Tuesday, 2 August 2022
Questions without Notice
Australian Building and Construction Commission
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Senator Watt. Minister, last week the Federal Court fined the CFMMEU and two officials in our state home of Queensland more than $150,000 for entry breaches, thuggish behaviour and disgusting, homophobic slurs on the $5.4 billion Queensland Cross River Rail project. Will the minister guarantee that, by abolishing the Australian Building and Construction Commission, this disgraceful and disgusting behaviour will not become even more prevalent on construction sites in Queensland and across this nation?
Thank you, Senator Scarr, for the question. As Senator Scarr knows, I have the utmost respect for our judiciary and our judicial institutions, and it's not for me to criticise any decisions that they have made. However, what I note—
Government senators interjecting—
You right there? What I note is that in the second week of the sittings of this parliament the shadow minister for employment and workplace relations has been ruled out of asking questions about the ABCC or anything to do with it because of her own record in that portfolio—
My point of order is pretty obvious. It is in relation to relevance. The question that was asked by Senator Scarr was in relation to the imposition of a fine on the CFMMEU, as he has stated, for certain behaviour, including disgusting, homophobic slurs.
I have listened carefully to Minister Watt. The question was broadly about decisions of the court, the behaviour of a union and so on and so forth. I do believe that the minister is being relevant, and I will listen carefully to the rest of his answer.
Of course this government thinks that it is unacceptable in any workplace to see thuggish behaviour, to see homophobic slurs, whether that be on a construction worksite or, frankly, in a parliamentary workplace—and maybe people could all reflect on that as well. But the comments made by judges in the particular case that Senator Scarr was referring to are not the only comments that we've heard made by the judiciary about the ABCC. To take one example, Justice North in the Federal Court blasted the ABCC for wasting time and taxpayers' money on prosecuting two CFMMEU officials for 'having a cup of tea with a mate'. Justice North criticised the ABCC, saying this is a 'minuscule, insignificant affair'.
President, a point of order on relevance: Senator Watt is providing other judicial comments in relation to the ABCC. He's not dealing specifically with my question in relation to whether or not the abolition of the ABCC—
Yes, thank you, Senator Scarr. There is no need to repeat the question. Once again, Minister Watt is being relevant. He is talking about the behaviour of a whole range of people, including unions. He's condemned the behaviour, and I would ask him to continue.
As I was saying, there have been numerous cases in which the ABCC has been criticised by judges. In ABCC against Parker, Justice Kerr criticised the ABCC for 'over-egging' its case, being a 'battleship in full steam' which 'had difficulty turning'—
Thank you, President. I was reflecting on the irony of certain opposition members asking questions about thuggish behaviour, when they continue to disrespect your ruling. So, as I say, there are numerous cases in which judges— (Time expired)
Minister, the judge noted in his judgement that he'd previously described the CFMMEU as the 'greatest recidivist offenders in Australian corporate history' and that no other penalty than the maximum penalty was appropriate. Will the minister specifically condemn the homophobic slurs and thuggish behaviour of the CFMMEU officials that led to this fine? Specifically condemn those CFMMEU officials for that conduct. (Time expired)
I think we're already at tedious repetition in question 3 for the day. I have already said that there is no place for thuggish behaviour, homophobic behaviour or any other outrageous behaviour in a workplace.
Honourable senators interjecting—
I've got a whole list of comments from the judiciary about the ABCC, which I can run through if you want me to. I didn't finish what Justice North had to say about the ABCC.
All I can do is repeat the comments that I've made twice already in answer to the primary question and the first supplementary, which is that there is no place for thuggish behaviour, homophobic slurs in any workplace. Intimidation is not appropriate on a construction worksite. It is not appropriate on a parliamentary worksite.
Hello, Senator McGrath. And it is not appropriate on any other worksite. (Time expired)
The judge also noted that the penalty would still be insufficient to deter the CFMMEU as they regard such a sum as 'chump change'. Will the government commit to at least doubling the fines available to the courts for such matters, including the disgraceful matters considered in this case, as the coalition government promised to do in April this year? Will you commit to that?
Thank you, Senator Scarr, for reminding us of something that your government had nine years available to do and didn't actually do until its dying days in government. And thank you again for reminding us that Senator Cash has apparently been ruled out from asking any questions about the portfolio that she's the shadow minister in. It is interesting that we continue to see members of the opposition talk up the ABCC when its record was about prosecuting trivial matters, going after unions, going after workers, rather than actually doing anything to improve the lot of workers in the industry.
On the point of order, these are getting spurious. The minister responded on the subject matter, which was fines. If the opposition wish to chew up question time by taking ongoing points of order on spurious grounds, it's a matter for them, but I put you, President, that there is no point of order in the point of order that's just been made.
Thank you, Senator Scarr. The minister is being relevant. He may not be giving the answer you require, and I can't direct him to directly answer your question, but he is being relevant to the subject matter of the question. Minister Watt, please continue.
Senator Scarr knows very well the policy we took to the election in relation to the ABCC, and that was to abolish it. And the reason we intend to abolish it is that it has been a gross waste of taxpayers' money, prosecuting minor issues involving workplaces, workers and unions, and it has done nothing whatsoever to deal with the labour productivity issues that exist in the industry. For all the opposition's talk about the ABCC, productivity has fallen on construction worksites. (Time expired)