Senate debates

Thursday, 27 June 2013


Fair Work Amendment Bill 2013; Second Reading

8:21 pm

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) Share this | | Hansard source

The Senate is debating the latest instalment of the 400 pages of amendments to Labor's so-called perfect Fair Work laws. Remember the laws that were so good they were sacrosanct? The right balance had been achieved! No change was needed! Well, here we are, 400 pages of amendments later, in circumstances where Labor have previously said that there should be no change, especially before an election. Indeed, whilst Labor themselves were in government, way back when they actually had principled ministers and a principled government, right back when they used to know what they believed in, they were concerned to ensure that a genuinely right balance was achieved in workplace relations law, when they were about reform, and when they were about the national interest. They had a Minister for Industrial Relations, one Ralph Willis, who in 1987 said:

The government has decided not to go ahead with the industrial relations bill this session. The legislation will not be debated and will be left to lie on the table. There is already a large measure of agreement between employer groups, the union movement and the government on the legislation, but some significant differences remain. This government has constantly pursued a process of consultation rather than confrontation. Because of the remaining differences of view over the legislation, the government will have discussions …

That was the principled stand way back in 1987. Isn't it a pity that the current Minister for Workplace Relations, the man who thinks the job of Minister for Workplace Relations is simply that of an upmarket trade union boss, cannot show us the same sort of integrity, the same sort of commitment to the national interest. That was Mr Willis all those years ago. It is interesting when you consider that, only last year, the current Minister for Workplace Relations had this to say in relation to some amendments proposed by the coalition:

The reason we are opposing the amendments is that we had a policy on workers' entitlements before the last election, and we are implementing them. We do not believe that we should adhere to opposition amendments which were not flagged at the last election and are not part, as far as we can tell, of any appreciable opposition policy. It is policy on the run, which we have learnt about today.

Well hello, let us revisit where we are today. Where did these amendments come from? Was it part of Labor's policy at the last election? No. Was it part of Labor's Fair Work Review Panel recommendations? No. Where did they come from? Nobody will tell us—other than 'it is government policy'. Why is it government policy? Because certain trade union bosses have dictated it must be so. What we have here tonight is the Labor Party breaking their own rules that they have applied to the opposition and the principles that they used to apply when they were in government.

It is a matter of regret that, because of the Labor government's ruthless and arrogant guillotining of legislation, we will not actually have a committee stage to this bill. And how is it that the Labor Party, without a majority in this place, is able to guillotine this bill?

Senator Lundy interjecting

Senator Lundy asks how this might be so. Of course, it is because the Australian Greens are complicit. The Australian Greens, thus far in this parliament, have guillotined over 200 bills. When we rise tomorrow, the Greens will have voted and facilitated the guillotining of 216 bills. When the coalition, the Liberal and National parties, had control of the Senate we were accused of guillotining far too many bills through the Senate. Do you know how many bills we guillotined? Was it 200, 100, 50? It was 32 bills—and the Greens were apoplectic about it; it was 'an affront to democracy'. And here they are tonight, yet again complicit with the Australian Labor Party, guillotining 216 bills. Let there be no mistake, a Greens-ALP alliance in this place will abuse any majority given to it—and we do not only have exhibit A or B, we have 216 such exhibits. The Liberal and National parties are clearly the better custodians of the important role of the Senate in relation to the consideration and review of legislation.

Returning to the bill, I do ask Labor to explain the reason for, in this bill, expanding the right of entry for union bosses, allowing them to invade lunch rooms and go on joyrides. It has not been explained to us at any stage. It has been unable to be explained by the officials, the bureaucrats, the departmental officers who do their very best to defend the indefensible. Today Australia woke up with a new Prime Minister—and nothing has changed with this reincarnation of Kevin Rudd. With hands outstretched he says, 'I'm going to reach out to business. I'm going to be business's friend. We can work with business.' Well, he was given an opportunity this morning in the House of Representatives on 457 visas and he squibbed it. With all his talk about doing the right thing for business, he did completely the opposite on the floor of the parliament. Tonight Mr Rudd has the opportunity to ring his colleagues in the Senate and say, 'I actually for once meant what I said.' We know that Julia Gillard cannot rely on his word, and we now know that we cannot rely on his word either.

But this is what Mr Rudd said about right of entry when he was Leader of the Opposition in 2007:

Obviously a number of unions may be disappointed with elements of what we put forward, in particular in relation to right of entry provisions.

On another occasion, he said:

We believe it is important that we have a clear cut set of rules around that which does not provide unnecessary burdens for employers. We've got to make sure that when it comes to what's referred to as the union right of entry that that is prescribed to defined areas and properly authorised, and on the detail of all that, we're confident that we are going to get that balance right as well.

And he promised that there would be no change to the right of entry laws, as did Ms Gillard. In typical style it is already another broken promise, so two broken promises on his first day of being Prime Minister.

I turn to the right of entry provisions in detail. Labor moved amendments to their own bill in the other place to remove these provisions. Mr Shorten told my office that that is exactly what they were going to do. Minutes before he was going to move those amendments, do you know what he did? He told us he was not going to. You know what? I know how Julia Gillard feels, promising one thing and then doing the exact opposite moments later. He is a man with whom you cannot talk and make a deal or talk about the best way of running the workplace relations system in this country.

So ashamed are the Labor Party of this bill that they have ensured that it does not have a regulatory impact statement attached to it. This bill will affect every single employer and employee Australia. In those circumstances, would not a regulatory impact statement be appropriate? No, not when you are trying to rush things through in the death throes of a parliament and possibly a government and trying to ensure that everything is booby trapped on the way out. But we were told, were we not, by Ms Gillard and Mr Rudd themselves when they introduced the Fair Work Act:

I consulted for hour after hour with business leaders, with union leaders, with small business leaders to get the balance right.

And then she said:

We built a modern and fair system that has got the balance right.

If the balance was right, why is it that we now need these other changes to increase the right of entry entitlements of trade union bosses, which will allow them to invade the lunch room of every workplace in Australia in circumstances where only 13 per cent of the workforce are actually members of the trade union movement in the private sector. Why would you do something like that unless you were beholden to them lock, stock and barrel and especially financially? Clearly, that can be the only motivation because it did not come up out of the Fair Work Act review panel recommendations. It came up nowhere other than through the minister. The minister was so concerned, he himself moved amendments to have all that excised from the bill and then, at the last moment, said, 'I'm going to squib on the deal.'

I have been told by many a person in the business community that they had agreed to the Fair Work Act and its provisions on the basis of undertakings that they had made a deal and the balance was right. But then as soon as it was put through we have had amendment after amendment, 400 pages worth, overwhelmingly favouring the trade union bosses. Whilst we are on trade union bosses, isn't it interesting that Mr Rudd was willing to have Mr Joe McDonald expelled from the ALP? He is back in the ALP these days. I wonder whether Mr Rudd made some deal not to have him expelled again. What is the bet Mr Rudd, like on other issues, sold his soul to regain the Labor leadership, not on the basis of any policy change but because it is all about what he, the Prime Minister, wants, not for the nation but for himself.

Now here we are in the Senate, with the country Independents having sold out to their electorates and leaving this parliament in disgrace and shame. What I say to the workers of this country is: whenever a trade union boss invades your lunch room, consider it as the Windsor invasion because it was he that allowed this outrageous provision to remain in the legislation. He will wear that with shame as he does the past three years. He knows that his electorate never wanted a Labor government. His own personal bitterness in relation to the National Party ensured that this dysfunctional government was sworn in and then kept on life support for the past three years.

I turn to some of the family friendly provisions in the legislation to simply say they are good and they have the coalition's support. In relation to bullying, let me indicate that bullying is without doubt a scourge. It should be, as far as possible, removed from Australia. It is unacceptable behaviour. Having said that, we are debating workplace relations. Bullying should be removed from Australian workplaces. It is a scourge. The Productivity Commission has told us the huge economic cost. I would imagine that nearly everybody, if not all of us, in this place would say, sure there is a huge economic cost. But what also perturbs us is the social cost and the personal cost; they should be dealt with as well. We are all agreed that bullying does need to be addressed.

Why is it that when we put forward an amendment that suggests it might be an idea to have union bosses included, no, the Labor Party and the Greens, and the country Independents in the other place, could not have that? Union bosses do not engage in bullying! Employers might and workers might engage in bullying of each other, but they have never heard of bullying by union bosses—that has never happened! You know those horses that got bashed up at the Grocon site at the Myer Emporium?—that never happened!

When members of the CFMEU—actual paid-up members—are reduced to putting advertisements into newspapers pleading with their CFMEU bosses to stop harassing them and threatening them and to allow them to get to and from their place of work without intimidation, you know something is wrong. When that happens you know bullying is taking place. But we cannot have bullying in relation to union bosses included in this legislation! And that says it all about this government. They say bullying is something only employers do. Union bosses would never do it, would they? So the government ensure that union bosses are protected from this legislation.

Why is it that Mr Shorten and this government cannot realise that their task of being the Australian government goes beyond simply being a jumped-up trade union boss? Government ministers are ministers of the Crown. They have a duty to the national interest. They have to ensure that they look after all Australians and protect Australians who suffer bullying from trade union bosses.

The bullying regime was dreamt up quickly—so quickly that when we asked about it at Senate estimates just a little while ago the manager told us that they had not even advertised for the position to create this new jurisdiction. It was all supposed to start on 1 July—that would be in three days time—and the parliament has not even passed the legislation. So, to the government's credit, they accepted our recommendation that the start-up date should be delayed by six months.

But we also said that there should be a filter in this system—a filter that would ensure that somebody could not get all steamed up about being bullied in the morning and then go down to the Fair Work Commission and file proceedings at lunch time. And I got support for that proposition from the most unlikely quarters. People who are not the natural allies of the coalition said, 'It makes sense.' Do you think the government could see the sense? No. Dogmatic as always, they ensured that that amendment did not see the light of day.

I will move the second reading amendment standing in my name and also indicate that there are two lots of amendments to excise completely from the bill the right of entry and to ramp up the bullying provisions to ensure that they are practical. I move:

At the end of the motion, add “but the Senate notes that the Government:

(a) circulated amendments in the House of Representatives to excise Schedule 3 of this bill which would have removed the right of entry provisions, but decided at short notice to not proceed with these amendments; and

(b) has not explained why it decided to not proceed with these amendments”.

The reason I cannot speak to those amendments in detail and the reason we cannot probe these issues in the committee stage is because of the Green-Labor alliance guillotine. (Time expired)

8:41 pm

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I wish to make some brief contributions in relation to this important bill, the Fair Work Amendment Bill 2013. It is important because it deals with a number of issues. Some are good—particularly the family friendly provisions—but others may be job killers, and that worries me.

I will confine my remarks to a couple of areas, and I think it is worth reflecting on the contribution made by Professor Andrew Stewart, who is someone I have a great regard for. He is one of the academics who helped draft and develop the Fair Work Act. Two weeks ago today he was reported in The Australian as stating that the nation's workplace tribunal—the Fair Work Commission—risks being swamped by the new bullying regime, and that the ALP should have backed elements of the coalition's proposed changes.

Those people who know Professor Andrew Stewart, or know of him, would know that he is a well-known commentator on these issues. He worked with the government to help draft not these changes but the Fair Work Act, generally. In other words, he was among some of the leading thinkers in this field that were involved in scrapping Work Choices. He cannot be accused of being a friend of the coalition in relation to these matters. But I think it is fair to say that he is someone who has worked cooperatively and well with former Deputy Prime Minister and former Prime Minister Gillard when she had the carriage of these matters.

He has accused the government of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut in terms of unions having a greater ability to recruit non-unionists in workplaces. He has said that the evidence given by the commission's general manager, Bernadette O'Neill, to a Senate estimates hearing recently, was that the commission expected to receive 3,500 bullying complaints a year—almost 10 per cent of the total annual matters currently dealt with by the tribunal. He was concerned that the commission would be swamped by the work load. He said to Ewin Hannan, the industrial editor of TheAustralian:

I think there is a real risk that will happen.

He went on to say:

If you look at the numbers the commission has said it is planning on, now that's a huge number, as it is. It's very, very difficult to know what people will do.

He is quoted as saying:

I certainly think it would have been more sensible to build in some form of filtering mechanism to deal with bullying complaints.

He also made the point in relation to the right-of-entry proposal, which will allow unions to meet employees in their lunchrooms during breaks, that that has been sought by unions but opposed by the coalition and business groups. Professor Stewart thought the amendment was unnecessary, as the commission already had the power to deal with disputes about what meetings were held in workplaces.

The article in TheAustralian went on:

Professor Stewart said the amendment was unnecessary as the commission already had the power to deal with disputes about where meetings were held in workplaces. "It's a sledgehammer to crack a nut," he said. "The number of workplaces where there is a dispute about union rights of entry are incredibly small and the commission has got the power to deal with those."

The article continues to quote Professor Stewart:

"There are going to be a lot of workplaces where it is not obvious where the lunchroom is. I think, in the end, rather than coming up with a sensible compromise, we have ended up, through political posturing and unpredictable shifts in views from the independents, with something less than optimal."

I will just say that I was not one of the Independents who Professor Stewart was referring to.

This is bad news for our workplaces. I want to make this clear: I am not anti-union. When I was a member of the South Australian Legislative Council, I introduced legislation ahead of the government on right of entry provisions for union officials with respect to occupational health and safety, because I am passionate about helping to ensure that when people go to work they should be able to go home to their families, their loved ones, safely. I have dealt with many, many people who have lost loved ones as a result of horrific industrial accidents.

I pay credit to Andrea Madeley, a courageous woman who lost her 18-year-old boy Danny a number of years ago in a horrific industrial accident. Andrea Madeley has established VOID, the Voice of Industrial Death, which has been a great advocacy service for reform and a great advocacy and support service for all those who have lost loved ones through industrial accidents. I believe that there are circumstances in which right of entry for unions, where the regulatory framework has broken down—where there are not enough inspectors—can be a safety valve, in a sense, for unions to have. That is something that I maintain is appropriate.

But I also think that we need to look at this legislation and heed the warnings of Professor Andrew Stewart, a man who I believe is very reasonable and sensible in his approach and who by any measure cannot be considered a friend of the coalition on these matters.

I also want to reflect on the issue of penalty rates. Alone in this place, because the coalition does not share my views, I believe that something needs to be done about the small business sector—those genuinely small businesses with 20 full-time equivalent employees or less. They have been hammered by penalty rates. The changes in penalty rates have led to the loss of thousands of jobs around the country. I say that as a result of a comprehensive survey undertaken by Restaurant and Catering Australia from over a year ago that indicates that equivalent to 3,000 full-time jobs have already been lost in the restaurant and catering sector. I speak to small retailers day in and day out who tell me about how hard it is to survive with weekend penalty rates and they have employees, particularly university students, who are prepared to work for a reasonable rate—we are not talking about below the award; we are even allowing for a casual loading—on weekends. But they have cut back those hours or shut down entirely on Sunday because the penalty rates are simply too punitive. That is something that we need to consider.

My concern is that this bill will make it even less flexible and that this bill will be a job killer in some sectors. It is worth reflecting on what was said in a Sydney Morning Herald editorial on 11 February of this year. And I do not think that anyone can accuse the Sydney Morning Herald of pursuing through its editorials a right-wing industrial relations agenda. But it said this about the whole issue of penalty rates:

Economic growth without a significant population increase requires a flexible workforce to be paid fair and affordable wages. When laws prevent this and impose outdated standards to the detriment of job creation and higher incomes for all, it is time for modernisation.

It is also worth reflecting on what Peter Strong, the head of the Council of Small Business of Australia, said. Peter Strong, for anyone who does not know him, has been a fearless advocate for small business in this country. He has worked well with both the government and the opposition. He had a very good relationship with the Gillard government and with the former Prime Minister in working for small businesses. No-one can accuse Peter Strong of being some form of right-wing ideologue. But Peter Strong made this point in a committee appearance on the inquiry into the bill that I put up on penalty rates:

In those small workplaces, as you know, if you sack someone because of penalty rates on a Sunday then you have to look that person in the eye and say, 'I'm sorry; you have to go.' It hurts you. It hurts them more, because that is money gone, but it hurts a small business owner because this is someone who they have been working with, who they potentially value, who lives nearby and who is part of their community.

We need to look at this in a sensible way. This is killing small businesses. It is denying many Australians, particularly young Australians, job opportunities on weekend. I thought that the coalition was the party for small businesses. But you have abandoned small businesses by remaining silent on something that has hurt so many small businesses in this country.

I will not be accused, however, of being anti-union or anti-worker. I work with a number of unions on a whole range of issues. I have a very good and constructive relationship with Tony Sheldon, the head of the TWU, and have worked with him on the issue of the Qantas jobs that could potentially be lost because of the stupid, asinine and baffling management decisions made by Qantas. I work with the Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association and Steve Purvinas, the national secretary of that union, on the issue of jobs being moved offshore. I work with the CFMEU with Michael O'Connor, another union leader who I have great regard for, on the issue of dumping and Australian jobs being lost because of unfair trade practices and the importance of making sure that we can compete fairly in the marketplace. I will not be accused of being anti-union or anti-worker.

When young people come up to me and say that they lost their shift on Sunday that they were relying on to get through uni because the small business could not afford to stay open on the weekend, that shows that something is seriously wrong. We need to heed what the Sydney Morning Herald said in relation to that.

I would like to ask these questions of the government. The government is proposing to make workplaces less flexible. To me, a template of good industrial relations policy was that during the Hawke-Keating era. I think that they did a lot of good things. They were very good governments. The Hawke and Keating governments did a lot of good things for the economy. They drove productivity; they drove equity and fairness in the workplace. What we saw was a robust economy to a large degree and for most of the time that they were there. They put some reforms in place that put the Australian economy in good stead.

I am worried that what we see now is a less flexible workplace than in the Hawke-Keating era. I worry that we are denying jobs to many young Australians in particular. I am worried that the unemployment rate, while nominally at 5.5 per cent, does not in any way reflect the true unemployment rate in this nation, because we know that the Australian Bureau of Statistics measure of unemployment—which unfortunately is an internationally adopted measure—is a crock. Why? It is because you are considered to be employed as long as you are working one hour or more per week. So the level of underemployment is massive; the number of people who might have one or two or three hours or so per week is significant. The real level of unemployment is 12 to 15 per cent, and I fear it will go much higher.

So, this is not about exploitation; it is just about fairness, and giving those small businesses that want to do the right thing by the community a real opportunity. I want to ask the government about the current provisions of the Fair Work Act. The objects of the act include, under section 3(g), acknowledging the special circumstances of small and medium-sized businesses. However, this bill that we see before us, which has gone through a flawed process and has been criticised by the friends of the Fair Work Act, such as Professor Andrew Stewart, actually says that:

The FWC, in ensuring that modern awards provide fair and relevant minimum conditions, must take into account the need to provide additional remuneration for overtime; unsocial, irregular and unpredictable hours; work on weekends of public holidays; and shift work.

What about those students for whom, because of their study commitments, Sunday—the weekend—is the best time? What about those people who, because of their family arrangements, prefer to work after hours in those circumstances? And we are talking about people working well under 38 hours a week for that casual work.

I want to know from the government, on notice—because of this process whereby the debate will be guillotined—how section 3(g) of the act, in relation to the particular needs of small and medium businesses, will be considered in the context of these proposed amendments. Will they nullify 3(g)? How will it be dealt with? How will it be considered in a way that is fair and equitable? Perhaps I can just indicate, because there are a number of other speakers, that I have reservations about a number of the amendments in this bill. I think the process has been flawed. I want to acknowledge the important work the union movement does for the welfare of workers in this nation, and the work of the unionists I have a bit to do with: Michael O'Connor from the CFMEU, Tony Sheldon from the TWU and Steve Purvinas from the Licenced Aircraft Engineers Association. And I make it clear that none of them agree with me on the penalty rates provision, but I do not think my penalty rates proposals would in any way impact on their sectors, by and large, because it is about small business in just the hospitality sector and the retail sector, the two most vulnerable sectors in respect of penalty rates.

I want to make the point that unions play a vital part in our economy. I agree with people such as Bill Kelty that we do need to look at another accord. We do need to look at getting businesses, large and small—small business this time as well—to sit down with unions and government and work out how we can make our nation more productive—the sort of thing Martin Ferguson, who has made a valuable contribution in this place and in the union movement, has talked about: if you want to get a bigger share of the pie you need a bigger pie. We are going to shrink the pie with this piece of legislation unless it is amended in some meaningful way.

8:56 pm

Photo of Michaelia CashMichaelia Cash (WA, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration) Share this | | Hansard source

I too rise to speak on the Fair Work Amendment Bill 2013. When Mr Rudd was re-installed as the Prime Minister of Australia last night, the speech he gave after assuming the leadership of the Labor Party indicated that he wanted to take a certain direction in relation to where the Australian Labor Party would now go. One of the statements he made to the Australian public was that he wanted his government to work with the business community. In effect, he was acknowledging that the former Gillard government had failed to work with the business community in relation to a number of pieces of legislation that had been passed. On the basis of that statement, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator Eric Abetz, took the opportunity, in good faith, to write to the now Prime Minister of Australia setting out our concerns in relation to the bill that is now before the Senate. Senator Abetz basically said to the now Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, 'We take in good faith the statement that you have made'—and he made a number of statements, as I said—'in which you indicated that you wanted your government to work with the business community.' And in the letter that Senator Abetz sent to the now Prime Minister he set out a number of very serious concerns that not only the coalition has with the piece of legislation that we are currently debating but that business and industry—those people, those employers, who will be directly impacted by this legislation—have themselves set out in the submissions they have provided on this piece of legislation.

If you do not like what the coalition says in relation to this bill because you believe that perhaps the coalition and Labor have an ideological difference in relation to this type of legislation, you only have to listen to the concerns that were just put by Independent Senator Xenophon. Senator Xenophon gets on very well with the union movement and he himself introduced legislation, when he was a member of the South Australian Legislative Council, that dealt with right-of-entry laws. As he stated, he has very serious concerns in relation to the occupational health and safety of work sites. But even Senator Xenophon, in reading the legislation and in speaking with those who are directly impacted by this legislation, has set out some exceptionally serious concerns that even he says the government should heed before we pass this legislation. Indeed, in his letter to the now Prime Minister of this country, Senator Abetz said that this bill has received significant criticism from both businesses and unions. So it is not just business; even the unions have come out and criticised the legislation that the Senate is tonight passing under a guillotine. Senator Abetz further states: 'It would be advantageous if this bill were deferred until after the next election.' He then says: 'I note that many provisions of this bill were not foreshadowed before the last election and nor were they the product of the recent Fair Work review.'

It is a question of whether Mr Rudd really does want to differentiate himself in relation to the direction the former Gillard government was taking. By executing Ms Gillard last night and replacing her with former Prime Minister Rudd, the Australian Labor Party acknowledged that the direction they were taking under former Prime Minister Gillard was the wrong direction. Otherwise, why would the Australian Labor Party have executed former Prime Minister Gillard?

This bill is not a response to the government's own Fair Work review, and if it is not a response to the government's own Fair Work review, you have to ask yourself why the former Gillard government would bring such a piece of legislation before the parliament. There can only be one reason for it. There is one reason and one reason only that this bill has been brought to the parliament: it is that the militant union movement, as we all know, controls the Australian Labor Party and the militant union movement has demanded from former Prime Minister Gillard certain things they wanted passed before the 2013 election. Because the former Gillard government was controlled by the militant union movement the Senate is tonight debating a piece of legislation that merely responds to the demands of the unions.

This is not legislation that is in the national interest. It is not legislation that is going to further business and industry in this country. I remind those on the other side that governments do not employ people. We in this place do not employ one person in Australia. That is the role of business and industry in Australia, whether it be a big, medium or small business. The role of business in Australia is to give Australians jobs. The role of government should be to provide a policy environment that is conducive to businesses employing people. If government is not providing a policy environment that is conducive to businesses and industry employing people, only one thing happens. It is very simple: business and industry close down. When business and industry close down Australians lose jobs. That is a lose-lose situation for everybody.

Unfortunately, that is what we are going to see if this legislation passes. It will just make it that little bit harder for the employers in this country to do business. As so many employers have done under the former Gillard government and the former Rudd government, and quite possibly, now, under the current Rudd government, they will quite literally just close their doors. Again, that is a lose-lose situation for businesses and for workers, because if you do not have businesses and you do not have employers, workers do not have jobs.

The coalition is deeply disappointed that in bringing this bill before the Senate the government has effectively put aside the bulk of the remaining Fair Work review recommendations. Australians need to remember that it was this government that commissioned a review of the Fair Work laws. It was this government that had a body review the Fair Work Act and come up with a number of recommendations. Why did the government bother to have a review of the Fair Work Act and the Fair Work laws if the legislation we are debating tonight in the Senate puts aside those recommendations and says: 'We are not interested in what our specialist review panel said. All we are interested in doing is listening to the demands of the union movement and producing a piece of legislation that does nothing more and nothing less than respond to the demands of the union movement'? That is what this legislation does. Labor has used the so-called second tranche to grant additional union rights, without any reason as to why, and to respond to a separate report on workplace bullying.

What also concerns the coalition in relation to the rushed passage of this legislation tonight is that, yet again, as with so many of the pieces of the legislation the Senate has been forced to pass this week under a guillotine, we are tonight faced with passing yet another piece of legislation in relation to which the government has failed to conduct a regulatory impact statement. The government fails to abide by recommendations of their own Office of Best Practice Regulation. The role of the Office of Best Practice Regulation is to look at legislation and consider whether or not that particular piece of legislation is going to have an impact on business, industry or stakeholders. If the Office of Best Practice Regulation comes to the assessment that there will be an impact, it recommends to the government that it should undertake a regulatory impact statement. That would seem pretty obvious, because how do you debate a piece of legislation that is going to have an impact on business, industry or stakeholders without actually understanding what that impact is?

Yet again, the government comes to this place and asks the Senate to debate a piece of legislation on which, again, like so many pieces of legislation that we have been forced to push through this place this week, the government has failed to comply with the recommendations of its own Office of Best Practice Regulation and conduct a regulatory impact statement. Not only that, when departmental officers in the Senate committee hearings on this bill were asked, quite genuinely, 'Why was an exemption granted in relation to this bill? Why was the government was not required to provide or undertake a regulatory impact statement?' the departmental officers were unable to give the Senate committee an answer. That is because there was no answer.

It was a little like the exemption that was given in relation to the 457 bill that we are going to slam through this place tomorrow—again, under guillotine. Minister O'Connor looked at the legislation and did not like the fact that the Office of Best Practice Regulation had said, 'You are required to conduct a regulatory impact statement, because this legislation will have a severe impact on stakeholders.' Minister O'Connor did not like that, because he knew that there would be an impact, but he did not want the Australian public to know the extent of the impact. So what did Minister O'Connor do? He picked up the phone to the Prime Minister, and he said to the Prime Minister, 'I need an exemption from the requirement to provide a regulatory impact statement.' The Prime Minister asked, 'Why?' Minister O'Connor said, 'Exceptional circumstances,' and—lo and behold!—an exemption was granted. At a Senate committee hearing last week we asked the department what the exceptional circumstances were that would entail the Prime Minister granting an exemption from the Office of Best Practice Regulation's requirement that a regulatory impact statement be conducted. Again, the departmental officials looked at us and said, 'We have no answer to that.'

Given that this bill will affect every employer and every employee in Australia, the coalition believes that coming to this place tonight and debating this legislation would have benefited from a regulatory impact statement having been conducted so that not only the parliament could understand the impact of this legislation but also the community too, in considering these changes to the Fair Work Act, would be able to decide whether or not they were good or bad changes.

When I say that this legislation is being rushed through the parliament to respond to the demand of the union movement, you need to look at what Mr Rudd said about right of entry and the union movement way back in 2007. Way back when Mr Rudd was campaigning on the Kevin07 slogan, what did he say in relation to right of entry and the union movement in this country? This is what the now Prime Minister of Australia said in relation to the right-of-entry provisions. He said: 'We'll make sure that current right-of-entry provisions stay. We understand that entering on the premises of an employer needs to happen in an orderly way. We will keep the right-of-entry provisions. We will allow unions to get about their proper work but without disruption to businesses.' That was Mr Rudd at a press conference on 28 August 2007.

Then you look at what the former Prime Minister, and the now current Prime Minister, said in relation to union thugs. What did Mr Rudd say in relation to Mr Joe McDonald from the CFMEU back in my home state of Western Australia? Mr Rudd said:

The laws that we have in Australia concerning union right of entry—

because, for those who do not know, Mr McDonald is a serial offender in relation to breaching union right-of-entry laws—

if we're elected to form the next government, it would be identical to those which currently exist under this Government.

Remember, that was in 2007. It was the Howard government that was in power at that particular point in time. Mr Rudd went on to say:

I have no time for any thuggery from any individual and that includes this individual, hence my recommendation to the national executive that he be expelled from the party forthwith following his remarks yesterday

I have no time for any thuggery from any individual and that includes this individual—

and by 'this individual' he was referring to the CFMEU's Joe McDonald—

hence my recommendation to the national executive that he—

Mr McDonald—

be expelled from the party forthwith …

Again, the coalition says to Mr Rudd, as Senator Abetz said in his letter last night, if you really stand by the statements you made on assuming the role of Prime Minister of this country last night that you want to change direction and that—to quote from Senator Abetz's letter—'you indicated that you wanted your government to work with the business community,' why, then, is the now Prime Minister of Australia allowing this bill to be slammed through the Senate tonight?

What this bill does is completely contradictory to what Mr Rudd said in the lead up to the 2007 election in relation to the right-of-entry provisions. The right-of-entry provisions under this particular piece of legislation are being fundamentally changed and are well and truly swinging the balance completely in favour of the union movement. We have two concerns in relation to the right-of-entry provisions. One is that the right-of-entry provisions will relate to the default location. If the employer and union official cannot agree, the default location becomes the lunch room. Our other concern relates to the employer being liable for travel costs for union officials exercising a right-of-entry permit in a remote location.

In relation to those two provisions of this particular bill, there is one thing that is glaringly obvious, and that is that neither of those two provisions were recommended by the Fair Work Act review panel. The Fair Work Act review panel was commissioned by the Labor government to conduct a review of the fair work laws in Australia. It made certain recommendations, but none of those recommendations form part of the legislation that will be slammed through the Senate tonight under guillotine. In particular the recommendations in relation to right of entry, the recommendations that the default location be the lunchroom and that the employer be liable for the costs of a union official exercising a right of entry permit were not recommended by Labor's own Fair Work review panel.

Despite what Mr Rudd said in 2007 and despite what former Prime Minister Gillard said in relation to right of entry laws, because former Prime Minister Gillard is also on the record as saying that she would not change the right of entry laws, that is exactly what we are going to be doing tonight if this legislation passes the Senate. On the basis that the provisions in relation to right of entry were not part of the government's own recommendations from its own Fair Work review panel, the only conclusion that we can come to is that, once again, like so many pieces of legislation that have been slammed through the Senate tonight, they are not in the national interest, they are not in the interest of employers and employees, they are only in the interest of the militant union movement who control the Australian Labor Party.

9:16 pm

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

I am very pleased to support the Fair Work Amendment Bill 2013 on the floor of the Senate. I think I would be one of the senators in this place who have used right of entry over nearly 27 years as a union official. I know how employers have sought to restrict union officials providing workers with advice, providing workers with protection and trying to ensure that workers get a fair go on the job.

Let me, firstly, speak about Senator Abetz, because Senator Abetz was quoted by Senator Cash. Senator Abetz was the main advocate for the Howard government in this place to promote Work Choices. Senator Abetz chaired the committee that handed tens of millions, maybe hundreds of millions of dollars to a coalition government to tell workers through the media that Work Choices would be good for them and that allowing the employer more flexibility would create more jobs. For Senator Abetz to come in here with any credibility on workplace relations issues is an impossible task, because Senator Abetz has no credibility on workplace relations issues, through being the architect of Work Choices in the Senate and the defender and promoter of Work Choices in the Senate. I will come back to Work Choices.

Secondly, we have Senator Xenophon. Senator Xenophon and I would agree on many issues and we would disagree on many issues as well. I have had discussions with Senator Xenophon on what seems to me to be his phobia of penalty rates and this discredited argument that you will simply create more jobs by denying workers on low rates of pay the capacity to get a penalty rate. When I was a low-paid tradesman, when I first came to Australia, it was penalty rates that kept food on my family's table, it was penalty rates that let me save up to buy a car and it was penalty rates that allowed me to take my kids on a holiday.

I just do not think it is right for people who have had a privileged and wealthy upbringing to lecture anybody in here about getting rid of penalty rates, because penalty rates are so important for so many people. If employers cannot arrange their businesses flexibly enough, with all the flexibility they now have, without having to rip away at workers rights and conditions, including penalty rates, then they should go and do something else, because obviously they are incompetent, ineffective employers. That is the bottom line.

After 27 years as a trade union official I just get a bit sick of the rhetoric you hear, the demonisation you hear from the coalition on the role of the trade union movement in this country. I would put my record as someone promoting productive performance in the workplace, someone promoting best practice in the workplace, someone promoting good industrial relations in the workplace against any coalition senator in this place. I did it for a living. I was looking after workers, having to argue with workers that they had to improve productivity, having to argue with workers that some of the work practices in place had to be changed.

What is never mentioned in here is that the great revolution on productivity under the Hawke-Keating governments was a revolution that was facilitated by the trade union movement. Without the trade union movement going out and arguing for improved work practices on the job, for increased skills on the job, then this productivity revolution that you hear so much about would never have taken place. It was the trade union movement that also said, 'If you want us to be flexible then you have to look at the whole productive performance of the organisation.' It was the trade union movement that ran the best practice campaign to ensure that it was not just an exercise of cost-cutting, of ripping away at workers' penalty rates, their shift allowances and other allowances that they had gained over the years. It was the trade union movement who said that you actually have to look at a whole range of issues. Those issues include the quality of management on the job. We argued as the trade union movement that best practice, that productive performance, required a range of issues to be dealt with. That was about getting decent management systems in place, modern management systems.

When I first became a union official in the early eighties there were not many companies that had a business plan in place. The first business plans started to come into the manufacturing industry when the Hawke government started paying to have business plans put together in companies around this country. That is how great the management was in this country. There were no business plans in the early eighties, and we wondered why we could not have an international vision, we wondered how we could not be productive and we wondered why we could not compete internationally—because the management systems were absolutely ridiculously poor. Towards the end of the Keating government there was an inquiry undertaken by David Karpin, a senior executive of Rio Tinto at the time. This was not some union stooge coming in and saying that you have to do certain things. What David Karpin said was that the management systems in this country were abysmal and that they did not meet international standards that were required for industry to compete effectively in a global economy. He set out a range of recommendations to improve the productive performance of management in this country. That was one issue: getting management systems in place that actually facilitate improving productivity.

The other areas are the areas that you hear lots of discussion about: research and development. The manufacturing industry over the years has become a huge base for research, development and innovation in this country. That is why, if we rip away at the manufacturing industry, the capacity for this country to have a broad based economy and to have decent jobs for working people will be massively diminished, because we cannot simply be a quarry, we cannot simply be a farm and we cannot simply be a tourist destination; we have to have a broad based, high-skill economy for the future of this country.

A few years ago, when you spoke to a manager—not only in the manufacturing sector but around the country—about how you could improve logistics, they did not know what the word 'logistics' was, until it started to be written on the back of trucks. The logistics of getting a product from one spot to another, making sure it moved effectively and efficiently from the suppliers to the factory and out of the factory to the consumer was not a concept that was there. But we, under the Hawke and Howard governments, and I as a union official in that period, looked at all these issues. I was on the government's best practice committee, both as the Assistant National Secretary of the Manufacturing Workers Union and the National Secretary of Manufacturing Workers Union. We looked at companies all over the world with government officials and business people to see how you increase productivity, and you do not do it by simply coming here and slandering good unions, slandering good union officials and slandering workers who want representation through the union movement, as we see time and time again from those on the opposite side.

It is about decent, quality products. Certainly it is about cost, but that is only one element. It is about cost, it is about quality, it is about research and development, it is about innovation, it is about logistics and it is about management systems. It is not about what the coalition simply see as their holy grail, and that is achieving Work Choices again. We know that they really want to implement Work Choices again; they just do not want to say the name 'Work Choices'. What they are saying is that they will have an inquiry into productivity. That will go to my favourite organisation: the Productivity Commission—stacked full of academics, stacked full of people with PhDs and stacked full of people who have never been on a workshop floor in their life, pontificating about how workers can improve their productivity, looking at all the right-wing theories and trying to implement them through the reports. I am not a fan of the Productivity Commission because I have seen them in action. That is why the coalition are seeking to use the Productivity Commission as the basis to attack workers' rights and use the Productivity Commission as a front.

Let's look at the issues in this bill. There are family flexibility, stopping bullying, making sure that workers get access to their unions through right of entry, resolving intractable greenfield bargaining and other bargaining, and making sure that penalty rates are part of a worker's right in their award. We know that that is an anathema to the coalition. The coalition hate the thought of ordinary workers having access to a union, and that is why Work Choices was implemented.

Senator Polley interjecting

Certainly, it is in their DNA, Senator Polley; it is absolutely built into their DNA; they could never get it out. Just to prove that, we had the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Abbott, who was a Work Choice warrior along with Senator Abetz, saying that it is dead and buried, but then he wrote a book called Battlelines. In a chapter called 'Unfinished business' he talks about Work Choices not being that bad. In his book, that is his DNA coming right out onto the paper.

A government senator interjecting

Yes, you can believe it. The Leader of the Opposition, for those who cannot remember, has said if he writes it down then you can believe it. But what he is not saying is that if he just says it then you cannot believe it. That is the DNA of the coalition on industrial relations.

What did Work Choices give us? Work Choices gave us the situation in the individual agreements that were put in place—this is from a federal department assessment by DEEWR—that 16 per cent of 250 AWAs expressly excluded all protected award conditions. So the flexibility that the coalition loves was to get rid of all award conditions. The Labor Party thinks that award conditions should be strong, robust and protect minimum standards for workers. Penalty rates were excluded from 63 per cent of AWAs. Shift loadings were excluded from 52 per cent of AWAs. Only 59 per cent of AWAs retained public holidays. Twenty-two per cent of AWAs provided for a wage rise during the term. So over 78 per cent had no wage rises during the term of the AWAs. So when Senator Cash comes in here and uses terms such as 'the militant union movement' and 'the thugs in the union movement', we know it is all a cloak. It is all rhetoric to try to implement more and more limitations on workers' rights to get access to a union. That is what it is about.

This bill takes a completely opposite position to Work Choices. It is not about ripping workers' rights away; it is about looking after workers. As a former union official and as a senator for the Labor Party, I am proud to look after working people. I do not come here, as some have, and skite about my past life as a lawyer working for the big end of town ripping away workers' rights, because I believe workers have the right to have a decent standard of living.

To come in here and argue that the only people who create jobs in the community are those in business is ideological claptrap. A lot of businesses could not even operate without government. They depend on government to provide the roads, rails and other infrastructure that keep their business going. You would think that a business sets up and somehow all the roads appear around the business. You would think that all the schools suddenly appear out of the blue because a business sets itself up. You would think that all the hospitals are set up by business. What a load of nonsense to say that business people are the only people who create jobs. Of course businesses create jobs. But businesses depends on government to create the infrastructure to make sure that they can compete effectively throughout the nation. I am just a bit sick and tired of the ideological nonsense we hear from the other side of this chamber.

'We have to make it conducive for business to employ people,' says Senator Cash. Do you know what 'conducive' means under Senator Cash's definition? It means more flexibility—that is, fewer penalty rates and lower wages. That is what makes it conducive for business. You never hear that lot over there ever complain about the $10.5 million severance payments that big business give themselves. Is that a problem for productivity? You never hear about that from over there. Is that a problem for fairness and equity? It is never discussed over there. Big business can be absolutely incompetent. Business leaders can be absolutely incompetent and send a company nearly to ruin and pick up $10.5 million and walk away. Many workers would never see a fraction of that in their whole working lives. So I am not interested in the nonsense you hear from over the other side of the chamber.

Their argument is that if you do not have employers you will have no jobs. Well, what a revelation that is! That is part of the fear campaign that the coalition run on every issue. If you ever want to understand where the coalition are coming from in an argument, go with the fear factor. They say if you look after workers' rights then jobs will disappear. They say if you try to protect workers so that they can access their union then jobs will disappear. It is ideological claptrap with absolutely no evidentiary basis whatsoever. They are the Work Choices warriors on the other side. They would rip everything away from workers. This legislation is about giving Australian workers a fair go. We should give Australian workers a fair go, reject Work Choices, reject the ideological claptrap from those on the other side and make sure we get decent conditions for good workers in this country.

9:36 pm

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

What a shame. The first half of Senator Cameron's contribution tonight was full of wisdom. I stood here and thought to myself, 'At long last we are going to have a meeting of the minds.' But Senator Cameron talks about DNA, and in the second half of his contribution tonight he reverted to form. I will come back to that.

I stand here this evening very proudly, as Senator Cameron leaves the room, as the grandson of Tom Back, who was the secretary of the Lumpers' Union, which became the Waterside Workers Union. I think these days it has morphed into the MUA. Senator Cameron, he was the secretary of that union at a time when he was there to actually defend the workers.

Honourable Senators:

Honourable senators interjecting

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

Sit down, if you would, Senator Cameron, and you might learn something! I come from a family, if you don't mind, in which the respect for working Australians, the respect for new jobs, the respect for people both from the employer and employee side was mutual. If Tom Back were alive today—I have to say to you, Senator Cameron, if you go to his grave at the Fremantle Cemetery you will find that the gravestone was put there by the Lumpers' Union as a credit to the work that that man did. Unfortunately, in the second half of your contribution tonight you caused exactly the circumstance that we find ourselves in this evening.

I will reflect on two speeches given recently by Martin Ferguson. The first was in March, when he resigned his ministry, and the second was his valedictory speech. What a shame it is; I am sure that what Martin Ferguson said is imprinted on Senator Cameron's mind alongside his—

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is Mr Ferguson, Senator Back.

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

Mr Ferguson—alongside his DNA. Mr Ferguson recognised two things. The first is that unless the interests of the employer and the employee are closely aligned their organisation is bound for its demise. The second thing understood by Mr Ferguson—whom I will give credit throughout Australia, particularly in my state of Western Australia, as an excellent resources minister who understood industry—is that everybody's interests are best served when the size of the cake is increased. It was not like the rant that we have just heard from Senator Cameron, who would have us divide up the existing cake until such time as there are only crumbs left for everybody.

Let me share with you my experience as an employer, contrary to Senator Cameron's experience. I knew David Karpin and I agree somewhat with Senator Cameron's comment that Karpin was commissioned to go around the world to see where best practice existed and how it could be brought back into Australian industry. I was a government sector employer at that time; I was with a government trading enterprise. I have to say that, contrary to the nonsense that we have heard from Senator Cameron this evening, my objective, which I achieved successfully through seven years in that job running a government trading entity, was to ensure that not only did my employees retain what was due to them but we turned it from a loss-making venture into a profit-making venture. We assured the security of employment for those people. I then moved to a private sector company. I know that I am not allowed to use visual aids in this place, Mr Deputy President

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You are correct.

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

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

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

Senator Sinodinos interjecting

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senator Bilyk interjecting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He added that he and his union and people:

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

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

I said to him:

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

First of all he said:

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

and he had—

the honour of being ambassador of the year ….

We are very much opposed to bullying in the workplace.

So I said to him:

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

And he agreed.

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

Senator Bilyk interjecting

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

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

9:56 pm

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

Our Senate leader has been eloquent tonight in describing the problems with this legislation and the lengths to which the opposition has gone in order to try and improve it. Sadly, it seems to have fallen on deaf ears. I have to say that on his first day on the job, the new Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has shown he is no less a captive of vested interests, in this case the trade union movement, than his predecessor was, someone who did her best to narrow the base of the Labor Party to the trade union movement.

Senator Cameron, in his contribution on this bill, talked about flexibility and what 'flexibility' is a code for. Flexibility is code for more jobs. It is code for higher productivity. Flexibility is all about equipping workers to better deal with the changing workplace. It is about flexibility between workers and their bosses and employers to come to win-win deals which allow them to improve productivity and competitiveness in a cooperative way. What we have here it is a party, is a government, which believes that the answer to all industrial problems is more and more regulation.

I note, as Senator Back mentioned, there is no regulatory impact statement to go with this legislation. What has the government got to hide? If the benefits of this legislation outweigh the costs, why not put them out there? Why not demonstrate it to the public? Why not try and take the public with you? I will tell you what is happening here: the unions are getting in for their last chop. They think the writing is on the wall. They think the government is on the way out, and they are squeezing every last piece of legislation, every last piece of 'protection' they can get out of this government. That is the shame of all of this. Yet another bill that has been exempted from the need for a regulatory impact statement.

I have to say that the role that the unions play in the governance of the Labor Party means that elected officials are under considerable pressure to agree to things which they may in their heart of hearts believe are not in the public interest. They are persuaded to do so, because their union paymasters have said they should be done. Kevin Rudd has talked about offering an olive branch to business and working with business. But along with Julia Gillard in opposition, he was one of the authors of the policy Forward with Fairness that became the basis of the Fair Work Act, which has re-regulated the labour market. He talks about picking up the mantle of reform from the Hawke-Keating era, and yet he wrote an essay at the height of the global financial crisis attacking so-called neoliberal economic policies and casting aspersions on the very heritage of Hawke and Keating, who went to great lengths to help open up the economy with the support of the coalition. That is the hypocrisy of this Prime Minister. He wants to extend an olive branch to business, and behind his back he has a baseball bat and it is called the Fair Work Act.

This is no way forward for industrial relations in Australia. The coalition have a policy which restores balance in the workplace and we will implement that policy after 14 September, or whenever the election is.

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Order! The time allotted for the consideration of this bill has now expired. The question now is that the second reading amendment on sheet 7419 moved by Senator Abetz be agreed to.

12:00 am

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The question now is that the bill be read a second time.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

The question now is that amendments numbered (1) to (27) on sheet 7389 circulated by the opposition be agreed to.

Opposition's circulated amendments—

(1) Schedule 3, item 1, page 16 (line 6), omit "allows a worker", substitute "allows a worker or employer".

(2) Schedule 3, item 3, page 16 (line 17), omit "Workers bullied at work", substitute "Workers or employers bullied at work".

(3) Schedule 3, item 4, page 16 (line 21), omit "workers bullied", substitute "workers or employers bullied".

(4) Schedule 3, item 5, page 17 (line 1), omit "workers bullied", substitute "workers or employers bullied".

(5) Schedule 3, item 6, page 17 (line 5), omit "Workers bullied", substitute "Workers or employers bullied".

(6) Schedule 3, item 6, page 17 (line 8), omit "a worker who", substitute "a worker or employer who".

(7) Schedule 3, item 6, page 17 (line 9), omit "stop the bullying", substitute "stop the bullying after seeking advice from the Fair Work Ombudsman or Safe Work Australia or such other organisation as prescribed by the regulations".

(8) Schedule 3, item 6, page 17 (line 12), omit "Stopping workers", substitute "Stopping workers and employers".

(9) Schedule 3, item 6, page 17 (line 14), omit "A worker who", substitute "Subject to subsection (1A), a worker or employer who".

(10) Schedule 3, item 6, page 17 (line 15), omit "at work", substitute "at work by a worker, employer or official of a registered organisation".

(11) Schedule 3, item 6, page 17 (after line 15), after subsection 789FC(1), insert:

  (1A) Prior to applying to the FWC for an order under section 789FF, the worker or employer must seek preliminary advice from one of the following organisations confirming that the behaviour in question does, or may, constitute bullying and that alternative remedies have been considered:

(a) the Fair Work Ombudsman;

(b) Safe Work Australia;

(c) an occupational health and safety organisation of a State or Territory prescribed by the regulations pursuant to subsection (1B).

  (1B) The Governor-General may make regulations prescribing an occupational health and safety organisation of a State or Territory. However, if the Governor-General makes the regulation, the regulation must include at least one occupational health and safety organisation from each State and Territory.

(12) Schedule 3, item 6, page 18 (line 3), omit "worker bullied", substitute "worker or employer bullied".

(13) Schedule 3, item 6, page 18 (line 4), omit "A worker", substitute "A worker or employer".

(14) Schedule 3, item 6, page 18 (line 5), omit "the worker", substitute "the worker or employer".

(15) Schedule 3, item 6, page 18 (line 8), at the end of subparagraph 789FD(1)(a)(ii), add "or".

(16) Schedule 3, item 6, page 18 (after line 8), after subparagraph 789FD(1)(a)(ii), insert:

     (iii) an official of a registered organisation;

(17) Schedule 3, item 6, page 18 (line 9), omit "the worker", substitute "the worker or employer".

(18) Schedule 3, item 6, page 18 (line 10), omit "group of workers of which the worker is a member", substitute "group of which the worker or employer is a member".

(19) Schedule 3, item 6, page 19 (line 12), omit "a worker", substitute "a worker or an employer".

(20) Schedule 3, item 6, page 19 (line 14), omit "the worker", substitute "the worker or employer".

(21) Schedule 3, item 6, page 19 (line 16), omit "the worker", substitute "the worker or employer".

(22) Schedule 3, item 6, page 19 (line 18), omit "order it considers appropriate", substitute "order it considers appropriate, including an order revoking a union right of entry permit,".

(23) Schedule 3, item 6, page 19 (line 20), omit "the worker", substitute "the worker or employer".

(24) Schedule 3, item 6, page 19 (line 27), omit "the worker", substitute "the worker or employer".

(25) Schedule 3, item 6, page 19 (line 30), omit "the worker", substitute "the worker or employer".

(26) Schedule 3, item 6, page 20 (line 7), omit "a worker", substitute "a worker or employer".

(27) Schedule 3, item 6, page 20 (line 8), omit "the worker", substitute "the worker or employer".

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The question now is that schedule 4 and part 5 of schedule 7 stand as printed.

Opposition's circulated amendments—

(2) Schedule 4, page 23 (line 1) to page 31 (line 29), TO BE OPPOSED.

(3) Schedule 7, Part 5, page 54 (line 22) to page 55 (line 9) TO BE OPPOSED.

10:14 pm

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The question now is that amendment (1) on sheet 7390 circulated by the opposition be agreed to. I understand this is a consequential amendment on the amendment that we have just considered.

Opposition's circulated amendment—

(1) Clause 2, page 2 (table item 7), omit the table item.

Question negatived.