Senate debates

Wednesday, 27 November 2019


Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2019; Second Reading

9:31 am

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Road Safety) Share this | | Hansard source

It might seem strange, but I relish the opportunity to speak in opposition to the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2019. The sad part about this place is that we pass so many pieces of legislation but the majority of Australians have no idea what's going on here, when they should have an idea of what's going on here. This bill is a classic example—not so much the content of the bill but the content of what this government has been doing over the past six years, carrying on from the previous Howard years, when they blew up the nation with Work Choices. What they've done here is to ask: 'How can we undermine the working conditions and wages of Australians? How can we control the greater masses to do as we say? It's pretty easy. Let's put laws in place that limit the opportunity for unions to do their work.'

It takes me back to one of my favourite films. This situation is not a comedy, but we all remember that magnificent film Monty Python's Life of Brian. We all remember when the commandos and Reg convened a meeting in someone's house. They all ran in and they were all dressed the same. It was a Judean People's Front secret meeting. They started asking, 'What have the Romans ever done for us?' Every Australian remembers this skit, but I'm going to put a different slant on it. This is exactly like when we ask, 'What have unions ever done for us?' Let's go back to the skit about 'What have the Romans ever done for us?' One of them said, 'The aqueduct.' They said, 'Yeah, yeah, but apart from the aqueduct?' Then they went on. They said, 'Sanitation.' 'Yeah, right.' 'Roads, irrigation, medicine, education, wine, public baths—what have the Romans ever done apart from that?' Then one of the commandos said: 'Well, it is safe to walk the streets, and they know how to keep order. Let's face it, they're the only ones who could in a place like this.' Then all the commandos laughed, 'Ha, ha, ha.' Then one of them said: 'We wouldn't want to go back to those days, would we? But what have the Romans ever done for us?'

Let me put another spin on it. What have the unions ever done for us? That mob over there just blindly follow their leaders. Half of them probably don't even know what's going on either, the lemmings. They'll just go over the side of the cliff with their leaders. But what have the unions done for us? There is no particular order here, Madam Deputy President, because I know you know this, as all of us here on this side know this. It was the unions that first led the eight-hour campaign, where workers could have eight hours of work, eight hours of play and eight hours of rest. That's what the unions did, not the employers. The unions then introduced the 38-hour week. The unions were the ones that brought us the wages safety net. What have the unions ever done for us? Well, they've given us awards, and they are the ones pursuing equal pay for women. It ain't the employers; it's the unions. This is what they're doing for us.

What else have the unions done for us? Penalty rates, meal allowances in lieu of a meal break—no, no, stick around, Senator Molan! I know I've broken you down, Senator Molan, and you're one of the intelligent ones! You're not like the other lemmings, so imagine what the other ones are going to do! I don't blame you.

Photo of Jim MolanJim Molan (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have to leave now, for credibility!

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Road Safety) Share this | | Hansard source

What else have the unions ever done for us? Rostered days off, sick leave, bereavement leave, public holidays, annual leave with a loading. My goodness me, workers being able to have a minimum of four weeks leave with pay! In a lot of places it's gone out to six weeks, and so it should.

What else have the unions done for us? My goodness me, they negotiated long service leave! They're now negotiating domestic violence leave. It was the unions that negotiated maternity and paternity leave. It was the unions that negotiated superannuation and continue to enforce superannuation. We found out through an economics committee that in this nation there has been no less than $6 billion in superannuation theft. That's even before I get to the bigger problem of wage theft.

What else have the unions done for us? My goodness me, they even negotiated shift allowances and living away from home allowances! It was the unions that pushed for permanent employment in a majority of workplaces. Madam Deputy President, you and I both know that the corporations and a lot of employers in this nation would love nothing better than to employ casuals. They'd love that. Tell me how many casuals can go to the bank and get a home loan?

What else have the unions done for us? It is the unions that are continually negotiating wage rises for us. Look at wage stagnation in this nation. Wage stagnation in this nation is shocking. But in the union yards and the yards where the unions are represented there is collective bargaining. There at least they have the ability to try and succeed in getting wage rises through enterprise bargaining.

It was the unions that introduced dispute resolution protections and unfair dismissal protections. How much time in our previous lives did you, Madam Deputy President, and I spend in the commission trying to negotiate an unfair dismissal case when you and I both knew the dismissal was completely out of order? We had the ability to represent our members. Most of the time we got them back on the job, and, if they didn't get back on the job, they were able to leave with dignity and were paid the money they were entitled to.

What else have the unions done for us? Let's talk about wage recovery. I don't see any employers or the government going out there prosecuting the case for wage recovery. It is the unions that do that. What else have the unions done for us? Goodness me, we even get paid weekend penalty rates—oh, unless, of course, you're employed in hospitality or are one of the retail and pharmacy workers who aren't under an enterprise agreement. I forgot about that. It wasn't the unions that stripped penalty rates. It was that mob over there moving legislation in this place to give employers the opportunity to do that, under the pretext that there would be more jobs. Well, how the heck has that worked out? I would be interested to see how many more jobs have been created.

What have the unions ever done for us? Redundancies. One of the worst things we have to do as union organisers is negotiate redundancies, not because we're going to see a few bob going into the pocket of a worker who has lost their job through no fault of their own; the sad part is that they've lost their jobs. The majority of these workers don't have other jobs to go to, so at least the unions are able to negotiate redundancies. How many times, Madam Deputy President, have you and I sat there and had to negotiate redundancies and then, lo and behold, what do we find on the site a few months later? Labour hire. We can start at the top of the chain on this. Major corporations are notorious for this. I don't have to mention them here, because we know who they are.

What else have the unions done for us? I don't think it was the employers who led the charge in the industrial revolution to make sure that workers didn't lose their fingers, their arms or their legs or get injured without an ounce of compensation through workers compensation. It was the unions that negotiated that. I could go on for hours and hours about what the unions have done for us.

I come from a trucking background, and I, unlike the majority of sycophants on the other side, who have just gone and worked for someone who would give them a job in parliament, have lived and breathed it. I come from the trucking industry where I worked with my hands. I followed my old man, and I'm proud to say that my son has followed me. We get out of bed in the morning and say: 'We want to put our boots on; we want to go to work; we want to earn a good quid.' We know we've got to work hard, but the beauty is that, if something goes wrong, I can fall back on the protection of my union membership should I need it—should I be unfairly targeted for my activism on the worksite. Not that I want to see the employer go broke—not at all—but I want to share the common wealth all the way down the chain from the employer through to the employees. And it is the unions in this nation that have done this over the hundred-odd years that they've been active, clearly. It was the unions that formed the Australian Labor Party—we all remember that—following the dispute with the shearers because, as the unions said very clearly, we wanted to have a voice in the parliament to represent working men and women. And it might pay the Greens to listen. You might get an education on how unions work, and, my goodness me, some of you need it.

Photo of Alex GallacherAlex Gallacher (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Point of order, Madam Deputy President. I ask if you could bring the chamber to order. There appears to be another meeting at the other end of the chamber.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

I would ask senators to respect the right of Senator Sterle to be heard in silence. Please continue, Senator Sterle.

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Road Safety) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Madam Deputy President. And, thank you, Senator Gallacher, because we do take this seriously. We don't just think there's an opportunity to have a gaggle and a photo and appear in a Green Left weekly magazine, because we're taking this damn seriously. As I said, millions and millions of Australians have benefited from the work of unions in this nation. Nothing galls me more than when I hear those on the other side and their lemmings—the followers—talking about how wonderful they've been in negotiating their contract. Every worker in this nation owes it to the work of the unions on the worksites. There is a saying that I picked up. My good mate Senator Gallacher uses it regularly and I like it too: 'A rising tide lifts all boats.' How true a statement is that. And it is the work of the unions and the union membership that actually lifts that tide, and those boats lift with that work.

What we've seen here, since the Howard days, is that they're clawing at the gates. They're like a dog, like a greyhound in the boxes at the races, bursting to get out. Every day they're conniving. How can they calm the chooks and put them all to sleep, while they quietly work around undermining the ability of young Australians to walk into a well-paying job? What is wrong in this nation with Australians not only expecting but demanding that the next generation shall have the conditions that we've enjoyed? And we've enjoyed these conditions through collective bargaining and we've enjoyed these conditions because we didn't have the horrible of the horriblest, the LNP—that mob over there—undermining us at every opportunity when we were in government. As soon as they're in government, that's the first step: how can they undermine the working conditions of Australian men and women? We heard yesterday, Senator Sheldon, I think, raise questions in question time to the minister—and I cannot remember who the minister was; they shift around a fair bit. Who was it?

Photo of Tony SheldonTony Sheldon (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Minister Payne.

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Road Safety) Share this | | Hansard source

Minister Payne—thank you very much, Senator Sheldon. When Minister Payne was asked about whether certain conditions would be rolled back, she didn't protect the position as it is now. She just dodged it. So let's face it: what we can assume is that there are IR wars coming.

Before I digress, I want to go to something else from yesterday. It's all starting to fall into shape here. There was an article in The Australianand let me tell you, when I've got heartburn and I'm feeling sick and I'm not sleeping well and I want to get back to sleep, I read The Australian because it usually takes about half a page. It's one of the worst bugles in this nation. But I've got to tell you that one thing popped out in The Australian, and I'm glad I saw this. It was an article by Ewin Hannan, who is one of the better writers around. It's headed 'Employee activism scares execs'. Have a think about this: here we have a concocted bill on the premise that the unions are all baddies and we need to put them all in jail or whatever we need to do. Why would this pop up out of nowhere? I have never heard this before. I'm not sure if you're aware of this, Madam Deputy President, but I'll quote from the article:

Senior company executives fear an 'unprecedented rise' in workplace activism—

we can't have that—

driven by employee discontent with rising automation, executive pay levels, surveillance of workers and management decisions could cost companies up to 25 per cent in annual revenue.

Doesn't it all start making sense? It's saying: 'It's all right for the top of the chain to be wallowing in wealth and money, but why should we share that around with the workers? So, you know what? Our mates in the LNP, we really need you to do everything you can to stop the activism, and one of the best ways is let's just target the unions and let's make it as hard as possible for the unions to go out there and do their job, which is to represent union members and those who aren't in unions.' They actually have the opportunity to be educated: 'Do you realise that you are being screwed all the way down the chain here?' And this is what happens. We all know that.

But it really sickens me, because now, in this nation—and I didn't want to waste time on this, because it is wasting time, but it has to be raised, and I could talk for hours underwater with a gob full of marbles on this stuff—we have the carry-on of the banks, while we're trying to screw workers and the workers' representatives, while we're trying to jail them and chain them or whatever we can do to make sure they can't do their job. And thank you, former LNP senator Barry O'Sullivan, because you, Sully, were one of the ones—against your party—who stood up and told the Treasurer and the Prime Minister exactly what they could do with the sycophants they sent around to see you because you were going to pull on the royal commission into the banks. And, wow, hasn't that been very interesting?

While we've got Australian seafarers being dragged out of their bunks on the docks at Freo to be replaced by foreign seafarers who are exploited—and this government here, congratulations; we love the mob at Portland, Alcoa, no problem. We find also that we've had seafarers on our iron boats. We all remember our iron boats—a great part of our history—running iron ore. We know how important iron ore is to this nation—sending it around the world. The iron boats were sent into international waters outside of Hong Kong—didn't even know what was going on—then to be frogmarched down the gangplank. This is BlueScope and BHP iron boats. They were frogmarched down the gangplank, off the ships—couldn't even contact their families, couldn't contact the ITF or the maritime union and say, 'Whoa: what the hell's going on?' Australian seafarers: out. The incoming foreign seafarers—to whom the Australian seafarers mean no malice—these poor devils are exploited something shocking. They actually asked some of the seafarers, 'Can you leave your boots in the cabin, because we don't have 'em?' I'm not making this up. I know, because I spoke to the seafarers.

And here is another example. We've got—what's the word, 'human tapeworms'?—the board of Westpac. Now, I didn't say that; that was reported in the Financial Review yesterday. I wouldn't be that nice! They're parasites. While they're conducting their illegal behaviour, our truckies are being fined the equivalent of a week's pay because in their logbook they spelt the name of the roadhouse or the town they slept in the night before incorrectly. Have a listen to this: they were fined a week's pay because they spelt it wrong. Can you believe this rubbish, in this day and age, while sycophants and human tapeworms and parasites at the Westpac bank are absolutely wallowing in wealth?

Do we hear from the LNP? 'Oh, my goodness me: how can we let this operate under our nose, especially when we opposed the royal commission, the banking inquiry'—26 times. They can blame previous Prime Minister Turnbull, but it's the same circus, with the same clowns running around. Just the ringmaster's changed; that's about it. And let me just talk a bit about the Westpac bank—this Mr Lindsay Maxsted. I make no apologies for this, Mr Maxsted: what an absolute disgrace you are. You might not have implemented it. There may have been previous chairmen of the bank and previous board members, but not one of you has the intestinal fortitude, let alone the decency, to say: 'You know what? We really have got caught with our fingers in the cookie jar.' Whether or not the previous sycophants or human tapeworms or parasites set it up, you oversaw it. Not one of you stood up and said, 'In the best interests of our customers and the shareholders, my goodness me, I'd better forfeit my $1 million plus or whatever I'm getting.' And I've got the figures here; I just haven't got enough time to read them.

I tell you what should happen to the executives of the Westpac bank. They should be jailed. We should be rushing legislation into this chamber—not to try to prosecute union officials, who have to break the law sometimes to get an outcome. And tell me which law's broken; tell me which law's not working. The union officials are getting fined. They're paying their fines; they're getting on with work. But what law is broken? None of you can answer that, because this is just concocted. You're looking after these human tapeworms in the Westpac bank. Why aren't we debating, in this chamber and in the other place, legislation rushed in to address this white-collar crime that's been operating under their noses? We'll have the Treasurer say: 'We don't talk about the CBA because that was only $700 million. They're the good baddies. But these bad baddies, we'll talk to them. We'll smack them on the wrist or whack them around the ear with a silk-scented scarf.'

I say to Australia and Australian workers, 'This is what the LNP have in line for you.' The Australian people should be rising on their toes, saying: 'Hang on, if we've got unions and if we are members of those unions, we want them to represent us. We want them to improve our terms and our conditions. We want them to do it not only for us but also for the generations that follow us.' And the same Australians should be rising on their toes and saying: 'You know what? This is exactly right. Why aren't we debating legislation'—there wouldn't be a debate. If you mob over there had any guts—and you haven't; you haven't got any decency in you anyway. If you had the decency, we would be debating laws to not only stop this white-collar crime but to actually shame these so-and-sos. We would actually pass laws that would strip them of their ill-gained proceeds that they've stolen from the bank customers. I'm a Westpac bank customer, but I'm not moving because it's the workers there that deserve our support, not the parasites at the top.

Why aren't you introducing laws in this chamber and the other chamber—you can all put your heads down in your laps—to not only get the money off them but also send them to jail? Why aren't you going to give us laws that don't stop at Westpac because we know of all the criminal behaviour that we've seen at AMP and the Commonwealth Bank and others? What an absolute disgrace you are, you lot over there. Australia, you need to rise to your toes. You need to start the revolution right now.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Sterle. I was very reluctant to interrupt Senator Sterle because it's not fair to him. I understand that others are conducting business in here, but I do ask senators to do it quietly. The conversations were very audible to me and it is disrespectful to senators who are speaking.

9:52 am

Photo of Tim AyresTim Ayres (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to oppose the bill. Senators often talk about democracy in this chamber. What does this institution do? What does it really do to protect and advance Australian democracy? The truth is, from my observation here, it does not much at all. The truth is that this bill takes Australia backwards—backwards towards authoritarianism and backwards towards a diminished democracy. Our democratic institutions are weakened every day by a government that doesn't have a plan for the big issues that face Australia. They only have a plan to undermine democratic accountability, attack freedom of the press, restrict democratic freedoms, attack legitimate protest activity and threaten their opponents.

This bill—the ensuring integrity legislation before us—sits comfortably within the antidemocratic trajectory of the Morrison government. The bill is an affront to democratic values. Democracy is not simply what occurs within this parliament and in election campaigns. Democracy is practised in communities every day, in organisations like trade unions, in meeting halls and at work. Democracy is also the conviction that giving people a voice and the capacity to exercise collective power makes all Australians stronger.

Working people organise into unions to give themselves a stronger voice, to strengthen democracy and to make sure that they are not dominated by their employer, market forces or the government. Unions are about giving workers real agency and building a stronger democracy. So why, in Australia, should democracy be excluded from the workplace? Why is this government so hostile to the institutions that ensure that working people have a real democratic voice in their work and in their industries?

Underlying this bill there is a deep and historic prejudice that working people cannot make decisions for themselves, that they should accept what their masters demand and that they should defer to their betters. It is a prejudice that echoes through the history of Australian conservativism. And the fight-back against Australian conservativism and unfettered imperial power of employers and unfair governments has defined the high points of Australia's post-settlement history. There was Eureka, the shearers' strikes in Bourke and Barcaldine, the 'great strike' of 1917, the maritime dispute of 1998, the great struggles against conscription in World War I and Vietnam, the fights for equal pay for women and Aboriginal Australians, the strikes, pickets and boycotts against apartheid or in support of Indonesian independence, and the decision by waterfront workers to boycott pig iron destined for imperial Japan in defiance of Robert Menzies. The Liberal hero, determined to ensure that pig iron made its way to the satanic mills of that hateful fascist regime, invoked the penalty provisions of authoritarian legislation then too. That is all that Liberals know how to do.

At the centre of all this history has been union action, often unlawful, often persecuted and prosecuted by conservative governments, decided democratically, pursued fearlessly by Australians committed to a better world. The Senate should show leadership here and demand the government deal with the real issues in Australian workplaces—falling wages and stalled productivity—and kick-start a new era of economic growth based upon cooperation and mutual respect. If passed, this legislation will have a profound effect. It will be felt in the hospitals, school rooms, offices and factories where Australians work hard every day. Our workplaces will be haunted by an absence—an absence of collective bargaining, the safety improvements that are never fought for, the exploitation that continues unchecked, the workers that are prevented from organising into a union and the protests against injustice that are silenced.

The bill has four schedules, and each individual schedule is an extraordinary authoritarian exercise of legislative power to interfere in the democratic processes of individual worker organisations. Taken together, it is a thuggish display of political brutality from a government that doesn't have an agenda beyond silencing those who disagree with it. In particular, I am concerned about measures that disqualify union members from holding office. Those over there, opposed to regulation in any form on business, are all for regulation, penalties and red tape when it comes to unions and community groups, environment groups and anybody except the vested interests that make up their base.

The current legislation already provides for an appropriate level of oversight. The regulator does have the capacity to intervene and make applications for serious offences of fraud or dishonesty or criminal breaches of an official's duties. The rest should be left to the democratic judgement of union members. Union members should decide who leads them, who represents them and who will make decisions on their behalf. Nobody—certainly not a hopelessly politicised bureaucracy or a government bent upon unions' destruction—should be able to reach into the affairs of an Australian union and determine the outcome of elections and otherwise democratic processes. This bill goes further, giving regulators the right to include any offence punishable on conviction by imprisonment for more than five years. It is a technical change that means a lot.

The proponents of the bill, and the quislings from the crossbench who have cravenly come here this week to vote for it, say that this bill is about Mr Setka, the secretary of one of the divisions of the CFMMEU. It is not. Like many Australians, I don't believe that Mr Setka is a model of leadership in the modern trade union movement. I supported the decision by the leader of the Labor Party to make sure that Mr Setka wasn't able to hold himself out as a member of the Labor Party. That sends a crystal clear message of leadership on violence, respect for women and the role of the labour movement in supporting women at work and the community. But I don't get a say on whether Mr Setka continues to be a branch official of the CFMMEU, and nor should I. I am not a member of the Victorian construction branch of the CFMMEU. The leaders of that union are a matter for the members of that union.

This bill will not have the effect of reaching back in time or disqualifying Mr Setka. That is a fig leaf argument of some members of the crossbench here today who know that they are doing the wrong thing. They are punishing the entire union movement for the failures of one man. They have fallen for the argument. It will have the very real effect though of making life tougher for ordinary workers who perform both paid and voluntary roles on behalf of their colleagues and organisations—for nurses, teachers and firefighters. It will tie them up in knots of bureaucracy and red tape.

The chilling effect on union action of the fear of future sanctions is going to be profound. Many good people will be excluded from being volunteers or leaders of their unions. I will give you an example. The Hon. Meredith Burgmann, former President of the New South Wales Legislative Council, is an old friend and mentor of mine. She is a great Australian. She is a trailblazer for women's rights, against racism and apartheid, a fighter for progressive values, and a union feminist, who fought hard for women workers and for women's rights within the labour movement. Before she was a politician and ultimately the president of the nation's oldest parliament, she was an activist and a union leader. She was a ratbag and a radical—she still is—always prepared to stand up to bullies and for decent progressive values.

She worked closely with Jack Mundey, Bob Pringle and the other leaders of the Builders Labourers Federation as they fought for green bans that protected Sydney's heritage just as hard as they fought for industrial democracy and the wages and safety of builders labourers. She wrote the authoritative history of that union, which today is still controversial within the union. It chronicles the radical spirit that galvanised that rank-and-file controlled union to fight for good jobs and to really work with community organisations to picket, strike, boycott and protest for Sydney's heritage and public housing. She is presumably the kind of person that Peter Dutton thinks should be locked up.

She was the elected president of her union, which was the forerunner of the NTEU. She used that position to make that union modern, progressive and effective in New South Wales. She became a strong progressive voice in the labour movement. If this bill were the law in the 1980s, Meredith Burgmann would not have been able to be elected as an officer of that union, because she had convictions for various demonstration arrests, including a criminal conviction for assaulting police during a particularly chaotic antiwar demonstration against US Vice President Spiro Agnew in 1970, and repeated arrests and convictions for activism during the protest against the apartheid era tour by the racially selected rugby union Springboks. She was right about those issues then. She was right to protest, and her convictions then are a badge of honour now. Quite rightly, those convictions were no barrier to her serving as a Labor member of the New South Wales Legislative Council and ultimately as its President, but, if this bill were in place in the 1980s, she would have been barred from being a candidate for election to her own union. Famously, our wartime Prime Minister John Curtin spent time in jail. These great Australians were fit to serve as a member of the nation's oldest parliament and fit to lead this country through the Second World War but, according to this ensuring integrity bill, not fit to be branch officeholders in their unions.

These are a matter for union members to determine. I've fought union elections before. I've fought them in circumstances where I regarded opposing forces within the union as ultramilitant and as leading the union in the wrong direction. I relied upon the good judgement of union members, who always get it right when they cast their ballot in elections operated and supervised by the AEC. Taking away the right of unionists to decide who runs their union infantilises Australian workers and encourages less responsibility and less seriousness. The parliament should trust ordinary Australians to make the right calls in union elections.

I'm deeply concerned at the public interest test for amalgamations. This year, 95 per cent of members of the National Union of Workers and United Voice voted to create a new union—the United Workers Union. It's a new union of 150,000 people. It will be a powerful voice for Australian jobs—and jobs that Australians can count on. Under the ensuring integrity bill, the government hopelessly politicised government agencies, and even employers can use the new legislation to interfere in or to potentially prevent a similar decision by unions to amalgamate. How dare they? What possible basis could there be for any government to intervene, or any employer, in that democratic decision for workers themselves to shape their own organisations?

This is an outrageous, malevolent, deliberate and flagrant breach of freedom-of-association principles. The government and the crossbench should be condemned for allowing this to happen. The sustained campaign against unions prosecuted by this government is not only an affront to our democratic principles; it is precisely the opposite of what Australia needs. For one thing, it has led to a decline in living standards for Australian workers. Secondly, it has stifled efforts to lift productivity through cooperation. Thirdly, the assault on unions and union membership has further hollowed out our key democratic institutions.

In Australia, democracy in the street stops at the office door and at the factory gate. It's a democratic deficit that has driven the hollowing out of vital democratic institutions and traditions that are usually facilitated and strengthened by a union organisation. The consequences are stagnant real wages, falling standards of living, record underemployment, stalled productivity, stagnant economic growth and further damage to our skills and innovation system. Australia needs an expansion of workplace democracy. We need to give people a real say. We need to give them the tools for deliberation and representation and the institutional capacity to shape their working lives.

I know this because I've seen it firsthand. I've seen what happens when you give ordinary working people the chance to bargain with their employers as equals. I've seen them solve complex problems and resolve competing interests. I've seen what happens when you give them the chance to discuss workplace, economic, community and political issues with their colleagues. I've seen them weigh up competing views and determine a collective position. I've seen them evaluate whether a particular bargaining claim is correct or too ambitious or in everybody's interest. I've seen them weigh up the rights and interests of casual workers, permanent workers, apprentices and trainees. I've seen them assess workplace changes proposed by the employer or critically evaluate unfair decisions made by the employer. I've seen them engage with productivity issues big and small. I've seen them discuss safety at work and put into place democratic structures to make their workplaces safer and to save the lives of their colleagues. I've seen them decide whether to go on strike or to protest or to go to the industrial tribunal to seek justice.

That is deliberative democracy right there—real democracy, a vital addition to our democratic life that goes well beyond the limitations of the ballot box and the narrow approach to democracy favoured by the show on the other side. I've seen it in the faces of workers being organised for the first time, many from countries where they have been denied their democratic rights. You can see what it means to have power—real power—in their union and in their workplace, to defy the prerogative of management, to shape in some small way their lives and those of their colleagues. Either you believe that working people are capable of democratic responsibility or you do not. That is the essential question the Senate is being confronted with over the coming days. Denying working people the rights of freedom of association needed to organise a workplace, to be represented in a workplace and to change a workplace, as this bill seeks to do, denies their capacity to shape their own lives. It is surely a foundational belief of our democracy.

To my fellow senators: your votes on this bill will be a measure of your commitment to real democratic values. Do your job and reject the bill. This bill is a thuggish display of government power. This lot always do this when they have the numbers, always moving to intimidate working Australians and their unions, to crush any opposition to their agenda. Membership and organisation in an independent union genuinely controlled by its members enriches the democratic experience of workers and their families. I will always stand with those workers and their families and their free, democratic unions.

In a week where one of our major banks is embroiled in a scandal that involves 23 million breaches of money-laundering laws, some of it to facilitate child sex exploitation rings run by criminals and deviants in the Philippines, this government is asking the Senate to approve this bill. In the week that it is revealed that a minister in the Morrison government is being investigated by a purpose-built New South Wales police task force around allegations of leaking fraudulent documents to attack an elected official, this government is asking the Senate to approve this bill. In a week where the government is defending an aged-care crisis and serious allegations of interference in our democracy by overseas governments, with unemployment rising, wages falling, energy prices on an endless upward trajectory, the economy stalled, workplace productivity hopelessly stuck in a quagmire and a hopeless government that doesn't have a plan for any of the issues that matter to Australian families or for future prosperity or for the security and safety of Australians, all this moribund useless rump of a government has to offer is an attack on Australian unions and Australian workers. All it's got to offer is an assault on its ideological opponents, because that's what it always does.

I'll be interested to see whether members of the crossbench, who've been so quick to rush to Canberra this week to support this legislation, will be complaining and wringing their hands in the years to come as the government introduces more onerous legislation on Australian unions, moves to cut more penalty rates and moves to further undermine collective bargaining. I look forward to seeing some level of reflection upon members of the crossbench, because I fear that they know not what they do. They don't understand the role that the labour movement has played, that unions have played and that Australian workers have played in shaping Australian history. This is all the government know how to do. You can guarantee that they know they have a supine, subservient crossbench that gives them complete control of the Senate and there will be more to come. (Time expired)

10:12 am

Photo of Tony SheldonTony Sheldon (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to oppose the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2019. This repressive piece of legislation is just the latest reminder that the fight to protect and advance the rights of working people is never over. It's a powerful reminder that, when Scott Morrison says he supports quiet Australians, what he really means is that he wants Australians facing injustice, stagnating wages and threats to their working conditions to stay silent.

Right now in our workplaces we are seeing the emergence of the fourth industrial revolution. We're seeing the rise of global surveillance capitalism and the gig economy. This new era of artificial intelligence and machine-learning brings enormous economic opportunities, but it threatens 150 years of work done by the union movement, hardworking Australians and civil society across the world to secure decent wages, safe workplaces and working conditions that allow individuals and families to thrive and make better lives.

Unions will be the front line that protects and defends these precious rights gained over the past century. We need unions more than ever, because, while technology driving a revolution in work is not new, the exploitation inherent in the business model is not new either. If this new era of work is not regulated, if working people are not properly represented and if unions are not restored to their role as a key pillar of our industrial relations system, we will see the widespread return to the insecure, underpaid piecework of the 19th century. Dressed up with corporate propaganda like 'flexibility' and 'convenience', the exploitation of working people that I see in the transport industry today, in ride-share, trucking and food delivery, will continue to migrate to the rest of the workforce, as we're now seeing in aged care and the NDIS services. The list goes on.

In my time as a union activist and as an official, I have seen wave after wave of anti-union laws. Since the Workplace Relations Act was brought in by John Howard's government in 1996, there have been more and more encroachments on the important job that unions have had in Australia, since Federation, to protect working people and represent their interests. Unions, like governments and companies, have a job to do, but conservative governments have never really recognised this role and have done everything they can to prevent them from doing it. The coalition like to spin their commitment to freedoms and Australian values—like the member for Goldstein taking himself off to Hong Kong to make a cameo appearance at the pro-democracy protests. This government likes to posture about democracy, rights and freedoms—and I say 'posture' because, quite clearly, this government has a different agenda in this country.

When it comes to defending the actual rights and freedoms of Australians, the coalition suddenly find themselves on the other side of the barricades and are all too happy to back the cause of dismantling those very same rights at home. You have the Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton, and his Orwellian threats to photograph peaceful protesters and deny them government benefits. You have a Liberal government in Tasmania that wants to outlaw protests altogether. You have the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, who dresses up his authoritarianism with a baseball cap and a 'suburban dad' routine but who is quite prepared to have his government be known around the world as the worst advanced democracy in terms of crackdowns on journalists and whistleblowers. Then you have the Minister for Industrial Relations, Christian Porter, who has pulled this flawed antiworker bill from 2017 out of the bottom drawer. It contains provisions that, if passed, will have no peer in the democratic world. Australia already has a highly regulated union sector, and now attacks on the freedom of workers to associate and elect their leaders mean that, if they want to advance their interests, they will be even more restricted. The government with no plan for the country has very quickly filled its policy vacuum with the crude politics of stifling dissent of all kinds—attacking peaceful protesters, attacking journalists and whistleblowers and, with a highly repressive piece of legislation, attacking working people and their representatives.

The government and some of the crossbench have devised a plan to expand the current penalty points system under the Fair Work Act. These fines and demerits would result in a double whammy of disqualification of union officials and deregistration of unions, leaving workers with no workplace advocates to represent their interests and their elected leaders undemocratically expelled from their positions. I welcome the efforts of the senators in this place to try to take the sharpest edges of this piece of legislation out, but the demerits scheme being offered up is a more bureaucratic way of achieving the same chilling result—tying unions in legal red tape and denying working people the right to representation that they elect democratically. If this demerits scheme is so good, why is it not applied to bank executives in the aftermath of the banking royal commission? Where was the disqualification and deregistration scheme to punish the fraudsters and schemers in the big four banks, which preyed on mums and dads, small businesses, the elderly and our farmers? How many demerit points would have been incurred for charging a fee without service? Where is a demerit applicable for charging fees to customers who are known to have died? The Fair Work Act already carries a model of penalty units to inform fines for breaches. Currently a union can incur 300 penalty units and a $63,000 fine for late paperwork, and 500 points and a $105,000 fine for not training a volunteer union official. That's $210 per penalty unit.

Under the government's demerits scheme, an organisation needs to reach a threshold of only 900 penalty units over 10 years before an application can be brought forward to disqualify an official. What irony for this government that, in the same week they want to pass a law where three breaches of paperwork offences could deregister a union, Scott Morrison is content that 23 million serious breaches of money-laundering and antiterror laws by Westpac are a matter for the board. Australia's oldest bank is apparently our most epic corporate law-breaker. It's the creepy uncle of the big four banks, facilitating the operation of paedophile rings. Where is the government's 'ensuring bank integrity' bill? It's nowhere to be found. Where is the proposed law that would disqualify the senior officers of these companies from ever holding office again?

If the government's demerit scheme were applied to the banks, how many points do you think they would have to apply for the compensation they owe to customers? Let's work this out. Let's use the same system that already applies for demerit points for working people and some proposals that have been floated with regard to the new system. After the banking royal commission, the Commonwealth Bank had to pay out a whopping $2.17 billion in compensation to customers who were ripped off. That works out, using the government's scheme for unions, at 10 million penalty points incurred, which would have seen the Commonwealth Bank breach the threshold on an application for deregistration brought forward 11,000 times. The NAB had to set aside some $1.18 billion in compensation. That's 5.6 million penalty points. That's a whopping 6,222 times the threshold for deregistration. What about Westpac and ANZ, where both paid out $1.1 billion each in compensation? This was before the latest paedophile ring and their facilitators were exposed, and the money laundering alleged against Westpac. On the present figures, that's roughly 5.2 million penalty points for both Westpac and ANZ. If you were debating the 'ensuring integrity of the banks' bill and the government's amendments applied to them, over 5,500 applications could be brought to disqualify the executives and deregister the banks. That is not an equal system. That's a system geared up against trade unions and the voice of the working people of this country.

But of course it's not just the banks. Where's the disqualification of executives of Bunnings, Dominos, 7-Eleven, Foodora or Woolworths after they were found to have taken millions from their workers? What about the bosses from companies that built unsafe apartment buildings or denied victims of asbestos their compensation? How many demerit points for the $6 billion of entitlements unpaid in the construction industry? Could the minister tell us how many demerit points there are for an employer who ignores safety standards and has a worker die on the site? How many points will they lose? How many demerit points is a worker's life worth? Well, by the standard of this government and those voting for a demerit-points system, nothing. If a single union ever did less than one per cent of what these banks and companies have done, the government would send in the AFP and have them deregistered immediately for standing up for working people's rights, not for ripping them off. But, when it comes to banks or companies that break the law, self-regulation is fine as far as the government is concerned.

This isn't a bill to improve the regulation of trade unions; it's a bill to stop trade unions from carrying out their work by burying them in costs and punishing them for minor breaches. Nowhere else is this more demonstrably true than in the parts of the bill which detail new grounds for the cancellation of the registration of an organisation. One such expanded ground is the proposed section 28C(1), which would see a union deregistered for actions that see it act contrary to all members' or an individual member's interests. Unions are democratic organisations made up with a diversity of views and opinions. The robust and democratic internal debate over strategies and priorities is part and parcel of how unions must operate. That's called democracy.

This legislation only adds greater weight to the conflict of interests for unions, between acting for their members individually and acting collectively—the fundamentals of democracy. Under this bill, in the allocation of resources between sections of the membership or choosing which matters to take to courts and which to settle—these everyday decisions that unions must juggle—a union may inadvertently run foul of costly applications brought on by cashed-up opponents with other agendas. This bill also outlines the grounds on which to disqualify a union, if there are multiple designated findings against a substantial number of members of the union, without a clear definition of the term 'substantial'.

Union members number in the hundreds of thousands into the millions. Their families rely on them, union or not, to lift the standards across this community. When one of their colleagues is unfairly sacked, stripped of their economic livelihood or, worse, dies—because the boss refused to listen to issues about safety on site—I can tell you that people get upset. If they want to walk off the job to stand in solidarity with their colleagues and get their bosses to listen to reason, we can understand why that happens. But under the government's legislation such action made in the heat of the moment could see a union deregistered, even if it tried to stop it.

Charles McKay, an Armaguard worker for 30 years, told a Senate inquiry about attacks against cash-in-transit workers, armoured-car drivers, in the middle 1990s and early 2000s. It led to unprotected action being taken by the members of the Transport Workers Union in August 1995. Charles said:

We had a lot of concern, certainly, from the workers and, more importantly, from their families. You've got to remember that if families see somebody killed they don't want their husband to go out there the next day and be the one who is delivering money and who comes home in a bag.

He went on to say:

… in my 25 years as a senior delegate with Armaguard we never ever took strike action for one dollar in wages; it was only over safety and security for our members.

The unprotected action of Charles and his colleagues worked, because an inquiry into the cash-in-transit industry, the armoured-car industry, was launched by Justice Russell Peterson of the Industrial Relations Commission as a result of that heavy weight, burden, put on the government and the commission. Now we see that the industry has never been safer.

I want to dispel this myth that unprotected action is somehow immoral or reckless. I as a union official supported that industrial action, regardless of the fact that it was unprotected. When you see people shot dead in the street, protecting those banks' money, you can't wait a month, a year, and ask the crime gangs to wait for an inspection from the Work Health Authority or the Fair Work Commission—you have to take action. I can assure the Senate that no member puts their wages at risk lightly, but, under this section of the bill, unions who engage in industrial action over issues of health and safety—not just for their members but for the general public—could find themselves before a deregistration order.

In my previous life as a union official, in the Transport Workers Union, there were many occasions when the members needed to take action to draw attention to ongoing health and safety issues that were being ignored by the government or employers. In 2016 a 29-year-old bus driver, Manmeet Alisher, was killed because a home-made bomb was thrown at him at a bus stop. The explosion killed him and saw 14 passengers trapped on the bus before they were able to escape. Workers in Brisbane took industrial action—illegal. Workers in New South Wales took action when similar and other attacks were made against bus drivers—illegal. I'm proud to say I supported that illegal action. I'm also proud to say that I would support it again as a politician, because I'm proud to say I'm a unionist and then a politician. I'm proud to turn around and stand up for hardworking Australians, unlike this mob and the fools who are, unfortunately, voting for a system that will turn around and allow them to get away with the sort of injustice that has incurred for so long. It will weaponise the employers in their capacity to turn around and victimise working people and their representatives.

This irresponsible bill also provides unnecessary and unfair new grounds for the administration of dysfunctional organisations. When serious corruption and maladministration was uncovered back in 2012, an internal committee of the HSU office worked swiftly to address these problems, which saw an administrator appointed and new elections held. The members made the decision. Funnily enough, they didn't vote for a corrupt leadership; they voted for a new leadership, which has grown that union from 27,000 people to 41,000 health workers in New South Wales, and Gerard Hayes and his team deserve to be congratulated. That's the difference—not because this bill's going to make something work; it's about making sure it actually doesn't work. To quote the HSU submission:

Had the Bill been enacted at the time, it is possible that the HSU would have had its registration cancelled all together, leaving its members without representation. The HSU story demonstrates the danger of the extreme expansion of the cancellation regime.

It is unnecessary, unwarranted, costly, antidemocratic and a system to make sure it doesn't work in the best interests of working people.

Finally, this bill also requires a new public interest test for the amalgamation of registered organisations, infringing on the democratic right to political association of members. If it's the will of members to join with a like-minded union, to pool resources and better approach the industrial issues of their shared membership, who is the government to stand in their way? Heaven forbid, the Liberal and National parties amalgamated in Queensland—talk about an injustice for many hardworking people that previously supported the National Party in regional Queensland. They've seen what the consequences are. You've only got to see that with the dairy bill propositions, and they're voting against it—all at the beck and call of the government. If it's the will of members to join like-minded unions, they should be allowed to.

This is a bill based on ideology, directed at the hardworking Australians who work together to lift the wages for all and at the resources it takes to do it. I oppose this bill and urge everyone in this place to do the same.

10:32 am

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

I rise to speak against the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2019, and I'll tell you why. Wages are flat and they're going nowhere fast. Corporate profits are at record highs. Coal, oil and gas companies are openly flaunting how they own the parliament and dictate lawmaking in this country, whether it be Canberra, New South Wales for mine approvals or Western Australia for avoiding gas pollution charges. Meanwhile, we see that multinational tax avoidance is rife. Banks are flagrantly breaking the law, pollution is at record highs, wage theft is rampant, 40 per cent of people are trapped in insecure work, and the rate of household debt, one of the highest rates in the world, is weighing down our economy. We've got a set of problems confronting this nation, and what is this government's solution to those problems? To go after the very organisations that are there to represent the interests of working people.

This is a bill that puts more restrictions on unions than it does on corporations. The government talks a lot about red tape. It hates red tape, except when it's red tape that's tying the hands of working people together. We know that this is just the latest in a string of Australian labour laws that have been rewritten to restrict people's rights to organise, to cut away at awards and restrict wages growth, all the while so corporate profits can be boosted.

We know that the right to strike is already unlawful in many circumstances. I remember hearing a worker say, 'Well, if you remove my right to strike, I'm nothing more than a slave.' You can't strike at the moment in so many circumstances, and certainly in circumstances that would actually force far-reaching industrial change. And, not content with that, we've now got a government that has their eyes set on silencing and intimidating people who want to protest against the government—climate emergency protesters and so many others. We know that, as soon as this bill's dealt with, there will be another bill that follows that places even more restrictions on working people, presumably with the support of members of the crossbench and groups like Centre Alliance.

The bill is going to give binding legal powers to the corporate donors of the Liberal Party, as people who have a 'sufficient interest' in an industrial relations matter, to seek the disqualification of a union official, to deregister a union or to pursue a union to be placed into administration. There is going to be a public interest test on union mergers, which overrides the choice of members as to whether or not they want to organise in a way that better represents their own interests. This is a government stepping in, with a minister having veto power over ordinary working people who are deciding to organise in a way that better represents their own interests.

We know where much of this stems from. Like so many bills in this place, it's the price we pay for a broken political donations system. This is the bill you get when big business can buy what they want in this parliament with the money they have saved from laws that allow them to avoid paying their tax. You pay off the Liberal Party and you get legally enforceable rights over unions in return. What a great investment! If you're a big multinational corporation, donating to the Liberal Party is a great investment. The dividend is right here today.

This bill has been widely condemned. The International Centre for Trade Union Rights completed an overview of trade union regulation around the world and, compared to this bill, found:

… no precedent for the degree of state interference in the functioning and establishment of trade unions in comparable industrialised liberal democracies … however … draconian measures of this variety are characteristic of some authoritarian regimes in which independent trade unions are suppressed or entirely prohibited.

This is unprecedented in a Western liberal democracy. It's an indictment on this parliament and on a political party that espouses the value of freedom. Freedom was supposed to be the connecting theme that ran through the broad church of the Liberal Party. But, instead, within the modern Liberal Party an authoritarianism is creeping into all areas of policy and seeping out of the government in all directions. Look no further than the secret trial of an Australian citizen, which led to convictions, recorded in secret, which was uncovered only last week. The government accesses private citizens' and journalists' data without a warrant and blocks the media from basic information, which has culminated in the Your Right to Know campaign. The government wants to ban secondary boycotts by citizens who are concerned about the climate crisis and ban workers' free right to protest. There are companies out there who want to shut down coal plants because they are massive liabilities for them.

In this government, epitomised by people like Peter Dutton, it must be said, is a rising and creeping authoritarianism, addressed at its critics, like the unions, the environment movement and civil liberties groups—all pinned up on the cabinet staff board. I say to members of the crossbench, to Centre Alliance: you are part of this government's authoritarian impulses if you support this bill. There is irony in a bill called 'ensuring integrity' at a time when we are seeing rampant corruption, rip-offs and money laundering within corporate Australia. At the heart of this government a government minister is being investigated by the police for his activities. Surely the higher priority is addressing the corruption and malfeasance within government and within corporate Australia, rather than going on an ideological crusade against the union movement.

That's why the Greens will be moving an amendment to halt the commencement of this bill. We don't like this bill. We don't want it to pass. But, if it did pass with the support of the crossbench, then at the very least they should prevent its passage until we have legislated and established a national independent anticorruption body. Of course, the government doesn't want to do that, because that would require a bill that would put the spotlight firmly on the government itself and on its mates.

Fighting corruption should be our highest priority. It is remarkable that, in the context of what we have seen this week and despite the fact that state jurisdictions have anticorruption bodies, the federal parliament is dragging its heels. This bill would solve none of the problems that we are facing as a society. It's a bill that empowers corporate donors, with legal powers over unions, and all it will serve to do is make record low wages even worse.

I'm going to finish with some words written last week by Guy Rundle. He said:

The parties that trumpet the cause of "small government" can only keep capitalism spluttering along by using the state to regulate and micro-control the free association of workers. Building on the neoliberal anti-strike, anti-worker platform they received, with gratitude, from the Gillard government, the Coalition is preparing for the possibility of a coming slowdown and the ensuing anger and militancy that might result.

This bill is a triumph of ideology over anything of substance. We know the challenges that are facing us collectively as a community. This bill should not be supported at a time when wages are stuck and the economy teeters on the precipice because of it. This bill should not be supported at a time when corruption and malfeasance in corporate Australia, and indeed in this government, thrive. This bill should not be supported. Those of us who understand what it means to be able to organise and represent the rights of working people and what that has done for the advancement of society in this country must hold that principle dear and self-evident. This bill should not be supported.

10:42 am

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

Labor will be opposing the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2019. This week, 14 years ago, as shadow minister for employment, I stood in this chamber and spoke against the Howard government's Work Choices legislation—a ruthless and extreme agenda which stripped protections from employees and stripped the fairness out of Australian workplaces. At the time, I said that the Work Choices reforms were ideological, extreme, unfair and divisive, and that they showed just how out of touch the Howard government had become—out of touch with Australian values; out of touch with the concerns of the Australian people. Under Work Choices, countless Australian workers—many of them already low-income workers—had their pay reduced, their conditions cut and their job security shattered.

What those reforms epitomised was the coalition's ideological obsessions, the Liberals' ideological obsessions and arrogance. It was Australian working families who paid the price. The Liberals' extreme Work Choices agenda will never be forgotten by Australian workers or the Labor Party. I was proud to serve in the Labor government that tore up those disgraceful laws, but here we are again, 14 years later, and we see the same debate, the same extreme ideology and a tired and cynical Liberal government again selling out Australian workers. Those opposite are at it again. They're still attacking Australian workers. At a time of stagnant wage growth, instead of acting to improve wages and improve working conditions, what are they doing? Having a go at Australian workers and the people who represent them. At a time when Australians are struggling with underemployment, instead of an economic plan to deliver more jobs, better jobs and better-paying jobs, the coalition are back to attacking Australian workers. They are still—and this is their central agenda—trying to rip the fairness out of our industrial relations system. Work Choices is not 'dead, buried and cremated', as Tony Abbott promised; it has merely been hiding. The heart still beats in those over there, because they can never let go of it. It is an article of faith for the Liberal Party. It is the only agenda they can actually all really get behind. The only thing that has changed in the 14 years since Work Choices passed this chamber is that, this time, they are going after the trade union movement first.

I started my career in the union movement as an organiser, representing ordinary working Australians and protecting their rights at work. The workers I represented as a young person, as a young lawyer, were people who had been unfairly dismissed, people who had had their wages stolen, people who had faced discrimination at work. The union was the only organisation standing up for them. It was the only organisation in their corner, and without a union they would have been powerless to fight for their pay and conditions or their rights at work. I stood on picket lines with people who had been ripped off and picket lines with people who had been abused and mistreated by their employers. I have seen, as have so many of us, what happens when we do not have fairness in the industrial relations system: we see how Australian workers miss out.

I will not forget visiting one factory—a nonunionised, anti-union employer—on a 40-degree day in Adelaide and seeing rows of migrant workers sitting at sewing machines under a corrugated iron roof with no ventilation. These are not conditions that are acceptable in this country, and without unions this is what some workers face. But this government would not care if this were the norm.

Every working Australian, every Australian, is better off because of our trade union movement. It was unions that improved safety at workplaces; unions that fought for the minimum wage and for wage increases; unions who won improvements in working hours, entitlement to paid holidays and better employment conditions. It was trade unions that fought for greater equality of women in this society, and it was unions and the Australian Labor Party that created our universal superannuation system. Imagine what kind of country we would be without a strong trade union movement.

But, I tell you what, if you have a look at the hollowed-out middle class and ever-growing gap between those who have and those who do not in the United States, we can picture what it would look like. And it is not what we want for this country, but it is precisely the model that those opposite have always wanted: dog-eat-dog capitalism that entrenches the advantages and disadvantages of birth. That is why they have introduced this bill. It is their latest attack on Australian workers and the representatives of working people. It is a bill that will subject democratically-run organisations to an unprecedented level of political interference. It is a bill which will have a chilling effect on the work of unions and of union officials. It is a bill which will hurt working people, drive down wages and make Australian worksites less safe.

The bill would allow the minister or anyone with a sufficient interest to apply to deregister an organisation, disqualify a person from office, exclude certain members or impose an administrative scheme. The person with sufficient interest could include an employer, a rival in a leadership ballot or a business lobby group. It would allow for deregistration of unions representing our midwives, nurses, flight attendants or firefighters for three paperwork breaches. It would also introduce a 'fit-and-proper person' test, which would disqualify a person from holding an elected position in a union if they break certain laws. This includes a union official who refuses to comply with a denial of entry to inspect a dangerous worksite or to investigate the rampant underpayment of workers—to investigate wage theft. The application to disqualify the official could even potentially be made by the very business which is underpaying workers. That is weaponising the law against Australia's trade union officials and the representatives of working people. I took a lot of underpayment-of-wages claims when I was a union official and a lawyer. Many of the people behind me could have had this law weaponised against them for doing nothing other than standing up for what people were owed.

This bill would also deny Australian workers free choice about who leads their union and how it is run, and it goes further than anything which applies to Australian business. There is no equivalence in this legislation, no matter what the government says. Those opposite actually want unions and union officials to be held to a completely different standard to businesses or even members of parliament and senators.

One of the worst features of this bill that is introduced is that it would impose a public interest test on mergers of unions, which takes the right to choose away from Australian workers. The Liberal government, lobbyist groups and, potentially, businesses themselves could seek to block a union merger, even if supported by members. This is really an unprecedented interference in the management of democratically run organisations, and again it holds the labour movement to a completely different standard to that which is applicable to Australian companies. There is no reasonable justification for these measures. They do not apply equally to corporations, nor were they recommended by the royal commission into trade unions—and we know what that was like. The measures in this bill are nothing more than an ideological attack.

The government claims the bill is about improving workplaces. It will do nothing of the sort, and we saw that from the evidence to the Senate inquiry. These changes would have a devastating impact on workers and their ability to organise. The United Firefighters Union, who represent men and women who face dangerous and often life-threatening situations in their daily work, said this:

The UFUA and its members seek to ensure the entire community and its infrastructure are safe and protected from emergency incidents. This Bill would impede the UFUA's work in protecting the people who protect us.

The government are very happy to stand next to these brave men and women when it suits them, but they are not prepared to stand beside the people who protect them.

The AMWU secretary told the Senate committee about how the measures in this bill could have crippled the important work they did to hold James Hardie to account. Remember that? Remember James Hardie, when members of the Liberal Party and the company acted to delay assistance and compensation whilst people died? The actions of the AMWU, who took action to secure justice for people who suffered horrific illness and untimely death, would be considered unprotected. They could be grounds for the disqualification of officers and the deregistration of the union. Another example is the Tasmanian branch of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, who gave evidence that the bill would mean that very limited, if any, industrial action could be taken by nurses and midwives across the country, 'even if they have concerns about inadequate patient care, their professional obligations or their own health and safety'.

The impact this bill will have on Australian workplaces is deeply alarming, because it will reduce safety, reduce the ability to organise and reduce Australians' rights at work. So, as much as those opposite try to make this about criminals, it is not. It is an attack on nurses, it is an attack on teachers, it is an attack on police officers and it is an attack on all the Australian workers who need representation at work. I tell you, if the government actually cared about working people and their families, they might start by taking action on some of the real issues that are impacting the people who send us here every day. We have unprecedented wage theft. We have insecure work. We have increasing casualisation and fragmentation of work. One in five workers in the construction, healthcare, retail, accommodation and food service industries have been a victim of wage theft. But that's not what this bill is about. This bill is about ideology, not politics, and it's about attacking unions—the organisations that actually act to protect workers.

I want to briefly discuss the amendments the government put forward. I think it was last Friday. I remember Work Choices, because then we had, I think, a hundred pages of amendments half an hour before debate. This is a desperate government putting forward rushed and inadequate amendments at a ludicrously late stage of the legislative process, but this fact remains: these amendments do nothing to change the fact that this is a bill that does not apply to business. This is a bill that doesn't apply to business, doesn't apply to banks and doesn't apply to politicians; it applies only to working people and their representatives. And it is still a bill that could have worker representatives sacked and unions put into administration or deregistered for three simple paperwork breaches. And it is still a bill that would create an extraordinarily wide range of grounds on which a union can be deregistered and for which an official can be disqualified. And it is still a bill that holds unions to a completely different standard from businesses, banks and politicians. I tell you what, when Mr Morrison holds his mates and his frontbenchers to the same standards he wants to hold unions, then we can talk about ensuring integrity. The fact is this bill can't be fixed, and these weak amendments do not do that.

'Work Choices' was a very cynical name, and so is 'Ensuring Integrity', because, if this government cared about integrity, why didn't it start by looking at the rorts, rip-offs and scandals exposed in the banking royal commission—the one they voted 26 times against? Australians had their homes taken, their businesses wound up and their lives destroyed by misconduct in the banking sector. But, for 600 days, this government fought against the banking royal commission and ran a protection racket for the big banks. And now they are dragging their heels. We've had 300 days since the royal commission handed down its report, and six out of 76 recommendations implemented. All the while, big banks continue to break the law. We've had the revelations of Westpac's behaviour: the 23 million breaches of our money-laundering laws, and their failure to act on customers using their services to purchase child exploitation material—I mean, you can barely say that and actually believe that that occurred. But we're not here trying to improve the integrity in the banks! In fact, the Prime Minister, Mr Morrison, says: 'This is just a matter for the board.'

And of course this Prime Minister is completely disinterested in ensuring the integrity of his own cabinet. Yesterday, it was revealed that the Crime Command's Financial Crimes Squad of the New South Wales police has established a special strike force, Strike Force Garrad, to investigate whether Mr Taylor, the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, committed a crime by providing a fraudulent document to the media to attack a political opponent. We have a minister of the Crown being investigated by the police—by a special strike force—for a criminal offence. You'd think that the principles of our democracy and our Westminster system would mean that this minister would stand aside. But he didn't. If the Prime Minister had some integrity, he would ensure that Minister Taylor stood aside. But he didn't stand him down. In fact, he didn't show integrity. He just showed nothing but a contempt for parliament and the principles of ministerial integrity and accountability. I'd say this: Mr Morrison even threw his own integrity into question, by a personal call to the New South Wales police commissioner to discuss details of the investigation. No wonder this is a man who continues to drag his feet on a national integrity commission. I guess it makes their party room nervous.

The facts are these. This is a government that could not care less about integrity. If this government cared about integrity, it would stop hiding information from the public. It would stop threatening journalists. It would stop being loose with the truth and it would stand down the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction. It would comply with the Freedom of Information Act. It would implement the recommendations of the banking royal commission. It would take action against lawlessness in the corporate sector. It would ensure that its ministers adhered to ministerial standards. And it would introduce a national integrity commission.

But this bill has nothing to do with integrity. It has everything to do with ideology. It has everything to do with the government's relentless ideological attack on Australian unions and the workers they seek to represent and protect. It's an attack on working people and on freedom of association. It will undermine our democracy. This government has no plan, no principles, no integrity. All it has is a tired and dangerous ideological agenda. But I would say this to those opposite: Australians haven't forgotten Work Choices, and they won't forget this bill.

I want to end this contribution with the same contribution I made 14 years ago as we went to the vote on Work Choices, in 2005. It is quite likely we will lose this vote. But we will not be beaten. We are not beaten. What this government have never understood, as they abuse and revile trade union officials and those in the labour movement, is what created the labour movement, what binds the labour movement and what has guaranteed such widespread support in the campaign against this bill by unionists and non-unionists alike. What binds us is a belief in our self-worth and also the worth of the person next to us. We have always understood that not only do we fight for our worth and dignity but we fight for the worth and the dignity of the person working alongside us. We fight for the principle of a fair go for all. We fight for a fair wage for a fair day's work. We have always done this as a labour movement, and we will continue to do this as a labour movement. This fight is not over. We will fight this until the next election and beyond. And this fight will continue, because we are here for the long haul. We have always been here for the long haul. And, fundamentally, we fight for a fairer Australia.

11:00 am

Photo of Alex GallacherAlex Gallacher (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have been looking forward to making this contribution to the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2019. I want to start with the usual preamble I start with on legislation that has come before this parliament since this government was elected: poorly drafted, badly thought out, full of unintended consequences. That seems to be a recurrent theme with all the legislation we see here.

I can talk about integrity in the trade union movement as I approach my 45th year as a member of the Transport Workers Union. Like Senator Dodson, I didn't come into this place with black hair but with grey hair. I presume that is because Senator Dodson was as diligent as I was in ensuring that every action we took in the respective organisations we were a member of or party to or led were full of integrity. You don't get integrity by legislating for it in this chamber. The day I was elected as a delegate and given a receipt book to collect union fees, I was accurate in the collection of those fees. I was prompt in the payment of those fees to the appropriate official. The day that I was elected to the branch committee of management in the eighties, I was diligent about attending meetings as a member of the committee. I was diligent about reading the financial statements, about ensuring that we followed all the rules of the union, and the appropriate laws. Diligence and integrity are what trade unions are made of.

You don't get to be a union leader because you're so good; it's because the organisation and support are so good. You get pushed to the front by hundreds of delegates and thousands of members. When you go to a workplace, you speak with the authority of those delegates and those members. You don't get it from a law which says, 'You've ticked all the boxes—you've got integrity;' you get it because that's the way you're brought up in the union movement. You instinctively know what's right, because the broader membership always keep you on track. From time to time, I had many detractors amongst members of the Transport Workers Union. I had many campaigns to unseat me as an official or a secretary, but I always won. We never shirked that challenge, and people were democratically allowed to have that challenge at our AGMs, at our general meetings. We got better, and our integrity and our effectiveness got better, because of those continual challenges that the union movement in Australia is an exemplar for.

Without the union movement, as Senator Wong and other speakers have said ad infinitum, we'd been an infinitely worse society. We don't always get everything right—and I actually go back to times when we were probably getting a few things wrong, and there were some law changes: 45D and E may well be examples of that. But the union movement grows and moves on. We'll fight this, as Senator Wong has said, and we won't be diminished by it. There's no way you can diminish the power of a union. When people decide to act collectively, with diligence, common sense and fortitude, there's no way you can beat it. Passing a law here won't beat it. If I couldn't get into a workplace because an employer said, 'You haven't got your right-of-entry card on you,' I'd either go and get it or I'd organise in the car park. It makes no difference to me. You can say, 'You come in and sit in the lunch room. I'm not going to send any workers to you.' I'd just go about things in a different way.

These laws don't work to the benefit of employers or the trade union movement or for the greater good of society. They're ridiculously thought out—I don't know whether by senior or junior staffers. They've managed to convince their minister that they've got to do something: 'Let's go and whack in an ensuring integrity bill.' I can tell you that all of the 16 annual reports that I put in as the Secretary of the Transport Workers Union SA/NT branch were filed without any comment or question.

When I was the President of the Transport Workers Union there were three separate investigations into aspects of our operation. All returned a clean bill of health. Our integrity was challenged, our integrity was examined and we were found to have no case to answer. So this sort of thing, saying, 'We're going to get tough on unions,' is a cheap political stunt.

Let me tell you a story. The story goes back to a worker who was not a member of a union and who was unfortunate enough to get sacked. He said: 'I got a job with a transport company. They told me I needed an ABN number. I was so happy to get a job I didn't question it.' They said, 'Get an ABN number; this is how it works.' So he's turned up with his labour because that's all he's got; he doesn't have a ute or a van or a truck. They said, 'Get an ABN number.' He was just happy to get a job, so he got one. Six years later he gets the sack. And he gets the sack unfairly, in his view. Allegations were made. The allegations were found to be not proven. So he went to the Fair Work Ombudsman. The Fair Work Ombudsman said: 'I think you've got a bit of a case here. You look like an employee, not a contractor.' So he got a lawyer offering no win, no fee. He is found to be an employee, not a contractor. Then he goes to the Fair Work Commission and wins the case there and gets an offer for $11,000-odd worth of penalties and 9½ per cent super and the order says, 'The employer will pay within seven days.' Well, guess what? The employer didn't pay within seven days. And guess what? The Fair Work Ombudsman didn't take on the company directors who had not paid this person properly in the first place. Then he moved on to the ATO and his comment about the ATO was: 'They've said I've got a case. They said they owe me the money, but the process is so slow I still haven't seen any super.' So he went to the Fair Work Ombudsman, he went to the Fair Work Commission and he has signed documents saying, 'You are owed money.' The Fair Work Commission said to the company, 'You will pay.' The ATO is that bloody slow he hasn't seen the result yet, but they say he has 9½ per cent super waiting to be paid to him. It hasn't been actioned. This happened in 2015. It is now 2019.

So he went to a magistrate. He was in the Magistrates Court in March 2019. It is now November. He's still waiting for his wages that were underpaid. All four jurisdictions, whose processes he followed completely and precisely, have failed to deliver him one brass razoo. He has not received any of his wages that were underpaid. He has not received any of his superannuation. He's followed diligently and completely within the letter of the law every one of the processes that are available to him and he hasn't received anything.

What unions do is change that process. We change that process because we have collective strength. The collective strength is, if you've underpaid someone in your organisation and you have 50 people and 49 people look at the employer as perhaps not a person of great repute if they're prepared to underpay someone in an outlying position like that, things change and people get paid. This is the sort of thing that this type of legislation can't change. You can't change the collective nature of Australians that basically when things are awry they'll set things right.

I had respectful relationships with many, many employers, large and small. And I still have that respect for and friendship with some of them now. That was never built off any great liking for me or from me liking them. It was about it being a tough industry and needing to get things working—'Let's get this sorted out and let's get a deal that works for all parties.' As Senator Sterle said, a rising tide lifts all boats. So, if workers are getting a few extra bob, presumably they'll spend it somewhere else and the economy will tick along. And then they are happier and they contribute faster and more effectively.

One of the awful things that this legislation is really setting out to do is to change a pretty difficult situation. In any case where I had the authority and I thought that people were putting themselves in an unsafe position, either in continuing work or in operating equipment that was unsafe, I always advised them to stop, because the alternative was that something untoward or catastrophic would happen. That is not legal, but to a driver who said, 'My brakes are not working,' my advice was always: 'You're in charge of that vehicle. You're going to be legally responsible. It's on your head. Turn the vehicle back and tell them why.'

If you go to a building site and the steelworkers have finished all the steelwork, it's ready for a pour, someone notices something a little bit untoward and raises a safety issue, and it's not dealt with by the competent people who are basically trying to build a building quickly, the official would be in the same position as I was. If you're not confident that this is going to work properly, the alternative is catastrophic: don't do it. This is what happens in the building industry. This is what happens in the transport industry. I have to say, in a lot of cases, that nothing catastrophic will happen, but, when it did, I had to go to the homes of transport workers and speak to their surviving family about how they're going to get by without their loved one. You take those responsibilities really seriously. That would potentially be grossly illegal under the regime and laws that we currently have.

If you get a name as one of those people that won't take a backward step, this new law would allow, as Senator Wong has said, other people—maybe a rival but certainly an employer—to take action in the Federal Court and seek your deregistration or your removal as an official. I don't think that is anywhere near the appropriate way to go, for this reason: union members are smart, they don't suffer fools gladly, and, if you lead them up the garden path and you waste their time and money on campaigns that don't win, you basically get the boot. They won't re-elect you. The awesome responsibility you get from leading members of a trade union is also qualified by the fact that, if they don't like your actions and where you're leading them, the ballot box comes along and away you go. That is right and proper. That's how it should be. It shouldn't be at the whim of a government minister, an employer or someone with an axe to grind or a grudge to bear; it should always be at the wish of the members.

I was very fortunate. In the all the elections that I competed in at the Transport Workers' Union, I never got the boot. My margin seemed to keep increasing. I always listened very carefully to the membership. I took them where their aspirations wanted to go, and we obeyed the law as best we could. When it came to safety, I'd err on the side of safety than of the law, because, as Senator Sheldon said, if you have an Armaguard bloke petrified about a hold-up—let me tell you how that works. Do you know the rule in the armoured vehicle system? This actually happened. If someone is crossing the footpath with a bag of money and someone approaches that person to rob them, do you know what the driver is supposed to do? The driver is supposed to drive away as fast as he can. His mate is there getting shot, killed or robbed, and the instructions are that the driver has to leave the scene as quick as he can, in case they manage to get into the vehicle and get money. It happened in Adelaide. People were literally just shot, with no words, to take the money, and the car drove off to save the rest of the money.

If someone has a safety issue in those areas, do you think: 'Am I going to break the Fair Work Act? Do you think this is in contravention of subsection so and so?' You generally err on the side of caution. If there is a safety threat to people, you make yourself as safe as you can as quickly as you can. If that means not going to that place, or stopping work, that's what you do, and we'll get together and sort it out. Dare I say, most employers support that, because it is quite pragmatic and it makes a lot of sense. In the building industry, where there might be penalties for floors not completed or pours not completed or concrete trucks queued up in the street, it could be a little bit more problematic. But I genuinely believe, and you only have to look at the number of people killed in transport and/or construction, that the safety area needs a re-examination. We need to be able to genuinely address safety concerns and not have people forced to drive or work in unsafe conditions.

We're at a point where, I think, this government is almost six months old. Most of the legislation that's come through the Economics Committee—I made the statement here in the chamber—was poorly drafted, had unintended consequences and was not likely to meet the objectives that it set out to achieve. This is pretty much the same. Most people would see this and say, 'Oh, you can make an application to the Federal Court and you can have a union deregistered.' Anybody who has had anything to do with the Federal Court would realise that's not exactly how the Federal Court works. Presumably, the first thing that happens when you have a matter before the Federal Court is the allocation of a judge. Sometimes—and I found out to both my pleasure and my disquiet—whom you are allocated is a matter for celebration or disquiet. The judge you get may be a good one or a bad one, according to the legal fraternity. Then an inordinate amount of time passes. Then the registrar, who wants to get people in, says, 'This is a waste of the court's time. This doesn't need to go to court. Settle it.' Then you say, 'No, I'm not going to settle it.' Eventually, you have been allocated a judge and you get a trial. All of that would probably take 12 months or longer. Do you think an organisation is going to wait to be deregistered? Do you think an organisation that is challenged in this space is not going to fix its affairs so there's no need for the action?

Take the union that's mainly in the firing line with this legislation: the CFMMEU. Do you think that, if you deregistered them, they would suddenly disappear? When the BLF was deregistered, it didn't disappear. It became the Building Workers Industrial Union. What is deregistration? What do you intend to do? Presumably, the assets are then given to a like organisation. It's a real sledgehammer of a bill. Politically, it might sound wonderful. It would probably sound great when they're having a beer in the minister's office after it has passed—'Oh, we've cracked it! We've got the union movement on the run!' What a load! That's not how it's going to work.

This sort of legislation actually makes a union stronger. It makes them smarter, it makes them stronger, it makes them more effective. I'll tell you this: when you attack the trade union movement, they get together and the collective strength of trade unions is immeasurable. We've never actually seen a 100 per cent collective trade union movement in Australia, but, trust me, this government might actually get one. They might be putting legislation through, as Senator Wong and others have said, which would drive us together, collectively, and we'll get a better outcome than we've ever had. We'll have better leaders, we'll have smarter leaders, we'll have more-committed members and we'll do our job better. And doing our job better is a good thing for Australia because it means that workers will have more in wages, better superannuation, safer workplaces, and more pride in themselves, their companies and their uniforms. Plenty of trade union members are very happy, proud members of a company as well as having union membership to make sure things are shared equally. It's genuinely good to see good unions working with good employers for a successful outcome, and there are many of them. There are many examples in transport and there are many examples in the building industry.

I know a couple of retired building workers in Victoria. They've worked for the same company for 45 years. I'd say, 'Christo, what do you think of the CFMMEU?' and he'd say, 'Oh, mate, we never got anything without the union. Our boss was good. We had plenty of work, but the union made it so we were better paid, stronger and safer.' You can't legislate that away. You can try, Senator Cash and others. You can put your fair work and integrity bill up as long as you like and you can get the crossbenchers to support it, but they have no idea how unions work, just as you people don't have any idea how unions work. You only look at a little bit of aberrant behaviour here and there and try to assign that right across the union movement. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Unions are genuinely good organisations, run democratically and are full of integrity. They make this lot here twice as good as the other side in terms of integrity. Working people don't suffer fools and thieves gladly; they get rid of them. If there are any in the union movement, they get weeded out very quickly. So I'm very pleased to make a short contribution here today.

11:20 am

Photo of Kimberley KitchingKimberley Kitching (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Government Accountability) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2019. No more Orwellian label has been applied to legislation. Really, it is like someone in the government read Orwell's monograph, Politics and the English Language, which was published mid last century but which has obviously become more and more relevant to public language in this day and age. It's like they've taken that monograph, inverted it and used it in a way that Orwell was actually warning against.

This proposed law is nothing more and nothing less than an attack by powerful vested interests in the government, those opposite, and by those in this government who buy outcomes, on the most vulnerable of Australian workers who reach out for help from their union. It's an attack on the lowest paid, and it's an attack on those organisations that fight for those people. It's an attack on those who feel shut out by politics and who feel that the Liberals will never care about them any more than the Greens will. This bill will not be paid for by powerful, articulate, well-connected union secretaries but by the membership. They are the people who will bear the costs of the unintended consequences that will ensue from this bill.

I could give you a catalogue of all the good that unions have done. Many other senators have passionately addressed that. It runs from everything, from the age-old desire of people to associate with those with whom one has a commonality of interest to action at the most forensic level. That includes recent wage theft cases. Does anyone think that people sat down and went through their payslips one by one over many years and then suddenly that all came together in one concerted effort? It was unions who did that. It was unions who actually compiled those documents and ran those cases on wage theft—such a heinous crime, by the way, that Mr Porter, the Attorney-General of the Commonwealth, said that he will criminalise wage theft.

That is really a big shift ideologically and philosophically from a party that represents capital to move to a point where it actually acknowledges that capital gets it wrong and exploits people and has done so, for some companies, in a systematic way and deprived, in some instances, $300 million from workers. So, in fact, the Liberal Party knows that unions do the hard yards and do the hard work to ensure that people who might not be able to put that case together themselves are represented and get a fair day's pay for a fair day's work—an age-old principle of registered organisations, but which is still, as we have seen this year, a necessity, because otherwise people would be exploited in our system.

I want to share with the Senate my own personal observations of the federal government agency that will be responsible for administering these laws. This is an agency that stands condemned as acting unlawfully by the Federal Court in the recent AWU police raids episode. This is an agency run by the CEO, Mr Bielecki. This agency is so transparent that, when you go to its remuneration tables, it doesn't actually disclose what he earns—but it's somewhere in the vicinity of $435,000. Chris Enright is also employed at the Registered Organisations Commission. Again, his wages are not disclosed—a lack of transparency—but, from my reading of the annual report, he's probably paid about $370,000.

It's clear that these two people, who were intimately involved in the AWU raids, have been willing—and I say this deliberately—to corrupt themselves by pursuing nakedly politically motivated inquiries of the kind we saw in relation to the AWU, where they were desperate to dig up anything they could regarding the AWU, and particularly regarding the member for Maribyrnong. Why? Because he was the opposition leader. That was a politically motivated attack. This is not an independent and impartial agency, yet this is the agency that those opposite would have to ensure that this Orwellian-named law, the ensuring integrity bill, will be seen to be acting properly. These people, I am telling you, are incapable of doing that.

Some social workers use the term 'lived experience'—not my favourite term; I would say that all experience is lived—but some people do not realise the lived experience of those in registered organisations in dealing with the Registered Organisations Commission. They lose documents. They are incompetent as well as malevolent. The Registered Organisations Commission is like Javert in Les Miserables pursuing Jean Valjean. They play favourites. Mr Enright, in particular, favours some unions over others and plays politics with them in some sort of bizarre power exercise. He leaks to his friends in the media routinely. Mr Enright is as corrupt—and I use that word again deliberately—a public official as I have ever encountered in all of my dealings with government. I'm not suggesting he takes bribes but I certainly suggest that he is drunk on power. He is an abuser of power. He is a thug in a suit.

The very real prospect of the most vulnerable Australians being left to the mercy of the free market without a union, without a helping hand, is the very consequence of this legislation. The combination of this bad law and this perfidiously bad federal agency—with its lavishly paid executives who play politics, who leak to the media and who have their own deep-seated agenda of maximising their own power in a totally unaccountable way—could have very clear and devastating consequences for the working people whose votes and whose taxes send us here and keep us here.

Unions are responsible for the standard of living that we enjoy today. It's been unions that have entrenched so many of the norms of fairness in Australian society. While we take many of these things for granted, behind each one of those standards of living that we enjoy was a struggle and a sacrifice by a union and by the workers they represent. The basic awards structure that sets out workers' entitlements was a design of the Australian Workers Union in 1908 to cover pastoral workers. It was the unions who first secured paid annual leave. This was achieved through a campaign by printing workers in 1936. This builds upon sick leave provisions included in awards beginning in the 1920s. Penalty rates came into effect in 1947 after the unions won an arbitration commission ruling. A more recent example of a union's victory is securing maternity leave. Everyone here and all of the public servants who are here in this building all enjoy that now. It was the Gillard government that saw through the introduction of the Paid Parental Leave scheme in 2011.

Central to the Hawke-Keating government's legacy is superannuation. Superannuation is in Labor's DNA, and, despite the constant attempts to wind back, to cut, to deny, to denigrate, to outright extinguish this entitlement, Labor has fought those opposite at every turn to ensure that working people can retire with the dignity they deserve after a lifetime of work.

The Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission finally decided in 1969, after decades of union advocacy, to introduce equal pay for women. However, this fight is not yet over and, sadly, the gender pay gap still exists today. Indeed, as many of us are aware, a third of all women still, in this day and age, retire into poverty. That is simply not acceptable. I would say to those opposite: if you want to make a difference then you tackle issues like that; you don't try to make it much more difficult for registered organisations, who represent working Australians, to do their job.

While workers compensation was seen as far back as 1902, it wasn't until 1985 that unions won the right for workers to maintain safety standards on the job. Many families around the country thank the unions every day because mum and dad come home from the dirty, dangerous and difficult jobs that others do not want. Meal breaks, rest breaks and redundancy pay are components that are now a given in any employment contract, and those rights come from unions and the work that they have done. It was unions who succeeded in banning the use of asbestos and other carcinogenic materials, and that has resulted in saving countless lives today. Sadly, this struggle was too late for those already affected by asbestosis and mesothelioma.

As a result of the coal workers' strike in 1949, New South Wales saw long service leave instituted this 1951, a move followed shortly thereafter by other states. The adherence to fairness is central to everything the unions do. This is articulated by the concept of fair pay for a fair day's work and a fair go all round. The fair go underpins the unions' fight to make sure employers could not unjustly or unreasonably dismiss someone, a concept known as unfair dismissal protection.

Those opposite champion individual bargaining. But many disenfranchised and marginalised groups—such as for those whom English is not their first language, those who didn't obtain a higher education or those at lower levels of larger companies and organisations—rely on unions to collectively bargain on their behalf so as not to be left further behind. There is strength in numbers. As we enter a period of inequality not seen since the Great Depression, this government wants to take away the one way in which workers are properly represented: an effective union.

Eight hours to sleep,

Eight bob a day,

A fair day's work,

For a fair day's pay.

That's what people still deserve. That is actually at the base of a statue opposite the Trades Hall in Victoria. We still deserve that, and people are still fighting for that because we do not still see that in our society, not for everyone.

The bill that the government seeks to introduce creates new powers, aimed at workers' representatives, that are not only at odds with the basic principle of freedom of association but also undermine obligations under the International Labour Organization's 1948 Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention as well as the 1949 Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention. These proposed laws are reminiscent of the draconian measures taken by some of the world's worst authoritarian regimes and are at odds with the basic tenets of freedom of association. They severely restrict a worker's ability to exercise their rights and, even at the most cursory of glances, clearly breach the multiple ILO conventions which state that workers have the right to assemble and collectively organise. These laws will create legal uncertainty and further foster an environment where this unaccountable government continues to vexatiously pursue unions for no other reason than to allay their sick, ingrained, philosophical fetish of holding their foot to the throat of the Australian worker.

Those opposite bandy around words like 'freedom', 'human rights' and 'democracy' yet look down their nose at Cuba while it oppresses its free trade unions. There are some members of the party opposite who march with Hong Kongers yearning to be free. Yet, when it comes to whether they will vote on the choice of workers to be fairly represented, they will vote with the side of the jackboot. This means that, by extension, those opposite associate themselves with the worst excesses of those types of regimes—the side that has tanks running down protesters, the side that has tyrants jailing unionists. So I don't really want to hear a lecture about freedom from those opposite while they're pursuing this type of ideological agenda. We know whose side they are on, and it's not the workers' side. The Prime Minister would claim some of these working Australians as 'the quiet Australians'—but I can assure you, Madam Deputy President, that that is not the case. He mistakes his base.

The Prime Minister this morning described Labor running a protection racket for unions. This is the man who, on the Monday after the election, the first working day after that election, having complained about the nastiness of the campaign, said: 'I'm going to lead discussion in a better way so that we can work together.' What does he do with this bill? He is actually creating divisions—going back to capital versus labour, trying to ensure that workers are not able to collectively bargain or to assemble, or to associate freely with those who have a commonality of interest. He is going to make that more difficult. In fact, because this bill will have unintended consequences—and people have raised the paperwork penalty regime, which is only the beginning, I think, of the unintended consequences that will ensue from this legislation—he is not only creating divisions but also making divisions much more likely.

I'm going to tell you some of the things that I have observed at the Registered Organisations Commission. They lost the paperwork—not once, but twice. They then denied they had and blamed the registered organisation in question—which they then couldn't do because one of their compliance officers sent an email apologising for losing the paperwork. This nearly ended up in the Federal Court, so you can imagine the cost of all of this. No wonder unions are worried about the paperwork penalties regime. At one of their meetings, a senior official described to me: 'This is the best gig I've ever had—easy-peasy,' he said. They are not the organisation one wants ensuring these laws are followed. They are incompetent. Just yesterday, the Federal Court quashed the Registered Organisations Commission's decision to conduct its illegal, partisan investigation into the Australian Workers Union. They will now have to hand back all of the documents seized during this bungled 2017 heist aimed at nothing more than the intimidation of working Australians. I could speak about a union member who wasn't able to negotiate something as simple as a roster by herself, partly because she had very complicated childcare arrangements in her personal life and, when the managers changed the roster, she thought she would lose custody of her children. I spoke about her in my first speech. I have never forgotten that phone call.

This is a government that is unable to ensure integrity in its own front bench or in its own back bench. We have the member for Chisholm, who's self-auditing her own donation and has yet to explain where the money came from. If those on the crossbench vote with this government, they will be tarred with the same brush that allows the member for Hume, Mr Taylor, to not disclose why native grasslands were poisoned and to not explain meetings with the department that no-one else could have organised—and now he is being investigated by the police for a dodgy document. No wonder it's called Strike Force Garrad. I am aware of the President's ruling on organising functions in breweries, but if you go to the Urban Dictionary's definition of garrad, it is: 'the dumbest'—person; but it doesn't use the word person—'in all the land'. Maybe the New South Wales police deliberately chose that name for the strike force and its inquiry into Mr Taylor. The Prime Minister himself has phoned the New South Wales Police Commissioner, a phone call that a former prime minister, Mr Turnbull, says is a call he would not have made. This is yet another example of attempting to suborn law enforcement—and those opposite say they wish to ensure integrity. I would say that they are not capable of doing that, because they cannot do it in their own ranks. I would say to the crossbench: do not allow yourselves to be tarred with the same brush that those opposite are tarred with. This legislation goes to pointing out that they are not able to govern and they are not able to ensure integrity. This bill should not proceed.

11:40 am

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

I also rise to speak on the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2019—'ensuring integrity' in inverted commas! As has already been stated by a number of my colleagues, Labor strongly opposes this bill. We opposed this bill in the last term of this government and we oppose it again now. That is because this bill is again a blatant attack by this Liberal-National government on the working people of Australia and the organisations who work to protect them.

The original version of this bill was dangerous and extreme. That is why the 45th Parliament rejected it. This current version of the bill remains dangerous and extreme, and that is why the 46th Parliament should also reject it. We know that the reason that this government is bringing this bill back on for debate in the 46th Parliament is that they have remained as extreme as they ever were in relation to unions and working people, but this time they seem to have a friendlier Senate cooperating with them and being accomplices in their attacks on unions and working people.

This is what we see the Liberals and Nationals do every time they are in government. Every single time they have a little bit of power, they come after unions and they come after working people. I do not remember at any point in the election just gone the Prime Minister getting up and talking about his intention, should he be re-elected, to bring back this legislation and go after unions and go after working people. He does not have any mandate to do this, but here he is doing it again, just like every Liberal and National Party government we have ever seen try to do.

As has been observed by a number of my colleagues, it is 2007 all over again. It is 2007 and, indeed, before that, 2004 and 2005, when the Howard government, drunk on power and having a majority in the Senate for the first time in decades, decided to bring in antiworker, antiunion legislation—the so-called Work Choices legislation—to smash unions and to rip conditions and pay out of the hands of working people. And here they are at it again. The minute this government got back into office, one of the first things it wanted to do was to bring this legislation back on, just like it did after it won the 2004 election, to come after unions and come after working people.

Well, I have news for this government. When they did in 2004 and 2005, it failed. They were thrown out of office in 2007, largely on the back of that Work Choices legislation and the impacts it was going to have an unions and working people. I predict that the same will happen again, because they have not learnt the lesson that the Australian people do not want their government going after unions, going after working people, reducing their wages and reducing their pay and conditions. The Australian people do not want that, but this government will just not hear the message. Its level of arrogance, having won the last election against the odds and against all expectations, knows no bounds. So here they are again, arrogantly bringing in legislation that they did not talk about during the election campaign, that exceeds their mandate and that yet again goes after unions and working people.

As is the Orwellian tendency of this government, they have decided to name this bill the ensuring integrity bill. As we have started to learn from this government, we need to understand from the titles of their bills that what is actually proposed within the contents is exactly the opposite of what is proposed in the title. So let us talk a little bit about integrity and what ensuring integrity might look like if this government was actually sincere. Let us begin by talking about integrity in the workplace. Take just one example that is throughout the media as being absolutely rampant within the workplace—I am of course talking about wage theft.

In recent months, we continued to see example after example of employers ripping off their workers—underpaying them, not paying superannuation, paying below award rates of pay, not paying allowances and various other things that are employees' legal rights. It started with the shocking abuses of largely migrant workers by 7-Eleven, but it has continued through Domino's, Woolworths, Michael Hill Jewellers and, it seems, through every single celebrity chef in the country. Still to this day we're waiting for this government to take any serious action to rein in wage theft. Every single time Labor senators raise this matter, we're told: 'Yes, it's a priority. We'll get to it at some point. We're looking at it. We think it's a very serious issue.' But where is the legislative action from this government to do something about a genuine problem in the workplace in the form of wage theft that is affecting millions of workers in this country? We're still waiting, because it's actually not their priority; this bill that we're debating here today, going after unions and workers, is this government's priority, not making sure that Australian workers receive the pay and conditions they are legally obliged to receive.

This week I met with some young workers, members of the United Workers Union. I asked them, 'What do you think is the major issue young workers in this country are complaining about and need action taken on?' Without prompting, every single one of those young people, whether they were working in food manufacturing, hospitality or other areas covered by that union, told me the major problem that needed to be dealt with was wage theft. Every single one of them and every single one of their friends had experienced wage theft. That's a problem that this government should be dealing with. If it's actually serious about getting people's wages up, getting people what they're legally entitled to and getting this economy moving, it might do something about wage theft.

Not one of these young people was telling me that the major problem in their workplace was the odd occasion where their union might not complete paperwork correctly. The reason is that it's not a significant problem in need of legislative prioritisation by this government—but, of course, that is what this government's priority is. We are still waiting to see any serious effort by this government to tackle stagnant wages, the lowest wage growth on record in Australia, under this government. Nothing has been done about that, about wage theft or about other forms of workplace exploitation. That's one form of integrity that this government might care to actually think about.

Another example is the serial, ongoing misconduct of the largest banks in this country. Again, this government isn't serious about doing anything about banking misconduct. We remember they voted 26 times to stop a banking royal commission going ahead. That royal commission was forced upon them against their will, and they're now dragging the chain when it comes to implementing its recommendations. Even though the banking royal commission handed down its 76 recommendations a long time ago, so far only six have been implemented by this government. The rest are on the go-slow because, again, fixing banking misconduct is not a priority of this government, just like fixing wage theft is not a priority of this government; the priority of this government is smashing unions and therefore going after the workers that those unions represent.

Just in the last week we saw more evidence of misconduct in the banking industry, involving Westpac, who have been accused, by the federal government's own banking regulators, of breaking anti-money-laundering and counterterrorism financing laws 23 million times. Shockingly, in the process they seem to have facilitated serious crimes including child exploitation in overseas countries. Again, if this government were serious about ensuring integrity, they might want to do something about that, but, when the Prime Minister was asked about this, his response was that this was simply a matter for Westpac's board—not to mention that, despite ultimately stepping down in disgrace, their former CEO will receive still $2.68 million in his 12 months notice period for which he is being paid out. Twenty-three million breaches of the law by one of the biggest banks of this country can go largely unnoticed by the elected representatives of this government and can be left as a matter for the board, but three minor paperwork breaches by unions is enough to deregister them and disqualify their officials. We're supposed to believe the government are serious when they say this is all about treating unions and companies on an equivalent level. No-one believes that. That is absolutely ludicrous, and the fact that the government have an agenda to go after unions and working people, not serious corporate misconduct, was made plain this week.

You can't fault this government's timing. In the very week it chooses to bring on this debate about 'ensuring integrity', not only is one of the biggest banks in the country involved in serious misconduct but we also have problems yet again with ministerial integrity, involving one of the government's senior ministers, Mr Taylor. I'm glad that, when we're talking about ministerial misconduct and ministerial integrity, we've got another such person in the chamber with us right now. I'm talking, of course, about Minister Cash. Minister Cash set the benchmark for this government when it comes to lacking ministerial integrity and misconduct. Who can forget the infamous raid launched by her organisation, the Registered Organisations Commission, in response to a 'complaint' or referral from Minister Cash, about allegedly serious misconduct that had occurred in the Australian Workers Union? Despite Minister Cash's denials in estimates, we of course learned that that raid by the police was leaked to the media by staff from Minister Cash's own office; they admitted as much in the Federal Court. She's sitting here nodding, saying: 'So what? We've heard this all before.' This is actually a serious matter, Minister Cash. I know you've never taken responsibility for it. That's because you, along with all of your other ministerial colleagues, lack the integrity that you now have the hide to say unions should serve up.

When the police were investigating—and Minister Cash's office was under investigation—and considering charges for leaking this information, Minister Cash wouldn't cooperate with the police. They requested on multiple occasions that she attend an interview, but she wouldn't turn up. That's because she knew that to turn up and tell the police what had actually occurred would incriminate her and incriminate other members of the government, along with her staff. That's how much integrity we saw from Minister Cash and that's why, to this day, not one Australian person takes Minister Cash seriously whenever she opens her mouth. It doesn't matter what she says, it doesn't matter what attack she's launching on the Labor Party or unions or any other group in the country, everyone just remembers: 'Oh, that's that Minister Cash; she's the one who was involved in the police raid on union offices that was leaked to the media.' Everyone knows this minister doesn't have any integrity, and yet she and her colleagues have the hide to come in here and lecture the rest of us about the integrity of unions and working people.

As I said, you can't fault this government when it comes to timing, because, in the very week that it's trying to introduce this legislation, we have another one of its ministers, Minister Taylor, now under police investigation. That will no doubt play out in the House of Representatives today. The fact that the Prime Minister doesn't think that that is a worthy reason for one of his ministers to stand down tells you all you need to know about the integrity levels of this government. Minister Cash set the bar by having her own staff leak information about a police raid on union offices and then not cooperating with the police investigation. Minister Taylor is just following Minister Cash's lead. He's ignoring the fact that the police are investigating him, and the Prime Minister is ignoring the fact that they're investigating one of his own ministers. And the Prime Minister thinks it's okay to get on the phone with the police commissioner and have a bit of a chat with him about how the investigation is going. Are we all of a sudden living in a tin-pot dictatorship under Scott Morrison? We know he doesn't want people to have the right to protest; now he thinks it's okay for the Prime Minister of the country to get on the blower to the police commissioner and ask him about this police investigation. Are they the standards of integrity that we can expect from this government, which has the hide to bring in and debate a bill that it says is about ensuring the integrity of the union movement and working people? This government has no integrity and has no place lecturing anyone else in this country about integrity either.

The fundamental problem that the government, the Liberals and the Nationals, have when it comes to this legislation is that they simply don't understand the importance of unions in this country. Indeed, they see the word 'union' as interchangeable with the word 'criminal'. You only have to look at the public debate that has been engaged in by ministers of this government in recent months and the number of times they talk about this bill in the context of criminal union officials. It happens every single day. They see the word 'union' as interchangeable with the word 'criminal'—I know that, on many occasions, I and other members on this side have been referred to as union lawyers and union officials as if that's some kind of epithet for 'criminal' that can be thrown at people—rather than recognising what unions, and the lawyers and officials who work for them, do. They're out there every single day trying to defend working people against the latest attacks from this government and from employers that don't want to do the right thing. I've seen, over and over again, Labor candidates who have worked for unions or are members of unions referred to as 'union officials', 'union thugs', 'union this', 'union that'. It's this continuing pattern that we see from this government to delegitimise unions, to try to gradually take them out of the workplace so that employers, like the banks that we were talking about before, can get moving, unfettered, and do whatever they want to working people. That's what this government is actually about.

I am a proud union member and I have been a proud union member for my entire working career, going back to my days working in hospitality when I was paying my way through university. My parents were proud union members. Most members of my family are and were proud union members. I've got no shame whatsoever in referring to the fact that I spent a number of years of my working career working as a lawyer for unions and for working people. I was proud to do that, every single day, because it meant that every single day I was going into bat against employers who are doing the wrong thing—underpaying their workers and denying them the conditions that they were entitled to, and sending workers into unsafe conditions. I know whose side I'd rather be on in that fight. I'd rather be on the side of the unions and the working people who are trying to resist that kind of misconduct, rather than with the people we see on the other side of this chamber who are very happy, every day, to saddle up with the rogue employers who are denying working people their rights.

I remember working for workers as a so-called union lawyer, defending employees and representing workers who'd been unfairly dismissed, who'd been discriminated against in the workplace and who had been underpaid on a serial basis by employers. I remember acting for the Finance Sector Union when it tried to prevent, and successfully prevented, the Commonwealth Bank from making its entire workforce go onto individual contracts. I remember working for the Transport Workers Union as they defended owner-drivers, who were being grossly underpaid and denied all of their entitlements by big trucking companies. I remember working for the Manufacturing Workers Union and their members, when companies were going belly up—after, usually, director misconduct—and were left with no money to pay the entitlements of the staff who'd all lost their jobs. Those were good things to do. They were good, deserving people who actually deserved our support rather than more and more attacks as we are seeing from this government.

I won't go over in detail what this bill does—it has been traversed in detail by a number of other speakers—but we know that, as to the effect of this bill, all it will do is to make it harder for unions to organise and harder for unions to stand up for the rights of workers, and, therefore, harder for workers to get a fair pay rise and the conditions that they are entitled to. I will not, and this side of the chamber will not, support a bill that will leave workers without the representatives that protect them from the wage and superannuation theft and the dangerous workplaces that this government should actually be taking action on.

This bill represents a politically motivated attack on workers' ability to organise and represent workers, run their own unions and determine who leads them. Workers in this country should get to choose who leads them and represents them—not Scott Morrison, not Minister Cash, not Minister Taylor and not any other minister over on that side of the chamber who lacks the integrity that they now demand of the union movement.

I do want to mention, in passing, one aspect of this bill, which is that it intends to give even more power to the Registered Organisations Commission—and I'm of course referring to the organisation that was Minister Cash's accomplice in launching that disgraceful and now invalid raid on the Australian Workers Union. The Registered Organisations Commission is now a body that is so thoroughly politicised and discredited over its AWU raid scandal that it should actually be abolished. It should be deregistered. The Registered Organisations Commission is the group that should be deregistered, not the unions that it continually goes after. Instead, what this government wants to do is to give this disgraced, partisan body even more power.

In conclusion, I was going to talk about evidence that came out at the hearings that I attended on this bill in Brisbane, but unfortunately time doesn't permit that. I do want to reflect, in closing, on what this bill is really all about. It is another attempt by this government to do just what they did after the 2004 election, when they overreached with a friendly Senate and introduced the Work Choices legislation that ripped off unions and working people; they're at it again with this bill now. What this bill is really all about is taking out the unions that protect working people so that the government can then go after the people they really want to get, who are the working people of this country. This government is sitting by, while we see wages growing at the lowest level we have ever seen in Australian history, while we are seeing penalty rates cut as a result of the government's inaction and while we see wage theft running rife across almost every sector of the economy. While all of those things are happening, the government does nothing, because their priority is to go after unions and take them out of the way so that they can then go after the working people, who are the real targets of the Liberals and the Nationals.

The government's cover was actually blown yesterday in question time when Minister Payne was asked questions about what the government's plans were for its so-called IR reform. Last week the Minister for Industrial Relations flagged an intention to bring in new industrial laws, and yesterday Minister Payne was given every opportunity to rule out watering down unfair dismissal laws or changing the way enterprise agreements are assessed. The minister would not do that yesterday. We know that this bill is about taking out unions so the government can come after working people in the next few months. (Time expired)

12:00 pm

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

) ( ): I rise to speak about the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2019 today. This is a bad bill and Labor will be voting against it. But this is a dangerous bill—dangerous because it will erode the ability of unions to represent their members and keep them safe, dangerous because it further singles out one group of organisations across civil society and treats them differently to others and dangerous because it directly attacks, in a legislative form, and seeks to dismantle the rights of working people in this country to organise and be represented as a collective movement.

Those opposite will say it does none of these things, but that's not the truth. The bill will erode the organisational capacity and capability of unions to represent their members. Let's not forget that this is the government of Work Choices. This bill is Work Choices in a different form but with exactly the same outcome in mind. If unions are not able to operate or are crippled by regulation so they are unable to do the work they need to do for their members, it will deliver exactly what this government wants. We know this government thrives on division and prioritises the driving of wedges between political opponents. It would be easy to look at the bill in isolation and see it in this way. But this legislation and the union bashing that comes with it is, I think, actually part of a much more sinister and underhanded agenda of this government, an agenda which seeks to demonise and isolate those organisations and individuals who seek to disagree with or actively agitate against this government. It is coordinated, it is planned and it is being rolled out right under our noses.

We have a Prime Minister who governs for the 'quiet Australians', an ill-defined group that includes those who are too busy to follow politics. Sometimes quiet Australians are referred to as the 'quiet masses' or the 'quiet army'. Anyway, you're left without any doubt that to be quiet is to be revered by this Prime Minister. It may surprise the Prime Minister, but my guess is that many of those quiet Australians are union members or people who rely on unions to support them and to speak up for them. The Prime Minister doesn't seem to like those who speak up. Take the environmental movement. Our Prime Minister refers to these people as anarchists who engage in economic sabotage with 'indulgent and selfish practices' and who deny the liberties of Australians before threatening to crack down to them. The Prime Minister has referred to street protests as an insidious threat to our society. We have a Prime Minister who demeans the role of politicians and the important work done by the Public Service by referring to the 'Canberra bubble' in negative terms. He's redefining a Prime Minister's traditional accountability to the public by simply refusing to answer questions in press conferences by writing them off with the 'Canberra bubble' defence when it is actually he who presides over and controls the agenda of that bubble. And don't forget the Prime Minister's warning to senior business leaders who would involve themselves in debates and campaigns across civil society. He wanted to make them quiet and instructed them to stick to their knitting.

This government is all about quietening down participation in public life, and it knows that unions get in the way of this. The government doesn't just want Australians to be quiet; it wants them to be silent. Now, with the typical mindless marketing guff that passes for policy in this government, we have before us a bill that purports to be about ensuring integrity—but this bill does no such thing. It's a silly name for a bill with a sinister purpose. It's not about integrity. It's about quelling political dissent and making Australian workers stay quiet, compliant and obedient—quiet about fair pay, quiet about conditions, quiet about safe workplaces and quiet about taking collective action or bargaining wage outcomes together as a group.

This bill seeks to impose on one part of civil society a set of standards that the government are unwilling to apply elsewhere, least of all to their frontbench. It takes a special kind of gall for this ethically adrift government to stake out political ground in the integrity stakes. If they really wanted to do something about integrity in Australian public life they'd be legislating to mandate a bit more integrity closer to home. Where is the 'ensuring integrity in Minister Taylor's fake documents' bill, or the 'ensuring integrity in grasslands assessment and investigations' bill, or the 'ensuring integrity in Minister Dutton's au pair migration for mates' bill, or the 'ensuring integrity in Minister Robert's $38,000 home internet bill' bill, or the 'ensuring integrity in the NDIS' bill, or the 'ensuring integrity in robodebt' bill, or the 'ensuring integrity in the half a billion dollars in contracts to Paladin' bill, or the 'ensuring integrity in spending $185 million reopening and then closing Christmas Island' bill? Where are all those bills? More fundamentally, where is the Liberal and National parties' commitment to integrity in government more generally? Where is their policy framework for rooting out, investigating and exposing corruption? Where is the proposal for a national integrity commission with teeth?

This government doesn't care about integrity. It cares deeply about silencing its political opponents. We have a government that refuses to take responsibility for anything, regardless of the fact that it has been in government for seven years and three terms and with three Prime Ministers. Their first response to any issue or challenge facing the government is to blame Labor. There was a time when the role of the Prime Minister was to unite the country, to encourage social cohesion and to provide leadership. Where have those days gone?

This is a government that doesn't have a plan. It doesn't have a plan for the economy, with economic growth at its lowest level since the GFC, household living standards declining and wages growing at one-sixth of the rate of profits—the worst wages growth on record. Yesterday we found out that low wages growth is now the new normal. There are now 1.9 million people unemployed or underemployed. Household debt is at record levels, and business investment and consumer confidence are down. Productivity is declining, and the government have, uniquely, managed to deliver skill shortages and wage stagnation at the same time. This government doesn't have a plan. It doesn't have a plan for skills, productivity, climate change, aged care or health care. Where's your energy policy? Where's the plan or vision in education? How is the government going to provide dignified support for Australians who are ageing? How is the government going to deal with escalating costs in child care? How is the government going to deliver the dream that is the NDIS, instead of using it as a vehicle to bolster the budget bottom line? Where is the plan with the federation as we head into 2020? Why is there a delay in implementing the banking royal commission recommendations? And what has happened with the integrity commission? There were promises made, before the election, of a hopelessly inadequate body, and there is silence after it.

The only plan this government has is to undermine, attack and dismantle, through the incumbency of government, the features of our civil society which have been fundamental to the success of and trust in our democratic processes, and that means unions and their leaders are well and truly in its sights. This Senate, if it votes to support the government with this bill, will be complicit in that. We know they won't stop with this bill. They'll be back. Of course they will. This is a government without values, ideas or principles that guide it. They will be back with legislation to continue to attack or dismantle whatever organisation or group they disagree with. This bill strikes a knife right in the heart of the role of organised labour across Australian society. Unions have always been at the heart of democratic progress in this country and they have always been at the heart of the Australian Labor Party. This government knows this. Their blind hatred of their political opponents is what's motivating them with this bill. The bill is political. It's a political attack against the Labor Party and it's a political attack on union members.

For as long as I've been a member of the ALP, we have had to fight conservative politicians in their never-ending campaign to curtail the power of organisations that represent working people. That's been over 24 years for me, and I know these battles were being waged long before I joined the ALP. Unions have been a force for good, for fairness, for equality, for inclusion and for diversity in Australia. They have delivered all of the workplace conditions most Australians enjoy, and history shows Australian trade unions have been at the front of all campaigns to expand democratic rights—the right to vote, the right to an eight-hour day, rights for First Australians, equal rights for women and removal of discrimination.

This government, through this mean and menacing legislation, is wanting to break apart the strength of that collective movement. That's what really drives this government and that's what's motivating this dreadful bill. Sure, they will dress it up with talk of inappropriate behaviour by some union officials, which no-one in this place, including the Labor Party, endorses in any way. But make no mistake: the big play here is to begin to dismantle the collective strength of working people. In the new world of Morrison's desire for a quiet and compliant Australia, unions get in the way. Today, with a smaller, more conservative-leaning crossbench, the government is now within arm's reach to deliver on this long-awaited agenda.

Unions in Australia today are not simply a product of a democratic system—they are champions of future democratic change and an essential safeguard against backsliding. Today, Australian unions are working to secure gender pay equity, tackle workplace discrimination, stop the exploitation of migrant workers, and uncover and deal with wage theft. They campaign to prevent workplace deaths and provide support to those families who, unfortunately, lose loved ones.

In 2019 alone, 138 Australians have been killed at work. I wonder how many of those people opposite have sat with the families and friends of those who've lost their lives in avoidable workplace accidents. It's not many, I imagine. I have, and I'll never forget it—the sound of a mother crying for a lost son, devastated and blindsided that this could have happened in Australia. I will never forget that meeting, nor the presence of the union that sat beside her and the pain that that woman was in. It chilled my blood, and it was all avoidable.

If this bill passes, it will provide unprecedented power for any person with a sufficient interest to interfere in the operation of unions. In the other place, the government failed to provide any clear indication of who would have a sufficient interest. It could be a powerful businessperson, such as prominent Liberal Party donor and industrial law-breaker, Gerry Hanssen, who is said to be driven by a blind hatred of unions. It could be a corporate lobbyist or even the relevant minister. Under this bill, anyone with a sufficient interest will become empowered to seek the disqualification of a union official, request the deregistration of a union or ask for a union to be placed in administration.

The government has tried to claim that the bill gives unions the same treatment as corporations—what a ridiculous comparison. We would never see corporations wound up on the basis that their directors made an administrative error or some technical breach of a workplace rule. All the time we see senior executives of large companies not only keep their job after serious accidents or wage theft but then go on to claim large bonuses.

Many of the speakers in this debate have raised the issue of Westpac—23 million breaches of the money laundering law and links to the sexual exploitation of women. The response to this from the government has been: 'This is a matter for the board.' How inadequate, and what double standards. We know now, today, they will continue to run their protection racket for the banks by refusing Labor's very legitimate call to have Westpac recalled to the House Standing Committee on Economics. What a surprise! A corporate entity is facing these extraordinary charges of the most serious offences that involve the lives of children, and what is the government's response to this? Will they recall them to face questioning by the community's elected representatives? It doesn't seem so. These people are untouchable.

The word 'integrity' is being used a lot in this debate. The standard definition of 'integrity' is 'the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles'. The government attacks the organisations which represent nurses, teachers, flight attendants, scientists, shop assistants, retail workers, construction workers, aged-care and community-care workers and public servants—indeed, all of the workers in this building. Just open the pages of the newspaper this week—if you still have papers—and you will be confronted with examples of the double standards with which this government's so-called integrity agenda operates.

I've already made mention of Westpac and the lack of response from government other than to provide protection for them, but look at the results of the Registered Organisations Commission—the dodgy organisation that investigated a 12-year-old donation to the AMWU. Considering the timing and the subject matter, presumably under some political direction, it has just suffered a massive defeat in the Federal Court—two years of taxpayers' money wasted, with more to come and with news, of course, that they will appeal. The cost to taxpayers, once this is finished, will be in the millions.

And of course this is the same organisation whose initial raids were leaked to the media by the responsible minister's office. Don't for a minute pretend that this wasn't a politically motivated raid. Everyone knows it was. Incredibly, under this bill we are debating today the same organisation will get dramatically increased powers. The passing of this bill this week on those grounds alone, if it does occur, will be a very dark day for Australian democracy.

We have a bill before us that, amongst other things, will impose tests on unions, union officials and union members that are not imposed on other organisations or corporations. We have ministers in this government who will be able to control whether or not amalgamations and mergers go ahead, regardless of what the members of those democratically elected organisations have voted to do. The bill will allow others to insert themselves into who runs a union and how it's run. Under this bill, anyone with a sufficient interest will become empowered to seek the disqualification of a union official, request the deregistration of a union or ask for a union to be placed into administration. The government has tried to claim that the bill gives unions the same treatment as corporations. This is a ridiculous comparison. We will never, ever see corporations treated the same way as unions are being treated by this bill.

This bill should not be passed. Any member of this place who cares about democracy should not support this bill. And, if this bill does pass, we will not become quiet. We will continue to fight for the rights of working people and to fight for the rights of unions to organise, represent, challenge, agitate, disagree, lobby for change and work to build a better society. We will always stand with working people, as we have done before, and we will build our campaign and continue to fight for change right up until the next election. This bill is dangerous, and it won't be the end if the Senate supports this Prime Minister's anti-working-people agenda. There is no doubt this Prime Minister supports a quiet Australia, but his real agenda here—and we will resist this every step of the way—is to create a silent Australia. We can't allow that to happen to our democracy, and I urge the Senate to reject this bill.

12:17 pm

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia who listens to the people, I know that everyday Australians are concerned about the many rip-offs, rogue businesses, dodgy organisations and rogue officials repeatedly breaking the law. I stand today for honest workers, honest union members and honest unions who are concerned about what this bill, the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2019, might do to them because of a few rogue union bosses and employer organisations.

Early in my career I worked as a coalface miner, mostly underground, and was a member of the proud Miners Federation that took strong care of miners. I went on to manage Hunter Valley coalmine. At every mine I led, people had greatly improved safety and productivity. Later, as a mining executive, I worked with miners and union delegates to establish a pioneering award that set new standards for our industry and improved performance and safety benchmarks across the Australian coalmining industry. My concern then, as it is now, was to ensure that our miners and workers returned home safe and well to their families after every shift. Yet some company executives and union bosses today still do not realise that a real focus on safety results in higher productivity and safer, happier, more satisfied workers.

My father, Ieuan, devoted his life to improving coalminer safety and livelihoods in New South Wales and Queensland. For his efforts, he was inducted into the Australian miners' hall of fame and appointed a member of the Order of Australia. His career followed his father's, that of my grandfather William, who died a painful death from black lung in Wales. My father helped eradicate black lung through huge improvements to mining safety legislation when he was Queensland's Chief Inspector of Coal Mines. As the mine manager of Hebburn No. 2 underground coalmine near Cessnock in the heart of the Hunter Valley, Dad worked closely with Bill Chapman, who was at the time miners' lodge president. Although the pair had their battles, both earned each other's respect and regard. My dad fondly remembers the note that Bill sent him when my dad retired. Years later, I remember speaking out alongside Bill when he was president of the proud miners federation in the Hunter. I publicly stood beside him and spoke in support of his advice at a union meeting, when I was an underground coalface miner on night shift. My life and history in mining is why I stand up for everyday Australians and honest workers.

Over recent months, One Nation has worked constructively with many employer and employee organisations and unions, including representatives of the Queensland Council of Unions and the ACTU, who raised a range of genuine concerns about this bill. I personally read, for example, every page of the CFMMEU's lengthy submission. The earlier version of this bill raised real concerns from many Australians, such as procedural fairness, further clarity around the court's use of its discretion, clarity as to who is a person of sufficient interest and the presumption of innocence that everyday Australians expect. The Queensland Law Society expressed concern to us over a number of issues.

One Nation listened extensively to all. We took these real concerns to the government and demanded real protection for honest employers, honest workers and honest unions. One Nation would not stand and will not stand for union bashing and could not in good conscience support a bill that would deregister organisations for misdemeanour offences like not getting their paperwork in on time. In the interests of a fair go, we want to ensure that everyone starts with a clean slate.

Back in 2017, former One Nation senator Peter Georgiou—my predecessor—identified that, as it was, this bill needed to improve and align with the Corporations Act, and I acknowledge his efforts. We proposed positive improvements to this bill, and these have been accepted. The community gives registered employer and employee organisations, including unions, many rights and privileges, and with these rights come responsibilities. In fact, the 2018-19 Registered Organisations Commission's annual report discloses that, in that year, it handled three inquiries, all on employer organisations. It handled eight investigations, half of them into employer organisations. It investigated 24 referrals from the Hayne royal commission and five court actions, including taking an employer organisation to court. While it is not pleasing to see these breaches, it is pleasing to see that this report does demonstrate that employer organisations such as the Australian Hotels Association are being held to account when they do wrong. The hotel association was fined over $157,000 in September for failing to hold elections and for recordkeeping breaches.

Now we need to talk about the sort of organisational misbehaviour that should be stopped and about the rogues that tarnish honest unions and employer groups and give them a bad name. Consider Ian Kirkwood's article two weeks ago in the Newcastle Herald, after he spoke with two women. Both were injured at work while driving trucks for the Japanese labour hire firm Chandler Macleod at BHP's Mount Arthur mine. Both women say that they have been treated appallingly. They were injured and abandoned by BHP, abandoned by Chandler Macleod, abandoned by the CFMMEU and abandoned by government agencies who were supposed to care for their health and safety.

When raising the plight of a number of Hunter Valley black-coal miners in Senate estimates hearings last month, I called out the parties responsible for scamming and exploiting Hunter Valley miners. Here are some examples of injured employees who Chandler Macleod dumped at BHP's Mount Arthur open-cut coalmine, New South Wales's largest mine. There is a coal-truck driver who is now 67 per cent disabled after a 600-tonne coal excavator belted his truck. In breach of safety laws, this incident was not reported by Chandler Macleod or BHP. Another person rolled and broke an ankle. Once fit to return to work, no job was provided. That is yet another incident, one of many, that Chandler Macleod and BHP did not report. One person was told that the mine had had a large number of safety incidents and that, if he reported his injury and his incident, he would be fired; he would lose his income. These people and others have shown authorities documentary evidence that their injury was not correctly reported. Yet BHP, Chandler Macleod, the New South Wales government and the CFMMEU don't care.

The 1996 Gretley mine disaster killed four workers. The report, entitled The politics of a tragedy, later looked in detail at how the New South Wales occupational health and safety act should have applied. The men's employers should have been prosecuted. Three of the deceased men were employed by the labour hire firm United Mining Support Services, UMSS, yet it was never prosecuted or even investigated, but the employer of the fourth deceased man was prosecuted. The majority owner of UMSS was the CFMEU. The failure to prosecute UMSS raises serious questions about the integrity of New South Wales health and safety investigation and prosecution processes.

And there's more! The CFMMEU, as it is now known, not only represents workers in mines like Mount Arthur; it is in partnership with the New South Wales Minerals Council, the employer body, and between them they own the workers compensation insurer. Yes, the CFMMEU part-owns the workers compensation insurer for coalminers, called Coal Mines Insurance. This same CFMMEU owned insurer was the one that refused to pay injured Hunter Valley coalminers their lawful entitlements. This is a clear conflict of interest. In the Hunter Valley, the CFMMEU stands for money, not people—for money, not its members.

Here are some more solid facts: Chandler Macleod, a Japanese owned multinational, dishonourably refused to pay injured coalminers their accident pay. Chandler Macleod supplied misleading information in regard to New South Wales compensation claims for injured coalminers—fraud. BHP allowed Chandler Macleod on their mine site with no workers compensation in place for four years, and, knowingly, the CFMMEU did nothing. BHP and Chandler Macleod do not report all injuries sustained at the Mount Arthur mine, and the state government does nothing. The CFMMEU know about this and do nothing. They are the part-owner, as I said, of Coal Mines Insurance, and they save money by not paying out to deserving workers.

Government organisations like Coal LSL don't check their facts, and they push injured miners away. The so-called casual workers are underpaid 40 per cent. Yes, they're underpaid 40 per cent! They have no leave—no sick leave and no annual leave. The CFMMEU approved the substandard conditions and pay rates of the casual miners working on coal production. They're called 'casual miners' even though they work the same hours, the same roster and the same duties as the full-time production workers who work beside them at Mount Arthur.

Worse: I have seen a letter, dated 14 April 2015, from Chandler Macleod to the CFMMEU's Peter Jordan, the president of Northern Mining, in which Chandler Macleod said, 'The CFMMEU would cease from any current and future actions and claims, in its own right or on behalf of members, directed towards ventilating and agitating its view that employees currently employed by Chandler Macleod as casuals to perform black coalmining production work may be entitled to leave and other entitlements associated with permanent employment, or that Chandler Macleod is not paying employees their lawful terms and conditions.' In other words: drop it. And the union agreed. The relevant award, which the CFMMEU accepted, does not provide for casual mine workers, yet the CFMMEU did the deal.

But it gets worse. Right now, every day, hundreds of so-called casual coalminers are being exposed to needless risk, with reduced and apparently illegal and inferior protection in terms of workplace insurance, workers compensation and accident pay. And what does the CFMMEU do for them? Nothing. This is collusion at the highest level against workers. If coalminers who once had a proud and strong union are abused and exploited like this today, what chance do other honest Australians have against these rogue employers and rogue union bosses? Affected mineworkers have shown me documents, including letters and pleas to union bosses and New South Wales state government agencies, who did nothing. Currently, millions of dollars each year flow to unions and some employer organisations—yes, some employer organisations—from very large, inappropriate commissions paid to them by insurance companies. Yet these companies offer union members substandard income protection insurance products at grossly inflated prices.

Again and again, everyday Australians have seen the corrupt antics of the likes of the Health Services Union officials stealing money from union members to pay for prostitutes. Workers in the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association and the AWU have lost entitlements including penalty rates in grubby deals between union bosses and multinationals and large Australian employers. Workers suffer under the aggressive and collusive misbehaviour of the CFMMEU in the Hunter Valley. These rogue officials are not interested in everyday Australians or honest workers. Some trade unions have now just become rich big businesses and political entities, with access to rivers of gold ripped from the pockets of hardworking union members and employee superannuation funds. Some collude with employer organisations.

The investment earnings on workers' entitlements do not legitimately belong to unions or to employer associations and should not be able to be transferred to these associations through resolutions passed by their representatives on boards of worker funds. It is completely unacceptable that worker entitlement funds that contain more than $2 billion in worker entitlements are subject to extremely inadequate governance arrangements. Employers have contributed this money for the benefit of employees, not for the benefit of unions and employer associations. Two billions dollars is a vast sum of money, and these funds would have paid members more if their investment earnings over the years had not been siphoned off to unions and some employer organisations. Right now, these rogue bosses are using everyday workers' cash for their own personal political agendas.

One Nation wants to ensure that industrial laws are fair and protect honest employers, honest workers and honest unionists. Mt Arthur Coal ignored these workers' long service leave entitlements. Fair Work and the NSW Workers Compensation Independent Review Office ignored them. They knew that these people at Mt Arthur Coal were casuals. These workers were employed this way for many years by a company that should know better. These honest workers were not insured properly, and legitimate complaints and injuries were covered up. They all know this. BHP does not care. It's gutless, intimidatory and unprincipled and lacks sound governance; that is clear. Chandler Macleod does not care and the CFMMEU does not care for honest, hardworking Australians. I want to acknowledge again, as I did a couple of weeks ago, Mr Simon Turner, a man who was crippled while working for Japanese owned labour-hire firm Chandler Macleod at Mt Arthur Coal. There are more and more affected workers coming forward every day. Today I call for action for them.

In subsequent talks with the government, I clearly stated my aim as being to protect these workers. I thank the government and I particularly thank Senator Marise Payne for her interest. These are the needs I see for these workers: (1) ensuring that all workers who have been scammed, exploited and denied their legal and moral entitlements receive their fair entitlements as production workers in the black coal industry, plus compensation for their suffering and trauma; (2) ensuring that the rorts and unsafe practices that the CFMMEU has either agreed to, done backroom deals with employers about, or been blissfully unaware of are stopped immediately across our industry; and (3) securing justice for the workers and penalties for the perpetrators of the BHP Chandler Macleod CFMMEU scam hurting hundreds of coalminers and their families. This exploitation occurred under the watch of BHP Chief Executive Officer, Andrew Mackenzie, and Mike Henry in his role at the time of as head of the BHP's coal division. The CFMMEU's bosses include Peter Jordan and Tony Maher in the Hunter.

Regarding casuals, I can see that mine owners and employers need some casual workers because of the cyclical workload peaks at mines. Casual workers, though, must be paid and treated fairly, honestly and openly. Those same casual workers who were employed or formerly employed as casuals advised me that the Fair Work Commission's website states clearly that production miners can only be employed full-time—permanents, not casuals. It seems that even the Fair Work Commission missed that one when they were rubberstamping the enterprise agreement, as did the CFMMEU when it signed off on their EA. The CFMMEU's New South Wales division's sinister web of alliances and deals with organisations like BHP, Chandler Macleod and the New South Wales Minerals Council gives them access to play with many millions of workers' dollars through overseeing basic entitlements such as worker safety, long service leave, superannuation, medical, and health monitoring. The CFMMEU stands for money, not members.

You know, these workers took their concerns to the ALP member for the Hunter federal electorate, Joel Fitzgibbon, six times, and they were shown the door again, again, again, again, again and again. Finally, these workers went to One Nation's Stuart Bonds, an experienced and trusted figure in the Hunter Valley community, and a CFMMEU member himself. Stuart gave them a voice at last, because he brought them to me and to Senator Hanson's chief of staff, James Ashby. I travelled to the Hunter to listen to eight injured miners, physically, mentally or emotionally crippled, on their experience with BHP, Chandler Macleod and the CFMMEU. I took a barrister working in my office and a former barrister working in Senator Hanson's office. We got the facts and started the action we are now taking, and we will continue to take it until all the miners' needs and my three aims for them are fulfilled. The Attorney-General's Department has confirmed our analysis, as has Ian Kirkwood, journalist at the Newcastle Herald, who I tip my hat to, who continues digging into this and other events surrounding the CFMMEU.

I ask yet again why the CFMEU donated $1.3 million to founding the activist group GetUp!, whose No. 1 campaign is to kill the coal industry in our country. The outcome of this bill, if it is to pass, must be to hold both employer and employee organisations like these rogues to account.

In relation to this bill, everyday Australians expect to see honest employer and employee organisations, honest unions, to be free to thrive. At the same time, they want the rogue organisations to be held accountable for exploiting union members for personal and/or political gain and power.

Bob Hawke, the respected leader of the ALP of the 1980s, when introducing legislation for the deregistration of the BLF, stated, as Prime Minister, that we should remain 'mindful of community concern that the deregistration powers we now propose should not be used indiscriminately or capriciously'. Bob Hawke said that. We endorse his comments. What the concerned stakeholders and employee organisations who have approached One Nation want is to ensure that this bill does not punish honest unions. Technical breaches should not be triggers for deregistration; nor should they affect hardworking union officials who are standing up for their members.

One Nation will continue to stand up for workers and for honest unions. We will continue to stand up for people such as farmers and small business people who are being belted at the hands of rogue banks or stupid government red tape like the Murray-Darling Basin Authority. One Nation members include a high proportion of everyday Australians from working and trades backgrounds, and we are proud of it. We are proud to stand up for workers, for farmers, for families and for everyday Australians who deserve a fair go. It's time for improved accountability and for integrity, as everyday, honest, hardworking Australians rightly expect.

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

Thank you, Senator Roberts. Senator Smith.

12:37 pm

Photo of Marielle SmithMarielle Smith (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak today because, as a Labor senator and as a person who believes in the fundamental principle that workers have a right to choose their representatives and to defend and protect their workplace rights, it is my responsibility to add my name to the chorus of working Australians' voices that oppose this bill. Make no mistake: this bill is bad for workers, it is bad for unions and it is bad for Australia, because, at its heart, this bill is just another Liberal attack on workers and their representatives.

In the first 'ensuring integrity' bill, which was considered and rejected by the 45th Parliament, the Liberals sought to bring in dangerous and extreme measures that were, by design, intended to weaken the union movement. This parliament was right to reject that bill, and we should be rejecting the version in front of us now, because, ultimately, the original bill, with all of its damaging intent, is back, and the Liberals are back to their favourite stomping ground of attacking Australian workers and attacking our unions. This bill, like its predecessor, is draconian, it is antidemocratic and it is unnecessary. Despite its name, this legislation has absolutely nothing to do with ensuring integrity, but everything to do with ideology and opportunism and this government's pathological hatred of unions and the workers that they seek to represent and protect. It's an attack on the union movement, an attack on union officials and an attack on volunteers. It's an attack on Australian workers. It's an attack on freedom of association and it is an attack on democracy itself.

And what will it ensure? It will ensure less safe workplaces. It will ensure more wage and super theft. It will ensure a less effective union movement—more preoccupied with getting its paperwork right than doing the job which has delivered better wages and conditions for workers in Australia for well over a century. This bill will not ensure wage growth for Australian workers and it will do nothing for our economy. In this current economic climate, it beggars belief that the Liberals are prioritising attacking Australian workers over fixing the economy. They are back to pursuing their ideological agenda at the expense of practical industrial relations reforms that would actually improve the lives of working people in Australia.

In recent years we have seen example after example of employers ripping off their workers. There's 7-Eleven, where operators at 11 stores across the country were found to have underpaid and exploited vulnerable workers. Subsequent investigations found that this exploitation was systematic and came from the top. The franchisor had set up the franchising arrangements in such a way that it was impossible for the stores to make a profit unless they underpaid their staff. Another example is Domino's pizza where, in a class-action law suit, the company was accused of underpaying staff for weekend and afterhours work for 4½ years. And then there's Michael Hill jewellers, who are reported to have stolen an unbelievable $25 million from their workforce over a period of six years.

Each of those examples tells us why we need our unions—and they are not the only examples of workers being systematically ripped off across Australia. Across our country, far too many workers are seeing the most basic entitlement from their labour, their pay, under attack. It's happening in industries from transport to manufacturing and from the retail sector to cafes. But this bill won't help those workers. This bill does not seek to go after dodgy employers. It is not about tackling stagnant wages, wage theft of worker exploitation. It's not about the issues that working people are talking about and are worried about. It's not about easing cost-of-living pressures for Australian families. It's about attacking the union movement. It's about attacking Australian workers at a time when they need our support in this place the most.

Countless examples of the real-world problems in our workplaces are provided to us regularly by the Office of the Fair Work Ombudsman, who says that the flood of companies rushing to declare that they have underpaid their workers has become a torrent. Just recently, reports of Woolworths' systematic wage theft of nearly 6,000 employees by as much as $300 million shocked Australia. But this was just one example that, when combined with other cases across the nation, adds up to $40 million in unpaid wages being handed back to Australian workers in the last year alone. This $40 million was taken unfairly from over 17,000 workers, with the workplace watchdog confirming that fast-food restaurants and cafes are a key priority, with a series of high-profile wage theft scandals plaguing the industry in recent years. According to the Fair Work Ombudsman, there have already been 22 separate large underpayments reported this year. These, of course, are just the cases that we know about.

What is clear as day, what we do know, is that these issues aren't a priority for this government. Working Australians and their families aren't a priority for them either. Workers in the sharing economy know this all too well. More and more workers are joining the sharing economy, and while, of course, there are opportunities in this emerging sector, currently there are also far too many workers facing exploitative conditions and unfair sackings. For example, a case recently brought to public attention by the Transport Workers Union was that of a food delivery driver from Adelaide who was allegedly sacked for delivering food 10 minutes late. The existing unfair dismissal laws do not currently apply, because of a workplace structure loophole that sees drivers as contractors and not employees. These workers are not covered by workers compensation laws, unfair dismissal laws or even the minimum wage. These are the kinds of issues that demand action from this parliament, not this antiworkers bill that will threaten the pay and conditions of even more workers.

Debate interrupted.