—I do not know what bad government is.

4:40 pm

Photo of Anne McEwenAnne McEwen (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I too would like to contribute to the debate on this motion. What we have seen here from the opposition today is more muckraking, more negativity, more trawling over ancient history, more sleaze and more personal vilification—all of those things that they specialise in, things that they have learnt from the opposition leader, Mr Tony Abbott. We notice that he has withdrawn from that sort of attack line at the moment, because he knows that it does not wash with the Australian public and he knows that the Australian public does not like it. So, instead, he sent out his attack dogs—the masters in sleaze, the gutter dwellers: Senator Brandis and Senator Fierravanti-Wells, and I know we are going to hear Senator Ronaldson making loud pronouncements, for sure, following me. We saw the same thing happen in question time. You would have thought that the opposition might use this general business time to debate something that is really important.

I know, for example, that if I were in my home state of South Australia today, my constituents would probably be asking me questions about the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. That is the news story of the day. That is what is really important to people in my state—how the government has acted, after a long period of time and a long period of consultation, to introduce a plan that is genuinely going to support South Australia, that is going to restore our river to health and support our river communities. That is what is really important in South Australia. But, instead, we have got the opposition gutter dwellers here reading out excerpts from their favourite newspaper, the Australian,and reading out transcripts from the ICAC inquiry that is currently happening in New South Wales. I would not want the public to think that the opposition are actually doing any of their own research. They just recite what is already in the public sphere. Do not think they are smart or clever or anything like that; they just pick up on what is already being talked about out there.

It continues the opposition's long campaign of denigration of our Prime Minister. They have been doing that for a long period of time. I think they will wake up fairly soon to the fact that the Australian public do not like that either. Perhaps that is why they are turning their attention now to Australia's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Bob Carr, one of Australia's most important public figures, who is engaged in some of the most important debates not just in this country but in the world. But what do they do? They come in here and trawl through the history of the New South Wales Labor Party and the New South Wales government in the 1990s. My goodness me!

This motion is about the relationship between the Labor Party and the trade union movement, and I am more than happy to talk about that relationship and about the culture of the Labor Party. The relationship between the Labor Party and the trade union movement has delivered great benefits for working people in Australia—for all Australians and their families—and that relationship continues to deliver benefits. I am going to trawl over a bit of ancient history myself in my contribution today by talking about what that relationship has delivered for Australians, because it is always worth reminding ourselves how important it is.

The Labor Party was formed as the legislative arm of the labour movement. It was formed so that issues of importance to working Australians could be prosecuted in the parliament.

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There are no shearers over there now.

Photo of Anne McEwenAnne McEwen (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, Senator Williams, the Labor Party certainly arose out of the great shearers' strike. We know that and we are proud of that history. We celebrate that history.

Unions are collectives, collectives formed to pursue the interests of their members—working Australians and their families. Together, the Labor Party and the unions have worked together for good in this country. I will outline some of the good things they have done, but first I wanted to say that I am very proud to be a member of a trade union. I have been a union member for many years. I am a member of the Australian Services Union and I was formerly a member of the Federated Clerks' Union. I have been a union delegate in my workplace, I have been a union official and I have been a union secretary.

I have worked with many union officials and, in my experience, most of them, like ordinary Australians everywhere, work very hard. They are honest, hard-working and committed people who use whatever talents, skills and opportunities they have to support other people in our community. If there are exceptions in the trade union movement, just as if there are exceptions in the employer community, amongst politicians or anywhere else, and if people are misusing members' funds, they should be subject to whatever processes are available. The issues should be investigated to determine whether there has been any wrongdoing and those responsible for any such wrongdoing should be punished.

But the opposition continues its smear campaign about union officials. It is all part of their plan to destroy unions. They do not like what unions stand for, they do not like collectivism, they do not like a fair go and they do not like to see working people and their families effectively represented. Unions stand in the way of the opposition's determination to implement a workplace relations system in which protections for workers are minimal and in which opportunities for bad employers to exploit people are maximised.

I was tempted to use my contribution to revisit the saga of Work Choices, to revisit the underlying extremism which fed Work Choices and to revisit the pathetic attempts by the coalition during that period in 2005 to try and hoodwink the Australian people by pretending that they actually cared about working Australians and that Work Choices was going to be good for working Australians. The people of Australia were not hoodwinked; they saw right through you. We saw the result of that in the 2007 election. I should also mention that Mr Abbott was front and centre during that industrial relations debate. We know that in his little heart—if he has one—he secretly harbours the hope that one day Work Choices will come back in some other guise. And he has a chorus of supporters over there who would also like to reintroduce it.

This motion gives us the opportunity to reflect on what unions and the Labor Party have achieved and I will outline a few of those achievements. As an example, did you know that we would not have paid annual leave had it not been for the trade union movement? It was one of the great early achievements of the union movement when the arbitration commission granted workers paid leave back in the 1930s. It started off at one week, went to two weeks and now the standard is four weeks. It was a long campaign by the union movement working with the Labor Party to introduce that basic right.

We would not have industrial awards and all the protections they include for working people had it not been for the trade union movement. Since 1904, we have had industrial awards to underpin pay and conditions for working people. We know that the opposition wanted to destroy those awards and still does. They have been dreaming about a free-range, no-protection kind of workplace relations system—probably ever since the Labor Party was first created.

We can thank trade unions for penalty rates, penalty rates which compensate people who have to work unusual hours, longer hours or when other people are not working. We know that penalty rates were one of the things targeted by the opposition in Work Choices. They wanted to get rid of penalty rates altogether.

The union movement can also claim responsibility for maternity leave. For paid maternity leave we can thank the Australian Labor Party, who introduced the first paid parental leave scheme in Australia. Many of us in this chamber were early participants in the campaign to get parental leave included as standard in awards.

We can thank the union movement, together with the Labor Party, for universal superannuation in Australia—a fantastic achievement of a great government, the Keating Labor government. It took a long time to bring that in, too. The union movement worked with employers and government to bring it in as part of the Accord. I read somewhere today that Minister Bill Shorten has announced that investment in Australian superannuation has reached $1.5 trillion. That is a phenomenal investment in Australia's future. It is this Labor government which is working to increase superannuation savings for the Australian people and it is those people over there who do not like superannuation and who would like to get rid of it.

Another thing we can thank the union movement and the Labor government for is the pursuit of equal pay for women, something that I know you, Madam Acting Deputy President Moore, me and many other people on this side of the chamber have campaigned long and hard for. We were proud of the union movement—my union, the Australian Services Union, in particular—and the Labor government working together to bring about the pay equity case. That outcome of that case will be to deliver, for the first time ever, decent wages for those people in our community who work to support people with disabilities, who work with families in distress, who care for elderly people and who do all those sorts of jobs. Those jobs have always been undervalued because they have always been done mainly by women. The people in those jobs deserve the recognition that has now been delivered—delivered as a result of the equal pay provisions that this Labor government put into the Fair Work Act. I note that some 150,000 Australian workers, most of them women, are going to get pay increases of between 23 per cent and 45 per cent as a result of that.

Another great achievement of state and national Labor governments, working with the trade union movement, was the introduction of workers compensation schemes. These schemes provide income, support and rehabilitation services for people who have been injured at work. Those schemes would never have been introduced if it had not been for the long campaigns by the union movement to ensure that people who were injured at work through no fault of their own were compensated. We would not have sick leave if it were not for the union movement, which campaigned very hard to ensure that when people were sick they could still get some pay. Now we take these things for granted, but we should never be complacent about ensuring that these benefits are retained.

The union movement can be thanked for long service leave. It was the coal workers who went on strike in 1949 over the long service leave issue, and now of course long service leave is a universal entitlement and one that Australia is very proud of. It is a rare thing in the developed world—indeed, anywhere in the world.

We can thank the union movement for redundancy pay for workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own. If it had not been for the union movement we would still be in a situation where people could be made redundant or lose their jobs and have to walk away without any compensation. We know also that the Labor government introduced the GEER Scheme, which ensured that, where an employer had to make people redundant because the employer itself was broke, workers would not miss out on all of their entitlements and some would still be paid through a government funded scheme.

We can thank the union movement for other things, like shift allowances and uniform allowances and meal breaks and rest breaks. We can thank them for unfair dismissal protection—again something that the opposition hate. They hate the fact that working people have some redress in a court that is accessible and free in the event that they are unfairly dismissed by their employer. They are just some of the things that the labour movement has introduced, the unions and the Labor Party working together.

It is worth going through the history of Labor governments in Australia and highlighting a few of the other things that Labor governments have introduced. This is a debate about good government. Labor governments are good governments, and they are good governments because they have introduced measures like the ones I am about to mention. The Fisher Labor government in the early 1900s was the first to introduce a payment to mothers on the birth of a child—what we later called child endowment—and it was the first government to legislate for a national workers compensation act. The Scullin Labor government increased social services payments for people during the Great Depression so that people had a bit of an income to protect themselves through that terrible time. The Curtin Labor government in the 1940s introduced the widow's pension and increased child endowment, and it began funding public hospitals for the first time. The Chifley Labor government was the first to recognise the value of immigration and assisted people to come here to help build our great nation. It was the Chifley Labor government that began building the Snowy hydro-electric scheme, a typically visionary Labor initiative. It employed a lot of people and provided a lot of energy for the developing states of New South Wales and Victoria. The same government played a major role on the international stage by helping to write the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that has become the basis for protecting human rights throughout the world. A little bit of history from South Australia is that it was also the same government that helped create the Holden motor company, Australia's first car company—again, the kind of visionary Labor initiative that we are very proud of.

The Whitlam Labor government took our troops out of Vietnam and got rid of the White Australia policy—fantastic initiatives. It opened Australian relations with China, increased the age pension and brought in the Racial Discrimination Act. The Hawke Labor government brought in Medicare. Who over there wants to get rid of Medicare? All of them. The Hawke Labor government intervened in Tasmania to protect the Franklin River from damming—action I was very proud of. It also led efforts to protect the Antarctica from mining and exploration, yet another thing I was very proud of. They were great environmental initiatives from a great Labor government. Of course it also introduced the Sex Discrimination Act and the Equal Employment Opportunity Act, which provided security for women in the workforce and paved the way for other antidiscrimination legislation that Labor governments have continued to pursue since that time. I have mentioned the Keating Labor government and superannuation. We should also remember that the Keating Labor government recognised native title through Mabo legislation and it helped to create the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum. That great government freed up the Australian economy and brought us into the modern world and, again, it paid attention to issues such as sex discrimination as well.

While the opposition are using this debate to continue their sleaze and smear campaign against the Prime Minister and other members of the government and their campaign against union officials and are continuing to trawl over ancient history and read out bits of the Australian, Labor senators are taking the opportunity to highlight the value, the importance and the goodness of the labour movement in Australia, with that special relationship between Labor governments and the trade union movement. We have nothing to be ashamed of over here. Those opposite can sling as much mud as they like; we can proudly say that we have a lot to be proud of in the Labor movement in Australia and, while people are listening to this ridiculous debate and the contributions from those on the other side, perhaps they would like to take some time to remember that all of those things that I talked about today, all of those good things that have been implemented by the Labor movement, would have been opposed by those opposite. Have we heard any policy from them today? Have they come up with any alternative policies, any big picture stories, any good news? No, it is just another afternoon of negativity, mud throwing, sleaze and trawling around in the gutter, and now we will have a contribution from the ace gutter dweller, Senator Ronaldson.

5:00 pm

Photo of Michael RonaldsonMichael Ronaldson (Victoria, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I am sure my good friend Senator McEwen was not calling me some of those appalling names! But I will say this: I find it highly amusing that Senator McEwen has invoked the roots of the Labor Party to talk about Australian shearers. There would not be one senator or one House of Representatives member who would know a shearer if they fell over one! There would not be one member of the Labor Party in either house, quite frankly, who knew what grease remover for hands was. You would probably know what hand moisturiser was, but you would not know what grease remover for hands was. There is no-one in this place with any understanding of Australian workers anymore; you are completely unrepresentative of Australian workers.

Nothing was better evidence of that, quite frankly, than a recent notice of motion put forward by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator Abetz, in relation to Mr Craig Thomson. I will just read it, out of interest, so that everyone is acutely aware of it:

The Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Abetz), pursuant to notice of motion not objected to as a formal motion, moved general business notice of motion no. 804—That the Senate—

(a) notes findings by Fair Work Australia that Mr Craig Thomson misused Health Services Union members' funds for sexual services, personal travel and entertainment and to secure a seat in the Federal Parliament; and

(b) condemns the misuse of union members' funds as found by Fair Work Australia.

You would have thought that a party that was protecting workers would have supported that, particularly in relation to the misuse of union members' funds. Oh, no. Where was Senator McEwen when it came to this? Where were the rest of the Labor senators when it came to this? Where were their partners in crime, the Greens, when it came to this? They voted against it. They voted against a motion which condemned the misuse of union funds—the funds of the very same people they pretend to represent in this place.

Everyone knows that three-quarters of Labor senators are ex union bosses. That is a fact. It is an undeniable fact. Put that on the back of the motion today for the Senate to note:

… the challenges for good government posed by the culture of the Australian Labor Party and its special relationship with affiliated trade unions.

Then put that in some context: look at what they have actually done in the last 12 months—look at what they have done in relation to the misuse of union funds. So how are you protecting the workers? As I say, you would not know a shearer if you fell over one. You no longer represent Australian workers. The roots of the Australian Labor Party were torn up and thrown out years ago. You could not even find your way to Creswick, most of you people. You have absolutely no idea. You do not represent workers. You have not represented workers for a long, long time.

I found the discussion today about the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister very, very interesting. Isn't it remarkable? What we saw today was that you are happy to throw the mud, but when legitimate questions are posed—and we noticed the arrival of Ralph Blewitt in the country the day before yesterday—about the behaviour of the Prime Minister of this country, all of a sudden it is mud-slinging.

But I want to take you back, as I mentioned the other day, to the genesis of the quite remarkable, dirty and vile attack on the Leader of the Opposition. I just want to, again, refer to Mr John McTernan, who, of course, was an adviser to the British Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair. I just want those on the other side to listen to these comments. As I said the other day in this place, they were in an article by Mr Chris Kenny in the Weekend Australian and I just want those opposite to listen as I quote from that article:

In a column for Britain's Daily Telegraph in 2010, McTernan declared: "The Coalition has a problem with women."

Now where have we heard that before? Where did we hear that in the last month? Well, of course, we heard it coming from the Prime Minister and a large number of government ministers, and this was on the back of the McTernan tactics—the great mud-slinger of the Western world. And this article goes on:

He argued spending cuts proposed by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Coalition in Britain were unpopular with female voters. "This gender gap is a real and pressing problem for (British PM David) Cameron," he wrote.

Last year another column on law and order issues was headed: "How many women today feel the Coalition—

this is the British coalition—

is protecting them?" And just in case you missed the angle, a few months later McTernan focused on women promoted in British Labour's reshuffle, turning it against Cameron: "The PM has a problem with women and he knows it."

Straight out of the McTernan manual was the attack on the Leader of the Opposition a month and a half ago—straight out of the McTernan manual for dirt and grubbiness and personal attacks. This man was brought into this position by the Prime Minister of this country to achieve what he has achieved in relation to an abuse of that office and indeed an abuse of her as a Prime Minister and an abuse of proper process. You on the other side should be hanging your heads in shame, because you know exactly why he is in this country. You know he is in this country to denigrate the Leader of the Opposition and senior coalition members, and you sit there mute when you know exactly what has been done. There are some decent people on the other side who surely cannot countenance this sort of behaviour, and you should be standing up and saying you are not prepared to do it.

I will get back to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister can run but she cannot hide in relation to the slush fund affair. There have been some quite legitimate questions posed by some in the Australian media. As I said the other day, the conga line of apologists will never pursue it, but there are those in the gallery—this gallery and other galleries—who have the intestinal fortitude to pursue these matters, and they have put on notice quite legitimate questions that this Prime Minister must answer. And she refuses to do so. If she has a realistic and real answer to those questions, then good; that will be the end of the matter. But you do not have a press conference for an hour on the back of one misplaced word—'trust' instead of 'slush'—without any warning at all about what the matter would involve and then walk away, refuse to say anything more and then hang your shingle on the back of that hour-long press conference based on the back of one misused word: 'trust' instead of 'slush'.

This Prime Minister has simply got to go into the House of Representatives next week and answer the questions that have been put to her. They are legitimate questions. There have been denials to date but there is new information and many, many people have now come out to confirm the alleged involvement of the Prime Minister. If they are wrong, then let us hear the Prime Minister say so personally, in the other place, and give a full, open and proper account of her involvement in the slush fund affair. The Australian people deserve no less and the other place deserves no less if, indeed, Ms Gillard's denials are found to be untrue. The onus is now on her to answer these questions.

This is a matter of trust, and the Australian people have lost trust in this Prime Minister. Indeed, one of the Prime Minister's own, Darren Cheeseman, made that quite clear earlier this year. Mr Cheeseman is the ineffective member for Corangamite. He is ineffective, ineffectual, but he is the member for Corangamite at this stage. What did Mr Cheeseman say about the Prime Minister? He told the Sunday Age earlier this year that, 'many rank-and-file MPs had concluded Ms Gillard's leadership was now ''terminal'''. He then said, 'There's no doubt about it, Julia Gillard can't take the party forward.' And here is the telling comment in relation to trust, the telling comment in relation to where this Prime Minister is, and the telling words in relation to the requirement for the Prime Minister to come into the other place next week and put on record any denial of the allegations that have been made against her. This is what Mr Cheeseman said: 'The community has made its mind up on her.' What do you think he might have been referring to? I think he might have been referring to the trust issue. His view is that his community has lost trust in this Prime Minister. Trust is one of those fundamental hallmarks of leadership. Trust must be attached to a nation's leaders. Mr Cheeseman has made it quite clear that neither he nor his constituents trust this Prime Minister any longer.

I want to turn now to two separate matters which are, I think, causing enormous angst. The Little Creatures brewery, which is part of the Lion Group

Photo of Chris EvansChris Evans (WA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Government in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

It's a very good drop.

Photo of Michael RonaldsonMichael Ronaldson (Victoria, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I am glad you said that, because remarkably, that drop is not going to be brewed in Geelong. Nor, potentially, will $60 million be spent by the company; nor, potentially, will there be 100 jobs created, because the CFMEU and the AMWU are picketing the construction of the Little Creatures brewery. So you might enjoy a drop, Senator Evans, but you will not be enjoying a drop coming out of Geelong unless these two unions—against whom an injunction had been granted—allow the construction to continue. There will not be any of your favourite drop coming out of Geelong, Senator Evans.

Photo of Claire MooreClaire Moore (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I remind you, Senator, that those comments should be directed through the chair, not across the chamber.

Photo of Michael RonaldsonMichael Ronaldson (Victoria, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

Indeed, the last person I would call 'Senator Evans' would be you, Madam Acting Deputy President, I can assure you of that.

What was said by some of those who are actually trying to drive investment in Geelong? I will go to the Geelong Advertisera very fine paper indeed—of 30 October. The Geelong Chamber of Commerce was quoted in the Geelong Advertiser:

"It sends the wrong message to people who want to invest in Geelong," executive officer Bernadette Uzelac said. "We should be making things easier to do business and invest in Geelong and not harder."

What did the Geelong Advertiser editorial say in relation to this, following an intervention by the Premier of Victoria, Mr Ted Baillieu, who expressed his outrage at the behaviour of the unions? The editorial on 20 July said:

Premier Baillieu is right to air the same concerns we did in this space last week when we said we feared for the impact this dispute might have on would-be investors in Geelong.

The editorial went on:

This dispute has to end now. The longer it continues, the more negative impact on future investment it will have and, the more indifference will be shown to the spirit if not the letter of the law.

Developments like this brewery are very important for our community.

Industrial action like we are seeing in South Geelong—despite court orders—does not send a great message to any company looking to establish a business here.

You would think that the local members would have some comment to make about this, because those picketers were there this morning. So I will go through the comments made by the local members. The first was a hard-hitting comment from the member for Geelong, Ian Trezise. He is a charming fellow but, like Mr Cheeseman, highly ineffectual. He is quoted in the Geelong Advertiser on 31 October:

Member for Geelong Ian Trezise urged the company and the unions to sort out the issue as soon as possible.

That is an inspired intervention! But it is probably more inspired than two other interventions that have not been made. We have heard what the Geelong Advertiser has said about the risk to investment into the great centre of Geelong in regional Victoria. We heard what the Chamber of Commerce said about the potential impact of this union picket line, which was found to be illegal, on Geelong. We know that it is going to cost, potentially, a $60 million investment and 100-plus jobs, so one would think that two people in particular might have a comment about this. The first person would be Mr Darren Cheeseman, the current member for Corangamite. The second person, you might think, would be the member for Corio, Mr Richard Marles. I will ask my colleagues to guess at how many comments were made by these two gentlemen in relation to the risk that Geelong faced. Who would like to have a guess?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

This many!

Photo of Michael RonaldsonMichael Ronaldson (Victoria, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

'Two,' Senator Fifield says.

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

No; this many!

Photo of Michael RonaldsonMichael Ronaldson (Victoria, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

None. You were right the second time, Senator Fifield. Not one single word was said, or has been said, by the member for Corangamite or the member for Corio in relation to a dispute which has been found to be illegal. It is a dispute that will potentially put at risk $60 million of investment and 100 jobs but there was not a word. Why do you think that might be? I will tell you why it is. It is because of that unholy alliance. The alliance between the Australian Labor Party and the Greens is an unholy alliance but there is an unholy alliance between the Australian Labor Party and union members who have turned out, in Geelong, to be nothing but thugs. As we saw with the Grocon dispute, they are nothing but thugs.

Where were Darren Cheeseman and Richard Marles when this was going on? Where were they standing up for investment in their own region? They go and talk the talk but they never, ever walk the walk in relation to looking after and supporting the region of Geelong. They have not said a word. And they have not said a word because of the unholy alliance between them and the union movement. They have effectively been silenced by a union movement that is so powerful it can change a Prime Minister. These two political wimps did not have the intestinal fortitude to make a single comment about this dispute.

You have heard what the Geelong Chamber of Commerce said and what the editorial in the Geelong Advertiser said. This required these two men to stand up for their region and it required these two men to tell the unions to back off and let the investment take place. And they were completely missing in action. They are still missing in action, because their obligation is to the Australian union movement. Their obligation, clearly, is not to those who elected them or those who are part of their wider constituency. And that is what Senator Fifield's motion is about today. It is about the fact that we are seeing, again, further proof about who owes whom, and it is not about the people of Geelong. (Time expired)

5:20 pm

Photo of Gavin MarshallGavin Marshall (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is always fun to follow Senator Ronaldson!

Photo of Michael RonaldsonMichael Ronaldson (Victoria, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I think you do it on purpose.

Photo of Gavin MarshallGavin Marshall (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is because I come in for the show. But it is all show and no substance. Actually, it is like watching a Punch and Judy show with only Punch. There is no Judy; there is no Judy at all. There is no substance in what Senator Ronaldson has to say.

Let us go back to the very start of Senator Ronaldson's speech, where he decided that everyone on this side of the chamber was a union official and had no other work-life experience, and that we would not even know a shearer if we fell over one. Let me say this: there are three people on this side who have spoken in this debate. First of all, Senator Cameron is a fitter and turner. He worked as a fitter and turner for most of his working life. That is what he was. The second speaker from this side was Senator Anne McEwen, whose first job was as a tea lady in a solicitor's firm and who then worked for most of her working life as a clerical worker.

I am the third Labor person to speak and I am an electrician. I did an electrical apprenticeship and worked a large part of my working life as an electrician. So, Senator Ronaldson, you say that we have not had our hands dirty and that we have no real experience in life but it is simply untrue. It is a demonstration of all show but no substance, which we are very used to from you, Senator Ronaldson. But you are not alone; there are plenty on your side who do that.

Then we heard this little tirade about the Prime Minister and all the things she has to answer. But, strangely enough, I listened to Senator Brandis, Senator Fierravanti-Wells and then Senator Ronaldson in this debate and not a single accusation was made nor a single question put that required an answer—not one. It was just this 'round the world' general muckraking and accusations that other people apparently have made but not saying it here, not even making the point once. Quite frankly, it is a nonsense.

But let me go to what the real substance of this debate is. It is about the special relationship between the Labor Party and the trade union movement. And it is a special relationship. I would not for one moment seek to distance the Australian Labor Party from the fine tradition of the union movement in Australia. It is a close relationship with working people and their representatives. It may be viewed as a source of embarrassment over in the opposition's headquarters, but it only goes to show how out of touch they are with the everyday lives of working people.

As I said, I am a senator who worked for many years as an A grade electrician. I am also a former shop steward and a former official of the Electrical Trades Union. I am very proud to follow in the footsteps of my many predecessors in the Labor Party who began their working life on the shop floor before going on to devote their careers to improving the lives of their fellow workers right across Australia. And our party is full of those people and I am proud to be one of them.

There are, from time to time, in all walks of life and in all professions people who do not do as we would like them to do, whether it be in the judiciary, politics, business and, unfortunately, sometimes the union movement. There are people who do not act as we would like them to act. Recent examples will be before the courts. Those matters will be tested before the courts where they are properly to be tested and, if the accusations made about some in the trade union movement are true, none will be more disappointed than the people of the trade union movement and the labour movement and I will be one of them. I will be incredibly disappointed. But just because one of our colleagues may be found guilty in the future does not tar people on this side of the chamber nor former union officials.

Given that Senator Fifield is himself the grandchild of a widely respected former federal secretary of the former Printing & Kindred Industries Union, Mr Bert Fifield, I am surprised that he would seek to tarnish his own legacy by denigrating the proud history of the trade unions and what they have achieved through their relationship with the Labor Party. Just because there may be people in the trade union movement on this side who have done wrong does not take away his legacy in respect of his grandfather and nor does it take away anyone else's. As I said, unfortunately, you have only to go to the court system and see people who are accused of doing wrong from all walks of life. I know through my personal experience that the vast majority of union officials, union activists and indeed union members are hardworking, committed and dedicated people. I am proud to be part of that group.

I just want to go through a little bit of history, because the author of this motion is obviously incredibly ignorant of the background of the Labor Party and the trade union movement in this country. The first working class member of parliament was Charles Jardine Don. He was elected to the colonial government of Victoria in 1859, with the support of the Trades Halls Operatives Reform Association. As members of parliament were not paid for their service until 1870, Mr Don would work as a stonemason during the day and attend parliament at night. The need for political representation of the trade union movement became even more apparent over the following years and this was highlighted when the efforts of trade unions to improve the lives of working Australians through collective action, from 1890 to 1894, were thwarted by the vested interests of the colonial governments of the time. The Labour Defence Committee expressed the need for political representation of everyday Australians in the following words. If we are to:

radically improve the lot of the worker we must secure a substantial representation in Parliament. Then, and only then, can we begin to restore to the people the land of which they have been plundered, to absorb the monopolies which society at large has tended to create, and to ensure to every man, by the opportunity of fairly remunerated labor, a share in those things that make life worth living.

It was in the spirit of this fine sentiment that the first conference of the Australian Labor Party was held in 1891. Later that year Labor won 37 seats in the New South Wales parliament and, in 1893, 16 Labor candidates successfully stood for office in Queensland, 10 in Victoria and eight in South Australia. Finally, the aspirations of Australian workers were represented in parliament by Australia's first clearly differentiated political party and that was the Australian Labor Party.

We have always had a link to the trade union movement and I for one am absolutely proud of it. I can only ask: what aspect of this relationship between the trade unions and the Australian Labor Party could possibly be considered to be a barrier to good government, as the motion suggests?

It is easy to take our quality of life in Australia for granted but decent jobs with decent pay and conditions are not natural facts. Australian workers do not get paid well by international standards because we have a uniquely generous employer class; they are paid more because of the efforts of generations of working Australians who banded together in the spirit of a fair go for all. The Australian labour movement and their parliamentary representatives have made tremendous gains on the most important issues for workers and their families—wages, hours, representation, leave, security and safety.

In 1828 a convict shepherd was sentenced to 500 lashes, one month in solitary confinement on bread and water and the remainder of his sentence in a penal settlement for inciting his master's servants to combine for the purpose of obliging him to raise their wages and increase their rations. He got that penalty because he tried to take collective action to improve their wages, improve their rations and improve their conditions.

Perhaps understandably, the first record of an Australian trade union does not appear until what is thought to be the first general meeting of the Australian Society of Compositors in the Crown and Anchor in George Street Sydney on 21 February 1839. By the mid 1850s, approximately 20 trade unions had been established and in 1856 they made their first gain, reducing the hours of the then six-day working week from 58 hours to 48 hours with no reduction in pay. To this day you can see a monument to the eight-hour day across from the Victorian Trades Hall council in Melbourne.

In 1946, the ACTU lodged a claim for a 40-hour week. It argued that shorter hours would make workers more efficient and the booming economy could afford it. Two years later, the case was won and the 40-hour week began on 1 January 1948. Today, working hours are on the increase again and the Australian Labor Party, along with trade unions, remains alert to the erosion of the hard-won workplace conditions that are taken for granted all too often.

The Australian labour movement has fought and continues to fight for improved work-life balance for all Australians through access to leave. In 1941, the labour movement—the ALP and the union movement—won conditions like sick leave and one week of annual leave. In 1946, we increased annual leave to two weeks. In 1953, we achieved long service leave. In 1963, we increased annual leave to three weeks and then increased it again to four weeks in 1970. In 1971, we won the right to maternity leave. In 2001, we extended the benefits of maternity and carers leave to casual employees. In 2010, we guaranteed the rights of Australian workers under the National Employment Standards of the Fair Work Act, ensuring, amongst other things, that working parents would have the right to request flexible working hours to care for their children.

In 2011, the labour movement was responsible for extending 18 weeks of paid parental leave to hundreds of thousands of working parents and from 1 January next year Australians will be eligible to apply for two weeks of dad-and-partner pay, again thanks to the labour movement as a whole. That is just a very small snapshot of all the benefits that have been gained by the labour movement over the last century, and then some. The struggle to achieve those benefits is widely forgotten but nonetheless Australian workers enjoy them and they benefit from them, thanks to the labour movement. They are not thanks from benevolent employers; they are thanks to the labour movement. Does the opposition honestly believe that Australian workers will resent the relationship between the ALP and the trade unions when they take a week of leave to enjoy Christmas with their families this year? I do not think so.

For decades, women doing the same work as men were paid just a fraction of men's salary. In line with societal norms of 1907, Justice Higgins in establishing the basic wage ruled that a man's wage must be enough to feed and clothe his wife and family. A woman's wage was to pay only for herself. A landmark ruling in 1969 smashed through the discrimination and by 1974 all women were finally entitled to equal pay for work of equal value. The labour movement achieved that.

Just this year, the Australian Labor government, along with the Australian Services Union and the CPSU were successful in their application for equal pay for workers in the social and community service sector, achieving a historic pay increase of between 19 per cent and 41 per cent for 150,000 of Australia's lowest-paid workers, the vast majority of whom were women. Does the opposition honestly think that these workers resent the relationship between the Labor Party and the Australian Services Union and the CPSU? I do not think so.

From as early as the 1960s a number of unions achieved superannuation for their members in established industry funds. This led to a wider push amongst unions to ensure that working people would be able to enjoy a decent level of retirement income. In the 1986 National Wage Case, the ACTU argued and won three per cent universal super for all award workers. Compulsory super has since risen to nine per cent through a legislated super guarantee charge negotiated under the accord in 1991.

Reform of taxation and superannuation by the Australian Labor Party this year will result in a 30-year-old person on an average full-time income receiving an estimated $100,000 extra in retirement savings. Does the opposition think that these workers will resent these savings on retirement? Will they decry the relationship between the Australian trade unions and the Australian Labor Party that led to these retirement savings? I do not think so.

The Australian Labor Party governs for all Australians. Is the opposition honestly proposing the government should ignore the ideas and aspirations of millions of trade unionists, millions of trade union members who contribute to Australia's society and economy? Is that what good government is supposed to look like to those across the chamber? When 180,000 unemployed Australians asked conservative Prime Minister Stanley Bruce for work in 1927, and Bruce replied that it was not his business, is that what good government looks like to the opposition in this chamber? When Patrick Corporation unleashed the attack dogs in the waterfront dispute in 1998 with the backing of the coalition government, was that what good government looks like to the coalition?

What about the former ACTU President and Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke's government—a government that cooperated with unions to launch the accord, a mechanism to bring inflation under control, promote jobs growth and investment, and implement social wage improvement? Perhaps I think that is what good government looks like. What about a government that consults with both working people and their employers? What about a government that works with the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia to protect exploited outworkers in the textile, clothing and footwear sector?

What about a government that works with the United Firefighters Union to ensure that firefighters dying of cancer from occupational-related causes get adequate compensation? Those are just two examples of government action taken this year in response to consultation between the Australian trade unions and government. The culture of the Australian Labor Party and its relationship with trade unions is no cause for alarm for firefighters or textile workers—far from it. I think they appreciate the special relationship between the trade union movement and the Australian Labor Party. The special relationship that alarms Australian workers is the relationship that exists between the big end of town and their coalition mouthpieces, a relationship that compels the coalition to demonise the union movement at every available opportunity, not in spite of the achievements they have made on behalf of everyday Australians, but because of them.

We are the government that got rid of Work Choices. We are the government that gave people a fair go. I do not think that having a special relationship with the trade union movement where we give and return basic entitlements to people is a cause of concern to Australian workers. I do not think Australian workers are concerned at all when the Labor Party and the trade union movement stand up for their rights, stand up for the rights of their families, stand up for a fair go for all, stand up for equality of access and stand up for education being made available to those who need help: those from low socioeconomic backgrounds, those who are struggling on low wages. We are the government that makes education available to them, and we want to make education available fairly to them. We want the best education for those people. I do not think Australians worry about that. I do not think they worry about the relationship between the trade union movement and the ALP when they see a Labor government acting on behalf of working class kids, trying to get the best outcomes, the best social equity, for them.

Let me say, I think this motion is simply a joke. When anyone of any substance looks hard at the great achievements that have been made by Labor governments in conjunction with the trade union movement and the achievements that the trade union movement has made, they should be over there saying that the trade union movement is one of the great civilisers of our society. Every rich Western country has a strong, vibrant trade union movement. They are protectors of democracy. They are protectors of working people. I am proud to be part of it. I am proud to have worked as an electrician. I am proud to have been a blue collar worker. I am proud to have been a union official—aspiring to keep those values alive, defending working people wherever I could—and I am very proud to be a senator of the Labor Party, which has a fine history, a fine tradition and a great special relationship with the trade union movement.

5:40 pm

Photo of Arthur SinodinosArthur Sinodinos (NSW, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary Assisting the Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

This is an important debate. It is good that speakers from all sides can reflect on the role of trade unions in our society. May I begin by saying that there is no-one in the coalition who says that trade unions should not exist. This is not a debate about whether unions should or should not exist. This is not a debate about freedom of association. This is not a debate about governments taking action to rub out an important component of civil society. We all recognise the role that unions can play in society. But it is one thing to recognise the contribution of unions, one thing to say that they have an important role to play in our civil society, and it is another to ask: 'Do they have too much power, and is part of that power exercised by their ownership of one of the great political parties of Australia, the Australian Labor Party?' That is what we are talking about here. We are talking about who calls the shots, ultimately, in the Australian Labor Party.

We saw no better evidence of that on that night in June 2010, when a sitting Prime Minister was bundled out of office, overnight. He was basically persuaded that he did not have the numbers in caucus the next morning; he had to go. He did not put up a fight in the end. He saw that the numbers were against him and he went. That was the night when the faceless men—they were all men that time—were identified as the people who coordinated and put together the plot. Those faceless men: David Feeney, Don Farrell and Bill Shorten—before he was a superstar. These are people who have several things in common. They are members of the Labor Party and formerly members of the trade union movement in some form or another.

We had the spectacle that night of a member of a very senior union in Australia, the Australian Workers Union, Paul Howes—that shy and retiring Paul Howes, who shuns the media spotlight, who is afraid of the camera; he runs from the camera and the spotlight!—getting on national television to give a running commentary on what they had done to a sitting Prime Minister. The announcement was not even being made by a member of parliament. It was being made by a sitting trade union official: 'Oh, gee, oh, shucks, I've got an announcement to make: we've just removed or are in the process of removing a Prime Minister.' The gall! The Liberal Party did not have to do anything except sit back and watch as the trade union movement ordained, for whatever reason, that Kevin Rudd had to go. The order went out, and Rudd went.

One of the things that was not in Rudd's favour is that from time to time he had had the temerity to speak out against the unions. He had had the temerity to talk about how the Labor Party was meant to be a broader based, more representative organisation. He had the temerity to do that. In 2007, he showed that temerity by watering down the even more extreme proposal that Julia Gillard, the then shadow minister, I think, for employment and workplace relations, was bringing forward to unwind the coalition's Work Choices legislation. The first draft of the Fair Work amendments, as drafted by Julia Gillard, were even more extreme than the version which finally saw the light of day as Labor Party policy in the run-up to the 2007 general election. It was watered down by Kevin Rudd.

It was watered down by Kevin Rudd because Mr Rudd could see the damage that would be done to the image of the Australian Labor Party if the public were to see how much the parliamentary party appeared to be in the pocket of the trade unions. We know that they have to be in the pocket of the trade unions. They are owned: lock, stock and barrel. There are so many members of the Labor Party in this place—almost all of them—who owe being here to the union movement. They therefore have an obligation—a filial obligation, if you like—to defend the union movement to the last, and this creates a lens that they put on any piece of legislation which comes before us; a lens which has a very heavy trade union bias. That is why it is always a furphy when people say only 13 per cent of the private sector is unionised—yes, but through the union movement that is in control of the Labor Party they exert a disproportionate influence over the legislation and policy of the country. That is the point. The only thing ultimately that stops the Labor Party from doing more extreme things in favour of the unions is the potential for a public opinion backlash.

In 2007, Kevin Rudd watered down the Fair Work Act. We can imagine how more extreme it would have been if Julia Gillard had had her way in. Julia Gillard came to the prime ministership owing her position to those faceless men and to the trade unions behind them. So often during her prime ministership we have seen that she has had to genuflect to those unions because of how she owes her position to them.

When she came back from overseas and found that the redoubtable, long-suffering, beleaguered Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Chris Bowen, had put together the first enterprise mining agreement involving Roy Hill Mine, owned by Gina Rinehart, she feigned surprise that this had happened. When the unions got in touch with her, they said, 'We've got a problem with this.' All of a sudden she turned around, dropped Bowen like hot coals and said: 'We've got to have a proper review of this. We've got to have a jobs board. We've got to do this and we've got to do that.'

This was the case of a policy which had been carefully put together over 12 months, coming to fruition in this first enterprise mining agreement, suddenly being brought to a halt and requiring a further review because of a union backlash. That is not good for the culture of good government in Australia that there can be that sort of backlash and that sort of quick backtracking by a Prime Minister. We hope to be administering the biggest resources boom in Australia's history and we need to be putting in place a consistent, credible policy regime that will stand the test of time and which will be coherent. We cannot have a situation where unions can stop a whole process that has been going for 12 months if they find something wrong with a particular agreement. That is where good government comes up against the institutional ownership of the Labor Party by the labour movement.

There are many here who will recall the Cole royal commission into the building industry—something fiercely opposed by many on the other side. Senator Marshall, who spoke before me, formerly an official of the ETU, in his maiden speech to the parliament attacked the Cole royal commission and said it was a 'politically motivated witch-hunt' that was 'desperately trying to uncover non-existent union corruption in the building industry.' Further, he praised the Electrical Trade Union and 'its many fine members who I had pleasure to work with during my tenure there.' Yet this commission catalogued over 100 types of unlawful and inappropriate conduct, including by the ETU. As a result of that the Australian building and construction commission was established as a tough cop on the beat to take a strong stand against union thuggery in the building and construction industry. The Office of the ABCC had helped the building and construction industry to increase productivity by 10 per cent and provided an annual economic welfare gain of something like $6.2 billion, reduced inflation by 1.2 per cent and increased GDP by 1.5 per cent. The number of working days lost annually per thousand employees in the construction industry fell from 224 in 2004 to 24 in 2006. At the same time, building costs fell by 20 to 25 per cent and long project delays were dramatically reduced.

What did the Labor government do? In 2007, they promised, under employer pressure, to keep the Building and Construction Commission. But three or four years later, safe from that 2007 election, they watered down the building and construction commission—they defanged it. What has been the result? You only have to go to the Grocon site in the middle of Melbourne to see the result—the upsurge in days lost in the construction industry and the sort of lawlessness that is returning to the construction sector. Governments, apart from anything else, must uphold the law. They must not be seen to be turning a blind eye to the law. Construction is a sector where that is happening and that is not in the interests of good government.

Senator Marshall talked about the importance of consultation. He talked about how good government is about consultation. Yes, he is right. As part of that consultation, trade unions and stakeholders on many important matters should be consulted. But this government has a track record of not understanding what genuine consultation is about. We saw that with the mining tax, where they mugged an industry overnight with a punitive tax which was actually designed to extract more revenue than the government had estimated at the time. This was only realised when the mining industry finally got a look at it. They were mugged and essentially told, 'Take it or leave it. The numbers are baked into the budget.' Was that appropriate consultation with an industry? Is that the model of consultation that they want?

Contrast that with the consultation that has occurred recently with the trade union movement where we have seen a new shipping reform program put through which offers all sorts of concessions to the shipping industry to help preserve shipping industry jobs, because we are fundamentally uncompetitive in that sector. In return, allegedly, the Maritime Union of Australia have pledged a new productivity compact with the shipowners. We are still to see that productivity compact or any of its content. The reason the 1997-98 maritime dispute occurred is that a lot of people in Australia had had enough—shippers, customers of the shipping lines and customers of the ports. Our wharves were a laughing stock. Our crane rates were amongst the lowest in the world, if you measured wharf productivity that way. People say that what happened on the waterfront was pretty rough. But what had been happening on the waterfront for years with all the rorts was pretty rough.

We can go back to the early seventies, we can go back to the painters and dockers, we can go through the whole history of the wharves, but the fact of the matter is that from a history in the thirties of protecting workers from very bad conditions on the wharves the MUA by the eighties and nineties had mutated into this body that was holding Australian exports to ransom. That is why the Howard government took action. Admittedly it was tough action, but things had reached a point where consensus was not achieving anything. Bob Hawke had tried consensus when he was Prime Minister, and it had not worked on the wharves. Sometimes a government has to stand up and say, 'The government runs the country, not any one sectional interest.' If there is one boast I make proudly, as a member of the opposition and particularly as a member of the Liberal Party, it is that we have no institutional owners. We are not owned by anybody.

Senator Thorp interjecting

Yes, we have links with business, Senator Thorp, with big business and with small business. We have links with the middle class. We have links with aspiring working-class Australians. We have links with people who have made it in Australia. We have links all over the place. We are not owned by anybody. There are no bloc votes at our national conferences.

Photo of Chris EvansChris Evans (WA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Government in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

Oh, come on!

Photo of Arthur SinodinosArthur Sinodinos (NSW, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary Assisting the Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Evans, you are a very experienced former trade union official. You know what I am talking about.

Photo of Chris EvansChris Evans (WA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Government in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

You're going to tell me there are no factions next, aren't you?

Photo of Arthur SinodinosArthur Sinodinos (NSW, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary Assisting the Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

There are factions in all parties, but there are no bloc votes, and you know that, Senator Evans.

Photo of Chris EvansChris Evans (WA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Government in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

No I do not.

Photo of Arthur SinodinosArthur Sinodinos (NSW, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary Assisting the Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

None of this confected outrage from you, Senator Evans; we know your form. The Liberal Party is not owned by any section of society; that is very important to remember.

I am disappointed in the contemporary trade union movement. In my maiden speech I talked about the reform surge of the 1980s and the crucial role played by people like Bill Kelty. That was a trade union movement that was forward looking and progressive, that knew Australia had to change. Reform had to happen, and they were willing to help manage the change. Things like the superannuation system that Senator Marshall spoke about were part of the fruit of that sort of partnership.

Today the trade union movement has become fearful, defensive and inward looking. The union movement today wants to mandate job security. They are not outward looking, they are not progressing. They are not sponsoring reform; they are standing in the way of reform, and that is not good for the government of Australia. Australia needs to keep reforming, particularly now that in the period ahead the terms of trade will not be rising in the way they have in the recent past. Our productivity has to go up. Our competitiveness has to go up. Our costs are 30 to 40 per cent out of kilter with the rest of the world. Some of that is the Australian dollar but a lot of it is the way our costs have gone up, particularly during the mining boom, and those costs are now locked in. We need to be more productive and more competitive. We need a union movement that is a genuine partner in that task, and that means that we have to review the Fair Work Act, among other things. It means we have to review all the ways in which regulations potentially shackle productivity and innovation.

The trade union movement today, unlike that of the eighties, seems incapable of leading that debate and that change. It is too defensive. The trade union movement today is more concerned about the perks and lurks of being involved in the superannuation sector. We need a thorough investigation of the role of unions in industry funds and in the superannuation sector. The reason for that is there are too many instances where trade union officials are doubling up. They have their day jobs as union officials and they are trustees of super funds, and sometimes, as in the case of Bernie Riordan in New South Wales, they are also chairing financial service organisations that are providing services to those superannuation funds with which they are associated. What sort of conflict of interest is that?

This is the same Bernie Riordan who was one of the prime movers in blocking the privatisation of electricity assets in New South Wales along with his good friend and now opposition leader in New South Wales John Robertson. How is that good for the government of New South Wales, one-third of the national economy, and therefore good for the state of the Australian economy? Yet today we have the Minister for Resources, Energy and Tourism, Martin Ferguson, who is one of the few Labor people who tells it like it is in the economic sector, saying that states should be looking to privatise their assets. This government should be telling the ETU and everybody else who is in the way to cooperate with state governments to get that done. This will unlock resources which can be used for other, more productive forms of infrastructure.

How is John Robertson good for the government in New South Wales? He is now virtually irrelevant as Leader of the Opposition. Doesn't it say a lot about the structure of the Australian Labor Party that in New South Wales they can have a leader of the opposition who is one of the prime architects of the downfall of the former Labor government? This is someone who oversaw the destruction of that government from the time of Morris Iemma onwards. How is that good for the government of Australia?

These are the structural problems that Labor has to face. All political parties face their challenges. None of us are exempt from criticism from time to time, but this is a structural problem that is getting worse and worse. It is because Labor in one sense became too successful at gaining power and, to paraphrase Lord Acton, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The trade unions today have absolute power over the Labor Party, and that is the challenge that the ordinary rank and file of the Labor Party face. These are the people who are out there handing out how-to-vote cards; the ones who trudge up, doing their best, because they believe in old-fashioned Labor values. Then they see their party is effectively run by faceless men—mostly men these days. They think, 'There must be a better way.' No wonder so many young, idealistic people on the left have tended to shift to the Greens or other parties. They think, 'I can't get ahead in the Labor Party. The only way I'll get ahead in the Labor Party is to join a union; I'll have to be sponsored by a union.' That is not a great message to give young people.

This is a time when most young people look at unions and say, 'What can they really do for me in the modern workplace?' Senator Marshall talks about the protections provided by unions. The protection provided to every worker in Australia lies in the productivity and competitiveness of the Australian economy. That is what ultimately underwrites all the benefits that the labour movement and others have been able to get. Those benefits are there because we are a rich country—and, yes, there can be a debate about how we divide the spoils of being a rich country—but those riches were not gained by trade unions simply existing. They were gained by people working hard and having faith in the future.

Sitting suspended from 18 : 00 to 19 : 00