Senate debates

Monday, 2 May 2016


Leader of the Opposition

10:18 pm

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Australians woke this morning to the newspaper headline we all feared but suspected to be the truth—a headline that told us all we need to know about the man who would be Prime Minister of our great nation. Unable to rise to the occasion, unable to think of the national interest ahead of narrow sectional interests, the Leader of the Opposition declared that if he became Prime Minister he would lead like a unionist—those who represent about 15 per cent of the Australian workforce. He admitted that he still thinks like a union boss, the same thinking that saw him introduce the now discredited and thankfully defunct and misnamed Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, a tribunal that threatened the livelihood of tens of thousands of independent owner drivers, confirming—if proof were needed—that Labor is not a friend of small business, of the aspirational, of the hardworking or the self-employed. It is the same thinking that saw him shamefully address Australia's most militant union, the Maritime Union of Australia, on 26 February 2013, when he declared that he wished he could inject the MUA's spirit into Labor MPs.

Indeed, so embarrassingly beholden is the Labor leader to this militant outfit that he told them, 'There's no place I'd rather be, and I mean this with all my heart, than here with you.' And that was the very day after the boss of this union told delegates: 'Laws need to be broken. You're going to be locked up.' And the Labor leader's response was to tell the same delegates:

This is a pretty impressive conference because you get a sense there's something happening here.

You get the sense that you're a union who is determined to be true to its members and determined to stand up for its members . . . it is very, very palpable.

I wish we could bottle a bit of the spirit here and spread it on perhaps some of the members in the Labor caucus …

How sycophantic can one become? And it is for this particular union that Labor introduced the job-destroying and economy-wrecking coastal shipping changes in 2012—another insight into Labor union thinking. These were changes that have seen a 63 per cent increase in freight rates for Bell Bay in Tasmania, prejudicing hundreds of jobs; they were changes that, not surprisingly, have seen the number of Australian trading vessels with a general licence halved, from 30 to 15, in just a few years. There are 1,000 fewer coastal voyages and one million fewer tonnes of freight shifted by sea, and demurrage rates have tripled, from $15,000 to $45,000—all this havoc and economic dislocation legislated by Labor, intent on governing for sectional interests of a militant union whilst prejudicing thousands of onshore jobs.

But, for this Labor leader, championing the cause of the most militant of union bosses is just a little taste of his self-confessed thinking like a union boss. His so-called thinking extends to thinking that defending the most corrupt union is also a good idea. So at Senate estimates he sent in a senior Labor frontbencher to defend the likes of convicted criminal and CFMEU official, Luke Collier. He also besmirched the name of an honourable and highly regarded former High Court judge who presided over the royal commission into trade union governance—a royal commission which has seen officials plead guilty to criminal charges. So this would-be Prime Minister of our nation from the Labor Party besmirches a former High Court judge, yet defends the now convicted Craig Thomson of Health Services Union fame. This is yet another window into Labor's would-be Prime Minister's judgement and discernment—a window into his values, the values of a union boss; a union boss who even oversaw low-paid cleaning workers of his own union be deprived of penalty rates, public holiday pay, overtime and shift loading in the 2006 Cleanevent agreement. By 2010, this deal left workers with pay rates less than half what they would have been under the award. Under this agreement, level 1 casuals at Cleanevent were paid $18.14 per hour compared with the award rate of $50.17, and level 3 casuals at events on Sundays were paid $19.86 per hour compared with the award rate of $41.44. This extended his earlier 2004 Cleanevent deal which gave casual cleaning workers no additional weekend or public holiday pay. This would-be Labor Prime Minister has the effrontery and audacity to claim that it is the coalition that would strip these same rights from low-paid workers.

His thinking like a union leader does not stop there. This union way of thinking allowed not only cleaners to be ripped off but also mushroom pickers. As Victorian secretary of the Australian Workers Union, Mr Shorten oversaw an agreement to allow a group of mushroom pickers to be fired and mostly rehired as casual labour. It saved Chiquita Mushrooms millions from the abolition of overtime rates, amongst other savings. Now, what sort of thinking would allow that to occur? Chiquita paid the Australian Workers Union $4,000 per month, which the union claimed was 'paid education leave'. In fact, the former human resources manager, Joe Agostino, said the payments were to avoid union grief and facilitated good relations with Mr Shorten's union. Former managing director, Stephen Little, agreed that the payments were to buy industrial peace. The list goes on: Cirque du Soleil, Melbourne and Olympic Parks Trust agreements, and so on.

The workers of Australia in particular, but all Australians, have every right to fear Mr Shorten becoming Prime Minister of this great nation. Mr Shorten's timely confession has re-energised the ripped-off workers, the victims, those who have lost their jobs because of union corruption and militancy, the truckies and the self-employed to ensure that Mr Shorten's unionist thinking and leadership is never allowed to enter The Lodge.

Senate adjourned at 22:26