Senate debates

Wednesday, 17 February 2021

Statements by Senators

Trade Unions

1:42 pm

Photo of Paul ScarrPaul Scarr (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Before proceeding to my statement, I want to congratulate my friend Senator Stirling Griff in relation to his success in that regard. I pay tribute also to our health minister, Greg Hunt. Knowing personally people who have gone through IVF processes and how emotionally draining and difficult it can be, as well as how costly, I think this is an extraordinarily important initiative and I look forward to promoting the website through my social media. Congratulations, Senator Griff.

The Hon. Anthony Albanese, the member for Grayndler, came to Queensland recently. My reflection is that—

Senator Sterle interjecting

No, he didn't see me, Senator Sterle. My reflection is that Albo needs Queensland more than Queensland needs Albo. I say this having read the speech which the Hon. Anthony Albanese MP gave at TAFE Queensland on Wednesday 10 February 2021. In that speech the Leader of the Opposition referred to the Labor Party's policy for:

… the abolition of the discredited and politicised Registered Organisations Commission and the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

I must say how disappointing it is that the Leader of the Opposition casts a slur over all those good people who are working at the Australian Building and Construction Commission and the Registered Organisations Commission, because they're doing great work for Australia. They're doing great work especially for all those workers, subcontractors and others involved in the construction industry. Why are they needed? They're needed because at this stage in our history we have not managed to get the construction division—and I say 'construction division' in particular, not the other divisions—of the CFMMEU under control. They are a lawless union.

We need to deal with this issue. We especially need to deal with this issue because this country has generated and built up higher and higher debt and we need to get every single bang for every single buck in terms of our infrastructure spend. The people of Queensland, including those in my region, the Ipswich region, one of the fastest growing regions in Australia, cannot afford to pay an extra 30 per cent for every hospital, police station, highway and other piece of infrastructure needed. We can't afford to pay that 30 per cent surcharge because of the lawlessness of the CFMMEU construction division. Something needs to be done.

Let's have a look at the facts in relation to—using the opposition leader's words—the 'discredited and politicised' body which is the ABCC. The ABCC continues to discharge its critical role as the full-service regulator for the building and construction industry. Since it was re-established on 2 December 2016, the ABCC has recovered over $2.6 million in wages and entitlements for over 4,100 employees. Is this a discredited and politicised body? I wouldn't have thought so. It has collected over $11 million in penalties that have been awarded in cases brought by the ABCC. Addressing noncompliance, the ABCC has been successful in nearly 90 per cent of 81 cases decided. Just reflect on that, Madam Acting Deputy President: it's been successful in nearly 90 per cent of the cases which have gone to court. This is hardly a discredited and politicised body.

I don't believe that my friends who are sitting on the other side of the chamber, Senator Ayres and Senator Sterle, would ever conduct themselves like some organisers and senior officials of the construction division of the CFMMEU conduct themselves. I genuinely don't believe they would. I don't think my friend Senator Tony Sheldon would either, nor would many of the other senators—including you, Madam Acting Deputy President Walsh—who provided good service to the trade union movement. But there is a problem with the construction division of the CFMMEU, and the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon. Anthony Albanese, needs to recognise that.

Instead of saying that these organisations are discredited and politicised, look at the facts. Let me give you an example of a recent case which was decided by the Hon. Justice Rangiah, a judge I knew for close to 25 years prior to his elevation to the bench. He's an extremely decent judge and someone who could hardly be said to be politicised or in any way engaged in conduct other than the conduct one would expect from a superior court judge. I refer to the recent case of the Australian Building and Construction Commission against James Fissenden and the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union. This judgement was brought down in July 2020. What happened in this case was that a gentleman by the name of Cooper Crosthwaite was working at the construction site of a new shopping centre on the Sunshine Coast. He wasn't a member of the union, and this was the problem. The owner of the company for which Cooper was working was approached by Mr Fissenden, who said that Mr Crosthwaite was not coming up as a union member. So, when Mr Fissenden then attended the Sunshine Plaza site, he was actually threatened by this union official from the construction division of the CFMMEU that unless he paid his union fee he wouldn't be allowed to work on the site.

It's interesting, when you read the reasons for these judgements, how quickly the CFMMEU simply concedes. They simply concede all the relevant facts. There's not even any dispute. So, if you go to paragraph 7 of the judgement, it says that the commissioner alleges and the respondents submit. So they admit this—that:

Mr Fissenden took adverse action against Mr Crosthwaite by threatening to deny him the right to work at the Sunshine Plaza Site on 10 March 2019 which Mr Crosthwaite had been engaged to do—

So they actually admit it. They admit that Mr Fissenden, their organiser from the CFMMEU construction division—not the mining division; the construction division—took adverse action against the company by threatening to deny the company and its contractors the right to work at the Sunshine Plaza site on 10 March 2019. They actually admit it. So it just comes down to a question of what's the penalty going to be? They admit they breached the law. It's quite disgusting.

The trade union movement is an honourable profession, absolutely. I've said in this place before, my father was a member of a union, my mother was a member of a union and my sister was a member of a union. I have absolutely no problem with the trade union movement and I think they carry out an absolutely essential role in terms of protecting workers' rights. I've no problem at all. Where I have an issue is where you have this blatant lawlessness, and it is just blatant.

This is happening in my home state of Queensland. Workers in Queensland, whether or not they're employees, contractors, health and safety inspectors, do not deserve to be terrorised by the unlawful thugs in the construction division of the CFMMEU. They deserve a safe place of work. I'll read further from the judgement, paragraph 31—this is from the judgement from Justice Rangiah:

Two videos recording the contravening conduct were provided to the Court. The videos show that Mr Fissenden was loud and abusive, and used offensive language to describe Mr Crosthwaite. The contravening conduct was engaged in openly and in front of others at the Sunshine Plaza Site.

Mr Fissenden's conduct involved a threat to the incomes and revenues of Mr Crosthwaite and Norman Holdings.

That's the company he was working for. The people of Australia deserve better than this.

I implore those opposite: I'm not sure what discussions you had behind closed doors, but the conduct of the construction division of the CFMMEU is casting a slur on the entire trade union movement. I don't know why you put up with this. We have to find an answer to address this conduct. We can do better than this. Australia deserves better than the unlawful conduct of the CFMMEU construction division.