Tuesday, 26 November 2019
I seek leave to move a motion to provide for the consideration of the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2019.
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 Senator Cormann moving a motion to provide for the consideration of a matter, namely, a motion to provide that a motion relating to the consideration of the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2019 may be moved immediately and determined without amendment or debate.
In relation to the suspension of standing orders that the Leader of the Government in the Senate has moved, let's be clear what we are voting on right now. The government is moving this motion so that it can ram through its extreme anti-worker legislation. That's what's happening. This bill, the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2019, doesn't apply to business, it doesn't apply to the banks, it doesn't apply to Angus Taylor and it doesn't apply to Senator Cash; it only applies to working people and their representatives. It is an all-out assault on workers' ability to organise, run their own union and determine who leads them. It is an attack on nurses, midwives, teachers, police officers and their representatives.
This bill is called the 'ensuring integrity bill', but do you know what it is? It is just like Work Choices. I was here for the Work Choices legislation, and you lot haven't changed since then! You couldn't care less about integrity. You want to hide information from the people of Australia. You're a government that is loose with the truth—and I tell you what: oh boy, are you a government that doesn't like scrutiny!
We've seen Angus Taylor, who has blocked FOI access to 200 documents and refused to answer questions. If you were serious about integrity, we might have some legislation for a national integrity commission. But no. We've got a motion on this bill.
What about the banking royal commission? Last year big banks made billions of dollars from ordinary Australians by routinely breaching the law, but you're not here today to crack down on lawlessness in the banks. You're not here to implement the recommendations of the royal commission. In fact, after 299 days you've implemented six out of 76 recommendations of the royal commission you were dragged kicking and screaming to support. In fact, this government, which talks about integrity, is trying to ram through antiworker legislation in a week when it was revealed that Westpac breached Australian money-laundering laws 23 million times and failed to act on customers using its services to purchase child exploitation materials. But is this your priority? No. You know what the Prime Minister says? He says that lawlessness—23 million breaches of the law and abetting child abusers—is a matter for the board. But you want to use this chamber and the parliament of Australia to expedite a bill that could deregister unions representing midwives, flight attendants and firefighters for three paperwork breaches.
You lot haven't changed since we debated Work Choices in here. It's the same antiworker ideology and the same attack on working conditions. This was confirmed today when Senator Payne refused to rule out a watering-down of unfair dismissal laws and of the better off overall test. That really should demonstrate to everybody what this bill, which is being rammed through as a consequence of this motion, is all about. It is all about trying to take out the union movement so you can go after working people and their conditions, and out of the mouth of the Prime Minister and Minister Payne we heard that today.
Let's not forget that this government is trying to ram through antiworker legislation in a week when it was revealed that one in five workers in the construction, healthcare, retail, accommodation and food services industries has been a victim of wage theft. But are you going to do something about that and about the $1.35 billion in workers' wages underpaid each year? No, you want to attack the organisations that help people get this money back. They're your priority. It says everything about this government and the Liberal Party that the passage of this antiworker bill is your No. 1 priority. This is a government with no plans and no principles. The only thing they are united on, the only thing they are capable of, is a relentless political attack on working people and their representatives, and this has been the way this coalition and the Liberal Party have operated for decades. It is the same ideology and the same agenda as Work Choices.
The motion and this bill are about whether you think that there should be one standard for workers and their representatives and another standard for everyone else. This government does not care about integrity. This government does not care about lawlessness, and it does not care about workers. We will be opposing this motion and the bill. (Time expired)
It's clear to those here that on the other side they absolutely know they can't defend the indefensible. This is sensible, balanced legislation, so what they're trying to do is to silence debate in this chamber while they tell—and Senator Wong did it again—egregious untruths about the content of this legislation. This motion that Senator Cormann has moved is about time. It is about hours for debate, as I understand it. But those opposite don't even want to have the debate, because they want to protect their protectors. That's quite clear. They know and we know that the existing laws are inadequate and have led to a widespread culture of misconduct in registered organisations, and it's about registered organisations—not that you would have known that from Senator Wong's speech.
The changes that we are looking at around disqualification, deregistration and amalgamations—the issues that Senator Wong has raised—are changes which are needed now. It's because there's a pattern of behaviour that leads those opposite to protect the people that send them here. That is absolutely transparent from what Senator Wong had to say here today. We know that, of all the examples that the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate put forward, none proves their case, because they know they can't, as I said, defend the indefensible.
Do you know, Mr President, that, since this bill has been before the Senate, seven officers of one union in Australia—one union—have been penalised by the courts for more than 30 contraventions of the law? But those opposite are not even prepared to have a discussion about it. They're not even prepared to have the debate in this chamber because this is only about them protecting, as I said, their protectors.
The breaches that Senator Farrell refers to will be dealt with by AUSTRAC in the courts. What are you afraid of, Senator Farrell? They will be dealt with by AUSTRAC in the courts. They will be dealt with by the changes we have brought in in relation to banking in this country since the royal commission—the changes we have made which ensure that that type of behaviour is addressed. But you won't even allow a debate here today about this practice.
We have seen that those opposite are afraid of integrity. That's what they're afraid of. So a bill that ensures integrity in registered organisations is not something they are even prepared to contemplate. And that's why we should be bringing it forward—to have this discussion. It is about ensuring that registered organisations behave in an appropriate way and that their misconduct can be addressed, because their members deserve that. But there is no interest on the other side in ensuring that members are properly looked after by registered organisations—absolutely no interest whatsoever. There is a 'no problem here' approach from those opposite, 'nothing to see here'. Well, the record shows differently. We have seen it through the trade union royal commission and we have seen it with behaviour in this chamber, and those opposite would prefer to do absolutely nothing. Well, this government won't do nothing. The government recognise that registered organisations have a responsibility to their members, a responsibility to those they represent, and we have a responsibility to ensure that the legislative construct around that protects the organisations and their workers.
The Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill has been called extreme legislation, but it is not extreme legislation, because these are very important organisations; members place a great deal of trust in them, and members should be protected adequately. There is no place in the system for those who breach the trust of their members. There is no place in the system for those who act in their own interests, at the expense of members, or those who show nothing but contempt for the laws that apply equally to all Australians.
So we seek to have a debate on this legislation today. This debate is about hours, not about the bill itself, although Senator Wong did not appear to turn herself to that matter. We seek to have that debate, but those opposite are trying to avoid it because they know they can't defend the indefensible. They know. They want to try and silence debate in this chamber, while they tell terrible mistruths about this legislation inside the chamber and outside the chamber, because, frankly, the debate will only expose them.
Honourable senators interjecting—
Thank you for that protection, Mr President. If this government were serious about integrity, then you'd be doing something about the integrity of one of your own ministers, but instead you're picking on workers and their organisations.
When John Howard lost the 2007 election, Tony Abbott said that Work Choices was 'dead, buried and cremated'. But it's not. It's not. It has roared back into this parliament, and it has roared back in the form of this misnamed integrity bill. It has come back in two parts. Part No. 1, Senator Payne, is this bill we're going to be debating this afternoon. What does that bill do? It ties unions up in knots filling out paperwork, not letting them do the work that they need to do in this country, which is to boost wages and conditions. That's step No. 1, part No. 1, of this legislation: to tie them up. Then there's part No. 2. Part No. 2 is coming. Part No. 2 is on its way. Having weakened the unions by passing this legislation, what do they do next? Well, they come after the workers; they come after their entitlements. I have to say that Prime Minister Morrison has in fact been smarter than Prime Minister Howard. I've got to admit that. He's far more cunning. Rather than going after the workers directly, he's going after the unions first—and then he'll go after the workers.
What are the problems that we've got in this country at the moment? Ensuring integrity? No. What's happening in this country at the moment? We've got a series of serious economic problems. Wages have stagnated in this country, and they continue to stagnate. Unemployment is rising, particularly in my own state. Retail sales are either flatlining or falling. These are serious problems that ordinary Australians are facing. What is this government doing about them? Well, it is attacking the one set of organisations that might be able to turn this situation around. It's attacking the unions, and limiting their ability to do the job that they need to be doing, which is to raise wages and conditions. This government should be supporting unions to do the job that they need to do, to get real wage rises going in this country and to kickstart the economy. Instead, we've got Work Choices mark II: tying up unions in unbelievable amounts of paperwork, stopping their vital work in lifting wages.
What about the comparison? This is supposed to be the same set of laws applying to unions as to companies. Senator Payne referred to a particular union that had seven offences against it. What did we see this week? Bank officials having broken the law 23 million times.
I agree with you, Senator Lines—that is a disgrace. But what did the person who oversaw those crimes get? Well, today they got $2.69 million, on the way out! Was that person banned from activities in banking? Was the organisation that he represented deregistered and stopped from running their business? How on earth is there any comparison between what this legislation seeks to do to unions and the way this government treats big business, their mates?
Honourable senators interjecting—
The first thing the chamber needs to bear in mind is: what's the question before the chair at present? The question before the chair is to provide more time, more hours, to have a debate. And what are the Labor Party doing at present? They're opposing even having the time to have the debate! That's all we've got from this opposition. They're actually opposing sitting back later tonight and sitting back later tomorrow night, so that we can have the debate, so that we can give them additional hours, should they wish, to actually debate the issues in this legislation. And why are they so damned opposed to having this debate? Why are they so hysterical about this argument? Why are they fighting tooth and nail, every step of the way, on this issue? Well of course, because it's all about the people who put them here—that's the case when it comes to those opposite.
It's not the Australian voters I'm talking about, Senator Smith—you're right. It is about the people who pull the strings, who put the Labor Party here, who determine their preselections, who determine who the Labor Party candidates are: the union puppet-masters. They choose each and every one of those who sit opposite. Whether they come from a union background or not, in the end, they have to get the endorsement of the trade union movement to be able to be the Labor Party candidate, to even get on the ballot paper before they get to this place.
That is, of course, why we are seeing such a reaction from those opposite. Why is that, though? Why, you would have to ask, would they want to stand up for a bunch of lawbreaking officials who undermine the integrity of good union officials who do good work? That is the thing—there are many good, decent union officials full of integrity. I met with some last week, at Senator Farrell's instigation. I am more than happy to acknowledge that the trade union movement has good people in it, but they are brought down by the dodgy operators and by the lawbreakers who think that it is just the price of doing business to break the law consistently. That is, of course, what the CFMMEU does so consistently—$16½ million dollars in CFMMEU fines have been levelled over recent years. And what is the reaction of the CFMMEU? 'It's just the price of doing business.' They pay the fines, and they keep breaking the law. That is what happens. That is the attitude they take. That is why we have brought these reforms to bear.
There is a cost to that lawbreaking activity. That cost is that construction activity in Australia costs a damn sight more than it should because of the disruptive behaviour of the unions. Indeed, estimates are that construction project costs have been driven up by around 30 per cent thanks to the lawbreaking activities of certain trade union leaders and certain trade unions. That is why we are cracking down on this. The current penalty regime clearly does not provide a deterrent to those who think they can just keep breaking the law. They think the answer is: 'We'll break the law. We'll keep breaking the law. We'll pay the fines. It doesn't matter.' We are creating a new penalty regime to make sure we change that behaviour—to encourage people simply to abide by the existing law of the land. That is what this is.
This is not some great, big, new workplace relations reform, despite what those opposite are suggesting. It is not that at all. It is a measure to simply try to get unions to comply with the existing laws. That is all it is seeking to do: trying to get trade unions to comply with the existing laws. It is a measure that we took to the last election as a government. It is a measure we introduced into the House of Representatives way back in July. It is a measure that has been before a Senate inquiry, which received 67 written submissions and had 78 different witnesses appear before it. There has been lots of scrutiny, and now we are bringing it to this chamber to debate it, and those opposite hysterically oppose even having the debate.
Well, our government is proud to bring this on for debate. We are proud to respect the democratic processes of this country by giving the Senate extra time to debate this legislation. We are determined to also make sure that other people in this country have respect for the law of the land, have respect for our existing workplace relations laws, and that we actually have all of those in the workplace relations systems operating to those laws because the penalties are sufficient to encourage them to do just that. (Time expired)
This is an outrageous and egregious abuse of the processes of this Senate. The government has completely failed to make the case for urgency here. But what I do want to say, having pointed that out, is that the legislation to which this motion applies is nothing less than a charter of rights for corporations. It is a charter of rights that will actually act as enabling legislation for big corporations to continue to exploit workers in this country by the mechanism of attacking the representation of Australian workers. Citizens do not have a charter of rights in Australia. We are the only liberal democracy in the world where citizens do not have their rights enshrined either legislatively or constitutionally. Workers don't get a charter of rights in this country, but it looks like the big corporates are going to get their charter of rights.
There are 23 million reasons why the government is pulling the wrong rein here, and those 23 million reasons are the 23 million admitted breaches by Westpac, by one of our big banks in Australia. By the way, that is coming on the back of numerous breaches by the Commonwealth Bank in the past—breaches of national security legislation and breaches of counterterrorism legislation. In the latest Westpac breaches there were even payments that related to child exploitation materials, paedophile materials. Yet here are the government coming in because, presumably, they've done a dirty deal with some parts of the crossbench to get this perniciously named 'ensuring integrity' legislation through the parliament.
This is a draconian attack on workers in Australia and on the unions who represent workers in this country. What we don't need now is a further crackdown on workers to go with the crackdown on civil society and on people who want to express their political views by participating in peaceful and non-violent protests. What we actually need in Australia is a crackdown on big corporates, which are polluting this environment, which are destroying nature and which are exploiting their workers. That's what this country needs, not yet another draconian, ideologically motivated attack on workers and their representatives in this country at the behest of the big corporates that donate so effusively to the deep pockets of the Liberal and National parties in this country.
So the Greens will not be supporting this motion, because this motion is to enable the passage of bills that are fundamentally antiworker and that are fundamentally antidemocratic. I'll make you a prediction: after those 23 million breaches by Westpac, I don't think we're going to see Westpac deregistered as a result. I'd bet my house that Westpac won't be deregistered, and I'd also bet my house that we won't see criminal charges laid as a result of those 23 million breaches. We will see some fines, for sure, but no-one will be imprisoned and certainly none of the big banks are going to be deregistered for enabling paedophilia and terrorism in this country. That's what is at stake here.
Now this government wants to bring in legislation that will provide a fast track to the deregistration of workers' representatives in Australia. Make no mistake, colleagues: we're living in a corporatocracy in Australia right now, a corporatocracy that is resulting in the devastation of nature, in the breakdown of our climate, in wage stagnation, in intergenerational poverty and in the massive exploitation of workers in Australia. The Greens won't be supporting this motion and we will not be supporting the legislation to which this motion pertains.
We on this side of the House do laugh that this bill, the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2019, is called 'ensuring integrity' and that the government is seeking to disrupt the hours of the Senate in order to have a debate on something called 'ensuring integrity'. This is a government and a Prime Minister who run from integrity at every opportunity. We saw evidence of this today. What did we see in question time in the other place? Another protection racket by the Prime Minister for his minister Angus Taylor. As confirmed today by the New South Wales Police Force, detectives from the State Crime Command's Financial Crimes Squad have launched Strike Force Garrad into Minister Angus Taylor. Let's be clear about this: the New South Wales police have launched a strike force by the State Crime Command's Financial Crimes Squad into a minister in this government. Where's the ensuring of integrity in the cabinet of this government? What do we see in question time in the other place? The Prime Minister running a protection racket for Angus Taylor. We see it here, with the Minister representing the Prime Minister refusing to comment on the specifics of the Angus Taylor case. Yet they have the hide to come in here and say that this bill is about ensuring integrity.
This is a government that is willing to turn a blind eye, quite frankly, to what's happening at Westpac: 23 million breaches of the law, some of those facilitating the sexual exploitation of children. There is money laundering that could be linked to terrorist activity. But they don't need to do anything about those executives. They don't need to do anything about deregistering any organisations that are involved in that type of criminal activity. But, for three mere breaches of paperwork, the unions and representative organisations of nurses, police officers and teachers can be deregistered. That is the integrity that this government cares about: paperwork breaches by the representatives of working people, not money laundering 23 million times by Westpac. Let's not forget: this is the government that voted 26 times against a banking royal commission. Where was their concern about ensuring integrity in the banking sector when 26 times they voted against a banking royal commission?
This is a Prime Minister who is not interested in ensuring integrity. Both in this Senate and in the other place, we have time and again seen the government run away from even answering basic questions about who the Prime Minister wanted to invite to the White House for dinner. It's a state secret, apparently—'We can't tell you whether the Prime Minister wanted to invite his pastor, Brian Houston, to that dinner at the White House, because that's something the public doesn't have a right to know.' Where is the integrity in this government when the Prime Minister can't even tell the Australian people whether or not he wanted his own pastor to come to dinner at the White House?
Quite frankly, if we are going to talk about hours—and this is an hours motion—where is the concern about the integrity of this Senate? They are disrupting the Senate and the discovery of formal business in this Senate. All of the crossbenchers are not going to get the time to move their motions, to have their debates and to participate in debates on motions to take note. This is a government that does not respect the integrity of the procedures in this Senate, so desperate are they to ram through this week a bill that takes away the rights of working people.
Let's not forget that every good thing that has come for working people in this country, whether it is the eight-hour workday, paid parental leave, occupational health and safety or domestic violence leave for women fleeing domestic violence, has come because unions have agitated for it. It is because of the representatives of working people that we have got every good thing in this country for working people, and it is this government, through this charade of a deal, that wants to rip that away.
That a motion to provide for consideration of the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2019 may be moved immediately and determined without amendment or debate.
I also move:
That the question be now put.
(a) the routine of business for the remainder of today shall be:
(i) consideration of the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2019, second reading speeches only,
(ii) if a division is called after 7.20 pm, the division shall be taken on the next day of sitting, and
(iii) the Senate shall adjourn without debate after the conclusion of the second reading debate, or at 9 pm, or after a motion for the adjournment is moved by a minister, whichever is the earlier; and
(b) on Wednesday, 27 November 2019:
(i) the routine of business from 7.20 pm shall be consideration of the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2019, second reading speeches only, and
(ii) if a division is called after 7.20 pm, the division shall be taken on the next day of sitting, and
(iii) the Senate shall adjourn without debate after the conclusion of the second reading debate, or at midnight, or after a motion for the adjournment is moved by a minister, whichever is the earlier.