Senate debates

Monday, 28 November 2016



7:41 pm

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

I seek leave to move a motion to vary the hours of meeting and routine of business for today and tomorrow.

Leave not granted.

Pursuant to contingent notice standing in my name, I move:

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent me moving a motion to provide for the consideration of a matter, namely a motion to provide that a motion relating to the hours of meeting and routine of business for today and tomorrow may be moved immediately and determined without amendment.

The purpose of this motion is to enable the Senate to get on with the business the people sent us here to do. We are in the course of the debate on the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Bill and a related bill—the so-called ABCC bills. We have known from day one that the Australian Labor Party and their allies the Greens would do everything they possibly could to frustrate this debate to prevent the debate from being conducted and coming to a resolution this week. Why, one wonders?

Let it not be forgotten that this is one of the two bills that the government took to the people at the election on 2 July. This is one of the two bills that were the famous trigger bills for the double dissolution. We took advantage of the mechanism provided for by section 57 of the Constitution. We won the election and now we seek the passage through the parliament of the two bills which justified the double dissolution election and on which the public voted in voting on that election.

We know that the Australian Labor Party, with its shrinking base, is more and more, these days, the captive slave of a dwindling number of militant trade unions. We know, in particular, that there are Labor senators in this chamber, led by Senator Penny Wong, who owe their position here, as does Senator Wong herself, to the patronage and political support of the CFMEU. Those who do not owe their position to the patronage and the support of the CFMEU owe it—every last man and woman among them—to other trade unions.

Photo of Catryna BilykCatryna Bilyk (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

And proud of it.

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

You may be proud, Senator Bilyk, to represent a dwindling number of people in the Australian workforce who represent organised labour. We on our side of the chamber have no problem with organised labour, but we do say that organised labour ought to be the subject of the same rule of law and accountability principles as business and other industrial organisations.

For all of this year and before, you have heard my colleague Senator Michaelia Cash in question time and in debate describe, time and time again, the thuggery, the savagery, the disgusting behaviour which is the routine of the CFMEU. We know that the Heydon royal commission, which sat for over two years, concluded that the CFMEU and other militant trade unions were responsible for serial law-breaking and a culture of absolute contempt for the rule of law. So what does this bill seek to do? It seeks to restore the rule of law to the building industry, and industry which represents, according to some estimates, 11 per cent of Australia's GDP. Why would you stand against that? Why would you stand against a bill that does nothing more than try to restore the rule of law to what, on any view, is a culture and an area of the economy where the rule of law is not respected?

You have to wonder, Mr President, why it is that those opposite are so desperate to stop the restoration of the rule of law to the workplace and particularly to the building industry. I answered that question earlier in my remarks: because so many of them come into this place not as servants of the Australian people but as servants of trade union bosses. As servants of trade union bosses, some of them—not all of them—represent no-one and no interests but the interests of trade unions, including militant, lawless, savage and thug-like trade unions like the CFMEU. So let us get on with this debate.

7:46 pm

Photo of Katy GallagherKaty Gallagher (ACT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The opposition will not be supporting the suspension of standing orders nor the substantive motion tonight. It is interesting to get a lecture from the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Brandis, today of all days in this place about appropriate conduct and behaviour.

As far as the opposition goes—and I will stick to the substantive issue rather than debate the bill, which we will return to later tonight, it appears—the opposition have tried to assist as much as we can with the business of this place, and we are constantly treated with disrespect by the government. Tonight is a classic example of that. Rumours circulated in this place earlier this afternoon about potentially late sittings or motions being moved, and there was silence from the government until just before the bells rang, when they landed this motion into this place. This motion tonight signifies the dysfunction and chaos of the government, which do not seem to know minute by minute what is happening with their legislation, whether they have the numbers or how to organise their business.

Here we are tonight and before this adjournment by Senator Brandis debating one of the double dissolution bills—such a priority that it never even featured in the election campaign and it has taken four months to bring to this place! It has taken four months while they have scrambled around trying to do backroom deals to get the numbers locked in. We have been ready to debate this bill since we returned for this 45th Parliament. It has been the government that have refused to bring it on. Here we are facing extensive hours tonight, with a lot of speakers. We actually look forward to the debate on this bill. We look forward to defending working people's rights to organise. We do not fear the content of organised labour in this place. But what a joke from the government! Contrary to what Senator Brandis is saying—that we are not ready to debate this bill—we look forward to the debate and we look forward to putting forward the arguments as to why this is a bad law and why the Labor Party will oppose it.

We have seen in the last few days, as have the rest of the country, this sort of unseemly desperation from the government as they race around trading off whatever they can—whether it is water, guns or today the ABC board meetings that are now up for grabs. We will wait and see what other deals are being done in the pursuit of taking away working people's rights, because that is what this bill is about. We will remember this debate, because the government are seeking the mandate of this place for their ideological, irrational pursuit of unions.

On the broader procedural point, I would say this: last week we watched government senators filibuster in this place, like they do every sitting week. It does not appear that the government actually have a plan about how they organise their program. Last week, we had government senator after government senator speaking extensively on reports and committees and taking any opportunity they could to filibuster. Now we find out that we all have to pay the price for their lack of organisation of their program. Because the government cannot organise themselves, we are now facing the situation where we will have extended hours for two of the nights of this week, at least. Perhaps we will wait and see what desperate deal they do on Wednesday if they have not managed to get other parts of their legislation through.

The government do not ever seem to control their program. They do not control their speakers list and they do not control their speakers. Last week, for example, we gave up general business so that the government could get through some noncontroversial legislation, because they had failed to do that themselves. The opposition had to provide our time to allow the noncontroversial bills to go through, because government speakers had filibustered and thwarted, apparently, the government's program of getting legislation through.

I got a call from the Manager of Government Business in the Senate tonight at about 20 past 7, once the deal was done, saying that this was going to be moved at 7.30. We did not see the motion until after Senator Brandis was on his feet. This is no way to run a chamber, it is no way to run a government and it is no way to have a serious debate on a bill that is going to have a significant impact on so many people, particularly working people in this country. Sadly, we have come to expect this behaviour from the government.

7:51 pm

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I also stand to oppose this proposition that is before the Senate. This is an absolute rabble of a government. This is a government who say that they went to a double dissolution on this bill; yet during the election campaign, did we hear the bill debated? Did we hear any of the arguments that have been put up by Senator Brandis tonight? No, we did not. We did not hear those.

Senator Brandis interjecting

Senator Brandis says, 'Yes, yes.' Well, we did not, Senator Brandis.

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

You might not have been listening.

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Brandis, these issues were not debated or ventilated during the election campaign because you were too busy on the backfoot. You were too busy carving each other up, as you have constantly been carving each other up ever since you have come to government. This is another example of where you cannot control and you cannot manage the processes of the Senate. We have had a continuous speakers up here filibustering for weeks. We have had statements-in-reply to the Governor-General for a whole week last session. Opposition senators were getting up and actually waffling on about nothing of any import to this bill.

They were not prepared to bring this on because the numbers had not been put in place. That is fundamentally what it was: the numbers had not been put in place. The trade-offs were still going on. Who knows what sort of trade-offs are in there? I have seen one amendment that is supposed to be coming up. I tell you, it does not really fill me with any enthusiasm that there is going to any looking after of working people when this goes through. But this is not something that we should be surprised about, because this is an anti-worker government. This is a government who have WorkChoices in their DNA. They have WorkChoices in every bone of their body.

This is just another way they are trying to diminish working people's capacity to bargain and negotiate with their employer in some kind of level playing field. It is never to level the union movement, given the power of the people who put brown paper bags in the back seats of their Bentleys and then hand them over to the Liberals in New South Wales. They the people who are calling the shots: the developers in the building and construct industry and the big business in the construction industry. They bankroll the coalition day in and day out for election campaigns around this country.

If you want to talk about thuggery, just look at what you are doing to the democratic process tonight. The democratic process is clear. There have always been processes that are followed in this place. When you see an opportunity to disrupt the democratic process so that you can have another shot at working people's capacity to bargain, working people's wages and conditions and working people's penalty rates, that is what you will do. This is not about the rule of law. It is about handing over more power to the people who bankroll the Liberal Party and National Party.

If you really had some control over yourself, Senator Brandis, you would not have ended up having to make embarrassing statements to the Senate today that show your incompetence and your lack of capacity to handle your job day in and day out. You may laugh, Senator Brandis; but I can tell you that when you were making those statements, there was nobody behind you laughing. They all had their heads buried. You did not have much support. There was no rah-rahing in support of Senator Brandis when he was making that statement. Senator Brandis, you are an absolute embarrassment to what is really a poor government. Because you are such an embarrassment, it really says a lot about where you are.

This is a poor government, a bad government, an incompetent government. Senator Brandis, I think you also fit every one of those adjectives. You are not in command of your portfolio. You have got an absolute hide to come here and try to do what you are doing tonight to take wages and conditions away from ordinary Australians.

7:56 pm

Photo of Richard Di NataleRichard Di Natale (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I just want you to cast your minds back to three weeks ago. The Senate was sitting around with nothing to do. Three weeks ago, we were in this place trying to work out what we were doing here. I think we have this nonsense of an address-in-reply that was going on for days. There was about a week where we just had people standing up and basically speaking nonsense. That was for a week.

Here we are, a couple of days away from ending the sitting schedule, and we are being forced now to sit until midnight tomorrow night and god knows what time tonight. How on earth do you explain that? How do you explain that? The only way to explain it is that basically this place is being run by a bunch of incompetents. There is no other way to explain it. Three weeks ago, we had nothing to do. We had speech after speech after speech. It was like an episode of Seinfeld: it was a show about nothing. Here we are, with a few days to go, and we are being told this business is so important that we have got to sit here until midnight tomorrow night. God knows what time we are going to sit until to tonight. It is unbelievable.

We have come to expect that from the government. These guys are bumbling around. They are a government in search of an agenda at the moment. They finally stumbled on the ABCC. They did it in the election to the lead-up to the election campaign. They thought they had the two very important issues, but they did not mention them—not once—during the election campaign. They were the issues that dare not speak their name. Then we come back here and they are not mentioned it at all. With a few days to go, then suddenly they are the most important issues facing the nation—for goodness sake! We have come to expect it from this mob over here. They have got the reverse Midas touch. Everything they touch turns to crap!

But these motions do not get up with just the government on their own. These are motions that require the support of the crossbench. I was reading through reporting today that said, in return for Senator Leyonhjelm's support, he is guaranteed to have open board meetings within the ABC and SBS. You explain to me how on earth those two things are vaguely related. Maybe he got ABC and ABCC mixed up—he forgot a 'C'. But really—you are entering into a deal with Senator Leyonhjelm on an issue, completely unrelated to this bill, that somehow stipulates that the public broadcaster needs to have open meetings? This place has descended into farce—absolute farce.

Look at Senator Xenophon. I have lost track of the number of speeches that Senator Xenophon has given in this place talking to us about due process and how we cannot afford to gag debate and how we have to give all of these issues their due consideration and here he is supporting a motion that forces us to stay here till midnight—on the back of last week, when we were here till 2.30 in the morning debating the registered organisations bill, a bill no-one even cares about except for this mob over here. It was so urgent that we had to be here till 2.30 in the morning to sort it out. So that is Senator Xenophon—a man who thinks process is so important and that the Senate is the house of review. And now we have been told that a bunch of amendments have been stitched up in secret and we are going to be forced to consider those in the early hours of the morning. Please, give us a break. Senator Xenophon is the champion for South Australia, a man who believes it is so important that we ensure the Murray-Darling gets looked after. What has been agreed to on that front? Five hundred gigalitres have been ripped out of the Murray-Darling. We already know that that river system is dying—3,200 gigalitres is the bare threshold to keep those rivers alive—and now we are led to believe that somehow there is some agreement that is going to make sure that the Murray gets its flows.

Then we have the issue of steel procurement. One of the Greens amendments that we will be putting forward through this bill is to ensure that Australian steel is used in Australian projects. Again, this is an opportunity for Senator Xenophon to back up his rhetoric with reality—with his vote. We do not know what this bill does. We do not know what has been agreed to. This is a farce. You should be ashamed of yourself for putting this through at this hour.

8:01 pm

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

I want to take a few minutes to support the suspension motion moved by Senator Brandis. Our purpose in seeking to suspend standing orders is to allow a motion to be moved which will see the Senate sit this evening until speeches in the second reading debate are concluded and sit tomorrow night until midnight. The purpose is to ensure that we can make good progress through this bill.

This package of legislation was one of the triggers for the double dissolution election, and, contrary to what Senator Cameron said when he asserted that this was not something that had been mentioned by the government during the campaign, I am happy to advise that that is completely incorrect. The Prime Minister spoke about the need for the ABCC at the National Press Club in his final address before the election, the Prime Minister spoke about the need for the ABCC at the coalition's campaign launch and the Prime Minister spoke about the need for an Australian Building and Construction Commission in the national campaign debates. The Prime Minister spoke in many, many interviews during the course of the campaign about the need for the ABCC. So, this contention from those opposite that it was not something that was mentioned is just wrong. The ABCC is an important reform that this nation needs. It is one that those opposite have sought to thwart, time and again.

What we are seeking to do through our request of the chamber to suspend standing orders and agree to Senator Brandis's substantive motion is merely to facilitate the orderly conduct of the people's business in this place. This is not an unusual motion. It is not seeking to put a guillotine in place. As those of us on this side who have spent a bit of time on the other side of the chamber recall, the Australian Labor Party, when in government, sought to guillotine 54 bills in one evening without any debate. Guillotine 54 bills without any debate—that was the motion moved by the Australian Labor Party when in government. We are not seeking to guillotine here. We are not seeking to curtail opportunity for debate. To the contrary, we are seeking to facilitate debate. We are seeking to provide the opportunity for anyone who wants to contribute in the second reading debate to do so. We think it is a good objective to seek to conclude the second reading debates, but that will happen naturally. It will happen organically. When there is no longer a colleague who wants to speak, then the second reading question will be put. We are proposing that tomorrow we sit until midnight so that we can make some good progress on the legislation. That is our objective.

As the Manager of Opposition Business noted, sometimes agreements on procedural motions, with different groupings in the parliament, are reached only a relatively short period of time before the opportunity to seek to move a motion. That is what occurred tonight. I often say in this place that, in a chamber where the government of the day does not have a majority in its own right, the management of the chamber and the management of the legislative agenda is a shared responsibility of all colleagues in this place, because no one grouping can determine what happens. That responsibility is, from time to time, picked up by different groupings. I certainly acknowledge the Manager of Opposition Business and the assistance that she provided last week to facilitate the passage of some non-controversial legislation, and I appreciate that. On other occasions, there will be crossbench senators who will seek to facilitate the good running of this place. I acknowledge the crossbench senators for their cooperation and for their willingness to accept that the management of the program is a shared responsibility when the government of the day not have the numbers in its own right. We are, of course, always reliant upon and need to work with different groupings in this place—sometimes it is the crossbench; sometimes it is the opposition; sometimes it is the Australian Greens. I acknowledge those colleagues who are helping us on this occasion to ensure that the Senate chamber can operate effectively and that we can transact the people's business.

8:06 pm

Photo of Jacinta CollinsJacinta Collins (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

I agree with Senator Gallagher, Senator Cameron and Senator Di Natale that this exercise is a farce. Senator Fifield stood up and sought to explain what he described as a shared process. My message to the crossbench here is that shared processes only work until you exhaust your friends. Let me remind senators of some of the exhaustion that has previously occurred in this place. Senator Fifield said that this is an organic process. Senators need to remember the organic process that I described as a gag by attrition, which was the electoral reform matters. Senators should recall the electoral reform matters that enabled this government to call a double dissolution election where they barely referred to the significant legislation that they thought was required—and it has now taken close to five months to bring that forward to the Senate.

One senator said to me: why would you bother speaking on the suspension debate? The response I gave them was to point out in this hours motion the bottom line, which says that Senator Brandis is also to move that the question be now put. At 7.20 pm the opposition were informed that when we returned from the dinner break at 7.30 pm there would be an hours motion to be debated, so with 10-minutes notice the government brought forward a motion and expected no debate on it at all. That is what would have happened if Senator Brandis had been given leave to move the motion. Instead, he was forced to seek to suspend the standing orders so that we would have a mere half an hour to address this hours motion. Some of that time should be addressed to the crossbench because they need to understand what they are doing, because the next time it happens it will be one of them carved off for one reason or another because the shared responsibility that Senator Fifield refers to will not involve them on that occasion. So piece by piece process in this place is being destroyed.

The main senator I direct this point to is Senator Xenophon because I heard Senator Xenophon recently describe his distinction between a process gag and a content gag. As Senator Di Natale made the point, Senator Xenophon in the past has upheld a range of important process issues in this chamber but somehow he has been convinced that there is this niche distinction between process and content. Someone describe to me how fair process is encapsulated in 10-minutes notice of a motion that includes closure—I move: 'That the question be now put.' That is not fair process under any consideration.

Again, if this opposition had not denied Senator Brandis leave then there would have been no discussion of how this Senate now operates. How we operate is 10-minutes notice from the government that a deal has been stitched together and we are going to continue debate in this fashion. Let us look at what that continuation also means. It means second readers until we are all exhausted. If you are unfortunate to be lower down on the list, you might be unlucky to be giving your speech at midnight or 1 am. It could be 1 am when you are giving your speech and who knows what time you started in the morning. If you are like me and you like to spend as much time at home with your family as possible, you might have gotten up at 4 am to come to this place.

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

Oh, spare us.

Photo of Jacinta CollinsJacinta Collins (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Brandis says I should spare him. He might like to spend his time in the Savage Club, but I, frankly, have better things to do. A better thing I have to do is to devote sensible time when we are coherent to the management of the issues before us, which includes issues such as electoral reform—but look what you did then—and includes issues such as registered organisations, and people were sitting until 2.30 am last Monday. Now it includes this.

Photo of Barry O'SullivanBarry O'Sullivan (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The time for this debate has expired.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the motion moved by Senator Brandis to suspend standing orders be agreed to.

8:18 pm

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

I move:

That a motion relating to the hours of meeting and routine of business for today and tomorrow may be moved immediately and determined without amendment or debate.

I also move:

That the question be now put.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the question be now put.

8:23 pm

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question now is that the precedence motion moved by Senator Brandis be agreed to.

8:25 pm

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

I move:


(1) On, Monday, 28 November 2016—

(a) the hours of meeting shall be 10 am to 6.30 pm and 7.30 pm to adjournment;

(b) government business order of the day no. 1 (Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Bill

2013 and a related bill) be called on immediately and have precedence over all other business; and

(c) the Senate shall adjourn after the question on the motion that the bills be now read a second time is put, or a motion for the adjournment is moved by a minister, whichever is the earlier;

(2) On, Tuesday, 29 November 2016—

(a) the hours of meeting shall be 12.30 pm to midnight;

(b) the routine of business from not later than 7.20 pm to midnight shall be government business only;

(c) the government business order of the day relating to the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Bill 2013 and a related bill shall be considered; and

(d) the Senate shall adjourn without debate at midnight.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the motion moved by Senator Brandis to vary the routine of business be agreed to.