Senate debates

Tuesday, 25 February 2020


Workplace Relations, Morrison Government

9:22 pm

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Manufacturing) Share this | | Hansard source

Tonight I again draw to the attention of the chamber and the nation the absolute hypocrisy of the Liberal-National government in its continued pursuit of the union movement in this country. The government has decided that, despite this chamber rejecting their previous attempt to silence workers and hamstring the union movement, it is set to have another go. The ensuring integrity bill was rejected. It's bad for workers. It's bad for nurses and teachers, cleaners and carers. It's bad for police and for firefighters. It's bad for workers who just want decent pay and conditions in their workplaces. But just days after the Senate rejected the bill, the government, so driven by its ideological agenda and hatred of the union movement, reintroduced the same bad and ideologically driven legislation—albeit, amended by members of the crossbench.

But it is nothing short of sheer arrogance that you run with your confected fights with the union movement in order to paper over the fact that you have no agenda as a government. You have to confect an enemy in order to mask over your own dirty laundry: Minister Angus Taylor and his accusations against the City of Sydney; sports rorts; sports rorts 2.0; now the Urban Congestion Fund rorts, where 83 per cent of the $3 billion allocated from the fund went to seats held by the coalition or to marginal seats.

Even more concerning, on top of that arrogance, until this weekend the government had all but buried their head in the sand on wage and superannuation theft. But it does appear that Minister Porter and the government seem to have finally realised that Australians are sick and tired of companies that rip off their workers. It wasn't the government trying to find out how many workers had been ripped off; it hasn't been the government trying to make sure that workers are paid what they are owed; it has been the union movement. In fact, Mr Porter acknowledged as much. He said:

Unions do a good job in uncovering underpayment …

He said:

The unions are a fundamental part of the architecture of the Australian industrial relations scheme, and in many instances they do fantastic work.

Well, he's right. And so they should remain uninhibited by this government's conservative ideology.

Australian unions have an integral and necessary role to play in our society and they underpin the foundation of our democracy and fairness within it. They uphold the basic standards of safety and human rights and things that Australians value in their workplaces and in their communities. The role they play in representing some of the most vulnerable people within our communities and their positive impacts are felt across the whole of the Australian community. They've largely been responsible for the fight for developing inclusive and supportive workplaces. They've undertaken significant work of addressing gender inequality, campaigning for workplaces free from discrimination, in all its forms, and have a proud history of taking action on many different forms of social injustice.

So why is it that this government wants to undermine the representation, support and advocacy that workers have in the union movement? The push to follow through with the ensuring integrity bill just reinforces the fact the Morrison Liberal government is not interested in governing for all Australians. They would not allow for a Senate inquiry into the new iteration of the bill. And that is what has motivated me to speak tonight. It is an entirely different bill that has been amended by the crossbench, and still you thought you'd go away and have your secret negotiations about it before reintroducing it to this place. You don't want unions and workers to have an opportunity to ventilate their well-founded and serious concerns about the proposed legislation. Perhaps you don't want to hear the very real evidence that is there to be put forward, evidence from nurses, cleaners, electricians, workers from a whole range of industries—and the hole that is left in your justification for this bill and the exposure of your arrogance and hypocrisy.

The responsibility of good government is to represent its entire population and people in good faith, further their economic and social prosperity, and guarantee their basic rights to participate in a free and democratic nation. The government has abandoned these principles. This legislation abandons workers and families and is all put forward in the interests of their ideological agenda.