Senate debates

Monday, 5 September 2022

Regulations and Determinations

Code for the Tendering and Performance of Building Work Amendment Instrument 2022; Disallowance

6:30 pm

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

I'm pleased to rise to speak on this disallowance motion in relation to the Code for the Tendering and Performance of Building Work Amendment Instrument 2022. In doing so, I note that this is the first step in the Labor government's project to abolish the ABCC, the Australian Building and Construction Commission, which as at today is the only handbrake on the lawless activity of the construction division of the CFMMEU.

I've made the point in relation to this discussion previously that when Minister Burke first announced the substantial amendment gutting the powers of the ABCC under the Code for the Tendering and Performance of Building Work Amendment Instrument 2022 he did not even dare to mention the CFMMEU in his media announcement. He couldn't even bring himself to mention the CFMMEU in relation to his announcement of the substantial amendment, the gutting of the Code for the Tendering and Performance of Building Work Amendment Instrument 2022.

When you actually look at the regulation, the delegated legislation, itself and you look at the proposed amendments and then go through and look at the explanatory statement issued by the authority, you see that the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations cannot bring himself to even refer to the CFMMEU construction division, which is the whole reason we have this apparatus called the Australian Building and Construction Commission: because of the lawless activity that is occurring on construction sites all over Australia. When you go through the explanatory statement, the guide to all the provisions, there is no mention of the CFMMEU at all. There is not a single mention of the CFMMEU. There is not a single mention of the millions of dollars of fines which have been levied on the CFMMEU or their disgraceful conduct on construction sites all over Australia.

As I've said previously in this house and will say all the way up to the next federal election, the fact of the matter is that the Labor Party is institutionally incapable of dealing with the lawless nature of the activities of the CFMMEU. I saw this just recently in my home state of Queensland. I quote from an article appearing in the Courier Mail on 24 August 2022 in relation to an incident which occurred after this Senate last met, entitled 'Hundreds of CFMEU protesters storm Transport and Main Roads building in Brisbane CBD', by reporter Madura McCormack:

Public servants have been put at risk, a government building forced to lock down and events cancelled after hundreds of militant construction union members stormed a CBD building in a protest gone awry.

I'm not sure it was a protest gone awry, because if one looks at the conduct of the construction division of the CFMMEU, this is what they do. This is exactly their modus operandi. I again quote:

The Department of Transport and Main Roads confirmed 'more than' 200 CFMEU members held a protest at the government's Mary Street offices on Tuesday about 9am before forcibly entering the building. This included knocking down a security guard—who was not seriously injured—

lucky for the security guard—

and exposing staff members to 'upsetting and unacceptable' behaviour.

What about the workplace rights of the security guard, who was just doing his job—manning his post, going about his day—when he was knocked down by protesters from the CFMMEU? What about his workplace rights? What about his right to a safe workplace when he goes about his business, discharging his duties faithfully?

Transport Minister Mark Bailey, who was not in the building at the time—

unlike the poor old security guard—

confirmed some staff were trapped in a server room to get away from protesters.

So this was hardly a peaceful protest if there were staff—Queensland public servants; no doubt many of them members of the Together union—and I'll have something else to say about that later—actually trapped in a room, isolated, because of the violent thuggery of the CFMEU. I again quote:

Queensland Police confirmed they were called to protest action around 9.30am on Tuesday, though their estimates put the crowd at around 100 to 150.

The annual Queensland Transport and Roads Investment Program industry briefing was due to be held in the Mary St building that morning, with TMR director general Neil Scales scheduled to speak.

But a TMR spokesperson confirmed police presence did not stop CFMEU members from helping others forcibly enter the building, with the mob then entering the conference room set to be used for the event.

So it didn't matter the police were there, it didn't matter that this protest was so violent the Queensland public servants, no doubt members of a trade union themselves, had to call the police. That didn't matter. The construction division—I'm not talking about the mining division, I'm talking about the construction division—of the CFMEU is lawless, absolutely lawless.

It continues—and this is where it gets really interesting. There are senators sitting in this chamber, who sit on the other side of the chamber, whose ethics and morals I greatly admire. No doubt they would agree, as I do, with the principle of civil disobedience, peaceful protest and that sometimes you must take measures to make your voice heard. But in this case they've stormed into a conference—a conference that three members of the CFMEU had actually been invited to attend, to participate in the conference. And yet what do they do? One hundred to 150 or 200 violent members disturb the conference. As a consequence the conference had to be called off. Subsequent conferences also had to be called off because of the lawless nature of the construction division of the CFMEU's activities.

Mr Bailey—

who is my local state member—

defended workers ability to protest but said "you must do it respectfully, and you must do it peacefully and that's not what we saw yesterday".

"And, you know, I'm afraid that's, you know, I can't defend that at all. And I wouldn't defend that—

No, nor would I, Mr Bailey MP. I wouldn't defend it either.

Indeed the Premier of Queensland, Annastacia Palaszczuk MP, described the incident as follows:

"That footage is incredibly disturbing and I would have hated being a person there with that happening … they owe an apology to those workers—

an apology to those workers—

who were subjected to that and who felt unsafe."

Palaszczuk said she understood police were looking into the matter.

And how does the CFMEU respond? Is there contrition on the part of the CFMEU construction division? Do they say: 'Well maybe we got a bit out of hand. Maybe our emotions got away from us. We genuinely apologise. We show remorse.' You don't have to be Nostradamus to predict how the CFMEU construction division actually responded to that call for an apology. Why do I say that? Because you only have to read the many, many High Court cases, Supreme Court cases, Federal Court cases where judges of this country have repeatedly said the CFMEU fails to show remorse. The construction division of the CFMEU repeatedly will not show contrition, will not show remorse.

This is what the CFMEU said, this is what the assistant secretary said—I'm not going to name him, because I believe this is a sick, sick culture in this union. He said:

The issue "seems like a bit of a storm in a teacup" …

What happened? 'Oh, it was a storm in a teacup'. He continued:

A bunch of fluoro shirts attended the meeting and unfortunately some people panicked about that.

Workers simply just wanted to go and listen about industry projects that were coming up.

We attended a meeting, the meeting got cancelled and we left.

That's from a senior official of the CFMMEU construction division. There was no contrition, no remorse and nothing about the security guard they knocked over as they ran into peaceful meeting which they had attended and been participating in. There was nothing about the public servants who, no doubt, are members of the Together union in my home state of Queensland who were trapped in a server room, unable to escape—not a word. No contrition, no remorse, what's the problem? Objective achieved. Business as usual for the CFMMEU construction division.

Mark Bailey called on Ravbar to make a public apology. Is that the same Ravbar who sits on the ALP national executive? Maybe some of those here could ask him to make a public apology. Bailey said:

I have backed in our workers from day one as their minister, I take that responsibility seriously, and they were mistreated by his union members.

That's what a Labor minister is saying about the CFMMEU in my home state of Queensland. Is anyone surprised? Where will this lawlessness end? How will the abolition of the ABCC promote lawful, safe working places?

I've spoken previously in this place about the fact that the Together union, which may well be the union that represents the security guard who was knocked down, and no doubt is also the union representing some of the public servants who essentially were deprived of their liberty and trapped whilst this violent protest was going on, had to take protected industrial action on behalf of workplace health and safety inspectors because it was not safe for the workplace health and safety inspectors to go onto construction sites in Queensland. That is how bad the situation is. Yet the minister is in the process of gutting the ABCC, taking away all of the ABCC's powers. In the explanatory statement, in the regulation, in all the documents relating to this matter, there is not a single mention of the CFMMEU and its unlawful behaviour. It is the union whose name we will not utter, and the Labor Party is proving itself of being institutionally incapable of dealing with the unlawful behaviour of the CFMMEU. Our public servants deserve better. Our workplace health and safety inspectors deserve better. Everyone working on our construction workplaces deserves better than to have to deal with this unlawful behaviour.

There was another case where the reasons were brought down after we last met or in our last week or thereabouts. This was the case dealing with the Australian Building and Construction Commission and the CFMMEU in relation to Pacific Highway Upgrade Case (No. 4). We know that in relation to every single major infrastructure project in this country involving the CFMMEU there are cases like this—again and again. Judge Humphreys said, at paragraph 52:

It is perhaps appropriate to deal with the CFMMEU first. This is a Union which has a long and troubled history of breaches of the relevant workplace legislation. It is a Union that appears to have a preferred mode of business that accepts prosecution for breaches of the relevant legislation as an occupational hazard, and presumably the imposition of pecuniary penalties in the same casual manner.

The judge then referred to the Pattinson case in the High Court and to the Broadway on Ann case, both of which I've previously referred to in this place. He said, at paragraph 56:

Given the findings of the High Court in Pattinson the Court is satisfied that it is entitled to look at imposing a pecuniary penalty at the very high end of the available range of penalties in order to again emphasise the need for specific deterrence.

It goes on:

The Court is also taken account that no remorse or contrition has been evidenced by the CFMMEU—

Just as there was no remorse or contrition about the supposed storm in a teacup when the security guard just doing his business, going about his day, was bowled over by members of the CFMMEU. his is their modus operandi, their way of doing business. The penalty in this case: another $100,000—just the cost of doing business. Another $100,000—who cares? When's our next protest going to be? When are we going to picket our next construction work site? This Senate has an obligation to consider the lawless activity of the CFMMEU.

6:45 pm

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

I want to speak on the same disallowance matter, but first I want to say that there's nothing that sets the Liberal and National parties into fits of hysteria more than the mere mention of the CFMMEU. I'm not sure whether anyone in the opposition has ever actually met a CFMMEU member or official. They seem to think construction workers and unionists are three-headed fire-breathing monsters. Being a lifelong trade unionist myself, I'm going to let the opposition in on a little secret about trade unions. Union leaders are elected by union members. Union members are everyday rank-and-file workers—members of the community fighting for better conditions and fair rates of pay for their work mates and their families. So, when the coalition gets up and talks about 'union thugs', they're actually talking about construction workers and those people fighting for decent rates—the people who built this building, built their offices and built their homes. I know that some of those opposite don't like to mingle with the hoi polloi, but if they ever find their way out of the boardroom or the Qantas lounge or if they meet a construction worker, they might realise that they aren't that scary.

When this disallowance motion was first introduced, in the last sitting week in July, I spared myself from sitting through some of the absolute nonsense that was being spouted in this chamber. Instead, I went over to the parliamentary theatre and watched the premiere screening of a documentary titled Lethal Bias: The War to Criminalise Australia's Construction Workers. It was commissioned by the construction union and produced by the celebrated former ABC journalist Matt Peacock. Anyone contributing to the debate should watch it. It is packed with something that is often lacking from the debate about the ABCC and the CFMMEU: facts. For starters, the notion that the ABCC has anything to do with making work sites safe is utter nonsense. Construction is up there with road transport as one of the deadliest industries in Australia. There is an organisation that goes on to work sites to make sure things are safe, and that organisation is the CFMMEU. There is another organisation that exists solely to harass and impede the union from doing that work. That organisation is the ABCC.

Let hal Bias tells the story of Christopher Cassaniti. Christopher was an 18-year-old apprentice who died at a Macquarie Park work site in 2019 when 17 metres of scaffolding collapsed on him. The scaffolding was massively overloaded and was not tied together appropriately. It was obvious to anyone who knew anything about scaffolding that this was a disaster waiting to happen. Christopher was trapped under tonnes and tonnes of concrete and steel. He was stuck under there, screaming for help, for 20 minutes, while his work mates, many of them in the CFMMEU, frantically tried to pull him from the rubble. Those are the real heroes.

The ABCC never once bothered to look into the safety on that site—or on any other site, for that matter. What is the ABCC doing instead? While Christopher and others are dying on construction sites every week, they are spending millions on running court cases about stickers and flags. They are losing cases in the High Court seeking to block a woman's bathroom from being installed on a work site. The ABCC's core business is to stop the CFMMEU from making work sites safe. The ABCC's core business is to protect shonky property developers and contractors who want to cut corners and use loopholes to squeeze out an extra buck. When you cut corners on safety, construction workers die. This is the system the ABCC exists to protect. This is the system that the opposition is trying to save.

Not only does the ABCC run a protection racket for deadly worksites; they also run a protection racket for wage theft and sham contracting. In six years, the ABCC has recovered the grand sum of $15,000 for sham contracting. In six years, the ABCC has not prosecuted a single employer for sham contracting. In six years, the ABCC has recovered $4 million in wage theft. In that same period, the CFMMEU has recovered over $100 million for workers, despite the best efforts of the ABCC to stop them from going about their work. The ABCC has nothing to do with safety, pay or conditions. That's obvious.

So why are those opposite wasting time with this disallowance motion? It is because this is really all about the right wing's ongoing scare campaign about unions. Does anyone remember the coalition's royal commission into the unions, when the coalition hired a sexual predator named Dyson Heydon to run a show trial more befitting a Third World dictatorship? For those opposite who may have forgotten, the dog and pony show did not lead to a single conviction. In fact, all it led to was the creation of the ABCC to continue on the anti-union witch-hunt.

The first ABCC commissioner, Nigel Hadgkiss, was forced to resign for breaching—get ready for it—the Fair Work Act. How about that? The Liberals went two for two: Dyson and Nigel. I'll congratulate the current ABCC commissioner for being the first to avoid committing a crime or breaching the Fair Work Act—as least as far as I am aware—although he does lose points for collaborating with the Master Builders Association during their campaign to re-elect the Morrison government. I would love to see Mr McBurney's notes from the 14 separate meetings the ABCC had with the MBA during the campaign.

Speaking of the Master Builders Association, perhaps the greatest farce of all in the debate has been notion that the ABCC has improved productivity in the construction industry. The last time we saw productivity growth in construction was after the previous Labor government abolished the earlier iteration of the ABCC. Since it was reinstated, productivity has actually declined in the sector. What do the Liberals and Master Builders rely on to support this absurd argument? A survey commissioned by the Master Builders Association, which, as it turns out, has just 49 hand-picked respondents—a survey that has been described by respected University of Sydney economist Dr Philip Toner as 'empirically empty and useless'. I couldn't sum up the ABCC nor the disallowance motion better if I tried.

6:53 pm

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I too rise to talk about this disallowance motion. Earlier today in this chamber I noted that Labor, like leopards, do not change their spots—and neither does the CFMMEU. In 2016 when I first spoke in this chamber on the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Bill, I quoted my old boss in the army, General David Morrison, who said what has now become a very well-known statement: 'The standard you walk past is the standard you accept,' except, in this case, the standard the Labor Party walk past is the CFMMEU. They have their hand out for the 30 pieces of silver every time they walk past every illegal act and every infraction from the CFMMEU.

Unlike what Senator Sheldon just said, this is not about the workers; this is about the criminal actions of those trade union officials. It is about the criminal action of the officials. If only it were just about worker safety—if only they were just focused on that—our country would be a far better place. And the cost of construction would be a hell of a lot less for all Australians if that were actually the case. What we saw in 2016 and what many of us who are now on this side of the chamber talked about is exactly what they are doing today. It is a complete disgrace that Labor, with the support of some crossbenchers who have been talking about nothing but integrity over the course of this campaign, are actually now considering getting rid of one of the most important integrity commissions in this country, or, if not getting rid of it completely, getting rid of it pretty much in name only.

The Gillard government lost the confidence of the entire building and construction sector in 2012 when it caved into union pressure to dismantle the ABCC, and nothing has changed. Again, another Labor Prime Minister is promising to abolish the ABCC or reduce it down to almost nothing. Again, this is further proof that they will always do anything they can to appease their paymasters at the CFMMEU, who they are clearly completely beholden to.

Abolishing the ABCC is absolutely a matter of integrity, because while it's not called an integrity commission it is clearly an integrity body. It is a body to promote the integrity, safety and lawfulness in an industry that has faced long-standing problems with industrial action. It should never ever be a question in this chamber, and yet here we are six years later discussing the same matter again.

The facts about the CFMMEU are shocking. Despite Senator Sheldon just saying in this chamber, 'It is actually all about the workers. Don't look at what the union officials are doing here. Don't look at their corruption. Don't look at their criminal actions for which they have been prosecuted for and found guilty of.'

Let's have a look at some of the actions that those opposite—for their 30 pieces of silver—are trying very hard not to have anybody in this place or in this nation focus on. First of all, unlawful industrial action. More than 1,400 breaches resulting from 20 cases have led to $3.6 million in fines. Coercion breaches—coercion in the workplace in this day and age!. More than 470 breaches resulting from more than 37 cases, leading to nearly $6 million in fines. Right of entry breaches: more than 300 breaches resulting from 40 cases leading to $4.2 million in fines. Freedom of association breaches: more than 120 breaches resulting from 15 cases leading to nearly $1 million in fines. Unlawful picketing breaches: more than 20 breaches resulting from four cases leading to over $1 million in fines. If that's not enough—unlawful industrial action, coercion, right of entry breaches, freedom of association breaches, unlawful picketing breaches—there are also misrepresentation breaches, almost 30 breaches resulting from six cases and nearly $400,000 in fines.

Let's all ask ourselves, in this place and I hope across our nation, why on earth is Labor so desperate to abolish this integrity commission? What crimes and why are they seeking to cover up these crimes? The CEO of Master Builders Australia, Denita Wawn, said that the Labor government's decision to dismantle the ABCC:

…is an abandonment of two decades of bipartisan recognition that the construction sector requires industry-specific regulation and oversight.

I hope nobody on the crossbench will actually support this, but let's have a look at some of the other breaches and what they actually look like. The CFMMEU has been penalised for more breaches of the Fair Work Act than any other union. A CFMMEU office official, jailed for assault, once told a female inspector she was a FS and asked her if she bought her knees pads as, 'You are going to be sucking off these—something—dogs all day'. This is the behaviour. This is the language that still happens today that those opposite are excusing.

The Courier Mail revealed that a CFMMEU official allegedly barked like a dog at a female health and safety consultant on a Gold Coast construction site and said, 'Go on, off you go, you FDC. Go get your police.' He allegedly then called her something I won't even abbreviate here in this chamber. It was disgusting and disgraceful and it has no place in any workplace in this nation today.

Some of the sexist incidents recorded in the files of the union watchdog included a CFMMEU official threatening to gang rape a woman after she had inspected a site. He threatened to gang rape a female inspector on site. How can anybody on that side of the chamber possibly excuse and take money from the officials from this union? You should all be hanging your heads in shame. One of the union officials also spat at a female workplace inspector during one visit. Again I will not say the language that was used. In another visit, the same female inspector was called an effing S and a dog something by union officials while she was in there lawfully doing her job on behalf of Australians.

CFMMEU delegates were accused of harassing the daughter of a builder when they picketed a worksite. The picketers were accused of harassing the daughter of the builder when she entered the site in her car by commenting on her breasts and her bottom and making—again I won't say the sounds that they made, but it was an utter disgrace. They allegedly called her daddy's girl and a blonde bimbo and said: 'Here comes the freeloader living off your dad. That car belongs to us because your daddy has paid for it.' Again that is by the very officials that are supposed to be setting the standard and looking after workers in the workplace.

A CFMMEU official made three phone calls late at night to a female inspector's mobile phone. The last call was logged at 11.23 pm. An anonymous flyer was then circulated, referring to the woman as a dog who wanted to be a pole dancer. The flyer gave the name of the woman's husband, her home address and her phone number. I cannot possibly think of worse intimidation, not just for a female inspector but for anyone—ringing them late at night, threatening and intimidating, letting them know they know where you live, they know who your husband is, they know who your children are. Again that is the behaviour that those opposite are supporting. To that same inspector, a number of threatening calls were made. Again I won't say what was said, but again there was a threat of gang rape: 'Me and my mates are going to come and eff you.'

If that's not enough, there are plenty more examples. CFMMEU officials at a site in Sydney intimidated a female police officer—a police officer, a female officer—in the course of doing her job as a police officer, representing us all and keeping law and order. The policewoman described how the official made sure she was feeling 'intimidated or scared'. The court has also previously ruled that a female operations manager was subjected to intimidation by the picketers' actions, which Justice Rares described as 'calculated to instil fear into persons who are within or wish to enter those premises'.

A former Fair Work Building Commission employee was subject to intimidation by John Setka—hardly a surprise, I think, to anybody in this building. He is someone who is still protected by those opposite. Mr Setka and Mr Reardon made a number of sexually derogatory remarks. The woman found three missed phone calls from Mr Reardon and one missed phone call Mr Setka, who left a highly sexually explicit derogatory message on her telephone. We would not ever accept that, and we've made clear we do not accept that in this place. It is illegal in every other workplace, yet those opposite and some on the crossbench want to still look the other way. As David Morrison said, they're turning their eye and putting their hand out and taking the 30 pieces of silver from the union.

COVID-19 has significantly impacted the construction industry and caused a reduction of over 600,000 jobs. As we recover from the pandemic, the demand for the industry is rapidly growing. Without this integrity commission, output in the industry could fall by at least $35 billion, as higher construction costs make fewer projects possible and capital is relocated to other activities. Any member of this chamber who votes to support the CFMMEU and votes to abolish the ABCC, or to at least get rid of most of its powers, should hang their head in shame. Anyone who does support that, please never ever come into this chamber or out of this chamber and talk about integrity. If you get rid of one of the most important integrity commissions in our nation that has been shown time and time again, including to now, to be so important, if you vote to abolish it or to neuter it, you have lost your right to ever, with any credibility, talk about integrity.

7:06 pm

Barbara Pocock (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support the Code for the Tendering and Performance of Building Work Amendment Instrument 2022. I do this because for a couple of decades I lived with a partner—father of my children—who worked in a job that meant he became a member of the CFMMEU then a delegate and an official. He is a good man, amongst many good men. He never tolerated violence. He is a brave person who worked in a tough industry. I remember nervously watching him go to work as a union official the day after a brick had come through the back window of our car overnight. The building industry is a tough industry. That does not mean we should tolerate violence or misogyny. But that does not mean that we should make it impossible for delegates, officials and members in that union to do their jobs and to go to work safely, protected by their union. Too many South Australian kids and adults have died on our building sites in my state. We need courageous people who are willing to be members and officials of a union that stands up to keep the industry safe and we need to enable them to do their jobs.

This interim building code regulation is a first step to ensuring construction workers have the same rights as other workers and other unionists. Workers should be treated fairly, as should unionists. The interim code is necessary to prevent unnecessary restrictions that have been imposed on the construction industry. The previous coalition government's building code banned clauses that ensured some were not paid the same pay despite doing the same job. It prevented full-time apprenticeship ratios from being exercised. The right ratio of apprentices to more experienced workers keeps young people—apprentices—in the building industry safe. It also prevented the protection against sham contracting, which meant that workers were not protected with safe conditions on their work sites.

The previous coalition government's building code went so far as to ban the flying of union flags and logos on notice boards, stickers on workers' hats. There are plenty of workers in workplaces across Australia who have stickers that are symbolic of their membership of a union. Workers will now be able to bargain in the same way as other workers under the Fair Work Act, and the antiworker elements of the building code, a highly politicised act, will finally be removed. Workers should be treated equally regardless of the industry they work in. Requirements for health and safety for workers are still protected under legislation, and the federal safety commission will be retained. It is vital to continue, in particular, protection of health and safe try for workers in this industry.

The ABCC was a political and ideological attack on workers and on unions. Instead of protecting worker safety, it gave the previous coalition more power to persecute the very people trying to look out for the safety and fair treatment of people at work, so many of them young people. Instead of acting to address the real issues in the workforce—like ending insecure work, closing the gender pay gap and lifting the minimum wage—the previous government spent their energy trying to break a union. They tried to break its solidarity and made very specific attacks on building workers. The ABCC undermined important protections for workers in their bargaining agreements, like being entitled to the same pay for doing the same job.

The Greens have a long-held policy to abolish the ABCC and prioritise workers' safety and community safety. The government's job should be to protect the rights of unions and their workers, not to undermine them. For decades successive governments have looked after large corporations, in many cases, and workers have needed the protection of unions to stand up. So we welcome this first step towards getting rid of what has been a very ideological and political body, without real practical effect, that worked hard to demonise particular workers and their unions, and we look forward to the full abolition of the ABCC.

It's time our parliament focused on outlawing insecure work, increasing wages, protecting the health and safety of all workers, and making sure that all workers have fair access to the same entitlements and conditions. Denigrating the whole union, and the difficult circumstances that so many workers and delegates and officials do their work under, is a mistake and we should proceed to support this code.

7:11 pm

Photo of David VanDavid Van (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm glad Senator Sheldon came back into the chamber to hear me speak, because he put out a challenge to those on this side who actually knew a worker.

Let me tell you about my grandfather. He was an ambulanceman on the docks who suffered under the Painters and Dockers Union. He was harassed the whole time, although he was there to protect their lives and to save their lives when there was an accident. Do you want to know why I don't like unions? It's because, like the Painters and Dockers Union, they are full of thugs. My other grandfather was a carpenter who worked on building sites. Again, he was harassed by the BLF—the Builders Labourers Federation—and he was driven off building sites. Do you want to talk about people who know what it's like to be harassed by a union? My two grandfathers were, that's who. Look at both of those unions, now both deregistered. So I will not be lectured to by those on that side about the thuggery of unions and what they will do and the lengths that they will go to in order to harass those who stand up against them or won't join them. I just won't hear it.

Right now we are experiencing some of the highest costs of living, as inflation goes through the roof. The current headline annual inflation is 6.1 per cent, which is the highest rate of inflation in almost 32 years. It is the highest rate of inflation since Labor's 'recession we had to have'. I think we're in for another one. The price of fuel has risen by 32 per cent in just a year, with prices rising for the eighth consecutive quarter, by 4.2 per cent in the June quarter. The coalition's cuts to fuel excise are coming to an end on 29 September, meaning that under this government fuel prices are going to rise even further. Non-discretionary goods and services rose by 1.8 per cent in the quarter, to be 7.6 per cent higher through the year.

Australians are having to make cost-saving measures, which for many Australians is going to feel like going back to the deprivations they felt under lockdown—particularly in my home state of Victoria, where the Labor state government locked people down for the longest time in the world. People are going to have to make sacrifices in the name of being able to pay their bills.

Australians need help from government, with cost-of-living pressures higher now than ever. However, Labor seems to have decided that now they are in government they no longer have to campaign and win votes, and easing cost-of-living pressures was just a slogan during their election campaign, and helping Australians is no longer their priority. In the first 100 days of this Labor government we saw nothing happen. All we've seen is junkets, photo-ops and a bit of a talkfest here and there. No plan has been made to help Australians with the cost-of-living pressures that Labor promised to fix.

What are the Labor Party doing about it now? Nothing. Their priority seems to be very clearly to help their union paymasters by reducing the ABCC's powers to the bare legal minimum. One must ask, Senator Sheldon—through you, Chair—why is stripping the ABCC of its powers such a priority for this Labor government? Why is dismantling the ABCC so important to the Labor Party that it was one of the first two announcements they made? Why is it, with all the pressures facing Australians every day, they decided this is more significant to them than looking after Australians? Well, it's pretty obvious. I'll tell you why: it's to keep their union donations rolling in. The CFMMEU over the past 20 years have provided the Labor Party with more than $16 million in donations. This is the very union where officials have previously been caught allegedly cursing at, spitting at and threatening to gang-rape and even kill women, and my good friend Senator Reynolds outlined more atrocities that this union has done.

We heard the leader of the CFMMEU, John Setka, had been found guilty of domestic violence on multiple occasions, including an incident where he bashed his partner's head against the table repeatedly and another where he pushed her down a staircase. Is he one of the hoi polloi you don't me to talk to? I don't want to talk to him. I don't want him running any organisation. The Prime Minister is a fan of saying, 'The standard you walk past is the standard you accept'—General Morrison's quote, as we heard before, which the Prime Minister seems to have grabbed hold of. Yet by abolishing the ABCC, what is the standard that the Prime Minister is saying he is going to accept—that same behaviour of John Setka, the same behaviours we heard outlined by Senator Reynolds? This sort of union thuggery is unacceptable, and the Prime Minister should not accept it.

Let us not forget that in analysis undertaken by EY it was outlined that abolishing the ABCC would create ongoing challenges which are likely to be more economically disruptive in this currently harsh business environment. Specifically, labour costs could increase by around 8.8 per cent, and productivity, something we heard this government talk so much about in its talkfest last week, could decline by 9.3 per cent. Not only that, but the output of the construction industry could fall by around $35.4 billion by 2030 and overall economic activity could decline by $47.5 billion by 2030. This would come at a potential cost to taxpayers in the order of $9.5 billion by 2029 and an estimated reduction in investment of $45.6 billion by 2030.

So we see the Labor Party are willing to back thugs and throw the construction industry into chaos, all so they can continue to take their donations, and this will affect all Australians—outside the construction industry. The last time the Labor Party abolished the ABCC the cost of building infrastructure, so important to our recovery, rose an astounding 30 per cent. That's a 30 per cent increase in cost to build hospitals, schools, roads, railways and other critical infrastructure. This is at a time when Victorian government infrastructure project costs are blowing out wildly, and those on that side are going to push the costs even higher. The Labor Party talk about transparency, but when it comes to transparency about unions they won't have a bar of it. As the Australian Industry Group said, the decision to scrap parts of the code and disempower the commission is a backwards step in the fight against bullying and intimidation that would result in health and safety risks and would slow the delivery of infrastructure projects such as roads, hospitals and schools. This means that Australian tax dollars will be squandered just so the Labor Party's paymasters will be kept happy. Former Boral CEO, Mike Kane, has said that competition will be reduced as unions pick their preferred contractors and shut out others. That's not this Australia. That's not how we work. That's not how to run an economy.

The ABCC does critical work supporting subcontractors with over $1.6 million paid to them, following ABCC intervention in the 2020-21 period. This is money going back into the pockets of everyday Australians. It is becoming clearer and clearer by the day that this government is good at talking the talk but not walking the walk when it comes to integrity. The Prime Minister said he would be a prime minister for all Australians, but it is clear from his short time in office that he's concerned about one thing and one thing only: protecting the protection rackets that he calls unions. We just saw, in this last week, the Jobs and Skills Summit. Despite unions representing less than 10 per cent of the private sector workforce, they had 33 seats at the table. Meanwhile, small business—the engine room of our economy—which represents 41 per cent of our workforce had only one seat. It is really a despicable representation of where the Labor government's priorities lie.

Just today, we've seen the ABCC release a statement stating that it has started a Federal Circuit and Family Court action against the CFMMEU, the CEPU and two officials, following alleged right of entry breaches at the 264-apartment residential tower project at 443 Queen Street, Brisbane. The ABCC is alleging in its statement of claim filed in the court that the CFMMEU official Matthew Vonhoff and CEPU official Wendel Moloney contravened section 500 of the Fair Work Act 2009. The ABCC statement of claim further says Mr Moloney behaved in an abusive and intimidatory manner towards a senior site manager when he responded to a query about what was going on, saying words to the effect of: 'If you speak to anyone, it will be the last time you work in the EBA industry.' Is this really what you want to put your name to, guys? Is this really how you see yourselves? Is it the side that you want to support? It's beyond me that you can do this.

These are the people that the Albanese government is protecting by dismantling the ABCC. If the Prime Minister can actually say the words, 'The standard you walk past is the standard that you accept,' then he's got to hang his head in shame and explain why he backs those people over everyday Australians. However, the Labor party are not just walking past this disruptive, reprehensible behaviour; they are providing an avenue for it to continue and turning their back, whistling a loud tune and telling Australians to look the other way.

7:23 pm

Photo of Jacqui LambieJacqui Lambie (Tasmania, Jacqui Lambie Network) Share this | | Hansard source

It is no secret that I'm not a fan of the CFMEU. Certainly, I'm talking about the conduct of the top echelon of it. As a matter of fact, if I had a dollar for every hour I have spent on those five letters—C-F-M-E-U—whilst I've been up here the last eight years, I can tell you I would be retired, sitting in the Bahamas drinking cocktails because I would be so rich. There are some really bad apples in that union, and everybody in here—Labor included—you know it. You absolutely know it. You should be ashamed of yourselves.

When we've got the union barging into worksites and bullying workers to sign on, we've got a problem. They are using standover tactics. They are standover men. The Labor Party knows it. We've been able to control it a little bit and put a choker chain on them for the last five or six years, and it has been a pleasant experience. But I'll tell you what, it's open slather after today. They'll be like an army marching on—with really bad leadership, because that hasn't changed. Culture doesn't change unless you change the leadership.

The CFMMEU squeeze employers who don't play by their rules. They force businesses to shut down. They physically and verbally threaten workers on sites. The CFMMEU officials were calling female construction workers 'bimbos', 'daddy's girls'—we've heard the worst of the worst, and I won't go over it. They told workers at Woolies that the union will make their lives hard. Federal Court judges have told the union that the time for their rule-breaking had well and truly passed, but here we go again, back around in the same circle. But you know what? The union don't see it that way because they keep on doing what they're doing. It's only going to get worse. We're going back to the good old days—here we go again.

This is what we're dealing with in the construction industry at the moment, and it's the last thing that we need. We need tradies and their bosses to work well together to have safe worksites. We've got to be building the apartments and the houses we need to get Australians into affordable housing. Do you know what tradies deserve? They deserve to go to work without being called homophobic slurs. They deserve to go to work without being harassed. They deserve a safe workplace. What do you know? The CFMMEU and the unions are supposed to supply that, and they're part of the problem. We have work to do in the construction industry. We should not be comfortable with what's going on. We should be doing better for the tradies and people they work for.

I want to be very clear here. All of this doesn't mean that I think the ABCC is great. It doesn't mean I wouldn't vote to replace the ABCC with something else, or wind it back where it needs to be wound back—'where it needs to be wound back' are the ultimate words here. I do not like the leadership of the CFMMEU. I do not like their conduct. It leaves a lot to be questioned, right across society. But that doesn't mean I think the ABCC is a good body. The thing that bothers me so much about what's going on in here tonight is the way Labor have gone about this—it is disgraceful. This whole 'transparency, new government' hoo-ha didn't take long—she's all off the table. The government have purposely gone behind our backs to gut the regulator, a regulator their union donors don't like. How about that? Here come those donations again. Listen—it feels like the cavalry is coming into the Senate! That's what those donations feel like. It's amazing what years of political cash can do, what influence it buys you. It sure as hell does not buy you safety on a construction site—not when the bullies are on the loose.

You've found a way to kill the regulator without having to win majority support from the Senate. You should never have done that—it's not right, and you know that. It is shameful. If you wanted to cut the legs out from under the ABCC, you should have put that to us fairly. If there's a problem with the ABCC we should have fought it out on the floor. But no, you didn't want to do that. You should have been able to defend yourselves, be brave, stand up and show some spine. Tell us why you believe the ABCC should be here. Even now, I see you're not full of speakers over there. You're not exactly out there guarding them with everything you've got. How about that? I wouldn't expect anything less from you people over there at the moment.

To sneak around and find ways to get the CFMMEU what they want without even putting it to the Senate—that's where we're at already. We're in only the first week of September and that's where we're at with the Labor Party—or is it called the CFMMEU Party? To do it without even getting majority support is just absolute filth. That's dirty political tactics. The worst part is that you're doing it for yourselves, for your election campaigns and for your future donations. You're a piggy bank for the CFMMEU. That is what you are. I honestly thought Labor would have been better than this, but here we go! Here's the true red coming out in its full colours! You know what, I'm not just disappointed; I'm mad and I'm disappointed. I'm both of those things.

I'm surprised at you, Minister Burke. It blows me away. I'm even more surprised at you, Minister Dreyfus. You surprised me more than anyone. You've let the CFMMEU walk all over the top of you. In opposition, here you were, telling us how much you cared about accountability and telling us all about proper process and about putting things through parliament the way they should be. Now you're in government, you do this.

You might as well be on monkey bars because the backflips are starting already. Here we go! Three months in and we're on. It's full go in the playground. Go those monkey bars! You find a way to strip funding and power from a regulator you don't like—a regulator your donors do not like—and you do it without even putting it to us here in the Senate. How is that good for trust? How does that show the Australian people that you take them seriously? The Senate deserves better than this. The Australian people deserve better than this.

I called it out when it was the coalition doing it, and I'll call you out too, for the next 2½ years—and I won't stop. I've had a gutful of what political donations are doing to this country and its people, because they buy people in parliament. They buy parties and they buy influence—and, obviously, they buy regulations that you can get rid of. It is absolutely disgraceful behaviour, yet you show no shame about it. Jeez! I have to ask you where your conscience is. Fair dinkum!

You know you're not doing this properly, but still you have no shame. For some reason, whenever a major party gets into government it wants to rule the roost. You reckon you own the kingdom. You want to be the king. How about that! You want to own everything in here, or let others own you—take it whichever way you want. You reckon parliament is just a hassle that you don't have to go through, because apparently you can come up with all the answers on your own. It makes me wonder what the rest of us are doing up here, with all the captain's calls that are made. What's the point of the rest of us being here if you want to call the shots and if you don't want to do what you're supposed to do in parliament, which is debate this out?

You know, there are a lot of businesses out there who have just come through COVID and are just getting back on their feet, and they're wondering when the CFMMEU is going to come knocking on their door. That's right; they're ready. They're going to come knocking on their door. There are tradies, builders and contractors who will have to go back to standing up against the bully boys in the CFMMEU all by themselves. But apparently the Labor Party has no shame about that. They're not worried about it. They have no conscience.

Those people should've had a say in this. Their voices should've been heard, and you haven't allowed that to happen. They should've been able to make their case. You should've heard them out because that would've been the dignified thing to do. Instead, Labor is steamrolling our tradies. You're steamrolling them on behalf of the CFMMEU because that's what they paid you to do. There is no need for proper parliamentary process over the CFMMEU. There's no need to do a vote, because they buy them. Apparently the CFMMEU are nothing less than God's angels. They're choir boys. How about that!

With the flick of a pen, you've made huge changes to the construction industry and let them off the hook—they're on the loose—with no care whatsoever for the retributions that are going to come to others, and none of us in here can do anything about it. So much for turning a new leaf in politics! So much for a new government that is going to lead by example! Puh! It just blew out like that. A great day! So much for consulting with the crossbench and doing things differently up here. It's all over red rover.

Labor isn't interested in hearing all sides on this. You don't care what I think about getting rid of the ABCC or what others think about getting rid of the ABCC because, if you did, you would have given us a bill. We all could have had it out to get this right. You should've done the right thing. You could've come to us and asked what we thought and given us the chance to have our say on behalf of our voters. But, oh no, you did don't that.

What really gets on my goat is that I would've worked with you on it. I would've gone back to my voters and asked them what they thought and come up with some solutions, because there are changes that need to be made. Everybody knows the ABCC has overstepped the mark at times. I have no doubt that the coalition wants it for political reasons and that some of its powers go too far. I would have heard that fight out and I would have listened to all sides. We should have been sitting in here fighting it out on the Senate floor; that's how it should have been conducted. Instead, we're going along with political games being played once again. I feel like I've stepped back in time. Labor is playing games and no-one else is invited. What do you know? They're having a party all by themselves. How rude. The back and forth is unbearable, and it brings so much instability.

Every time we have a change of government the rules change for political reasons, for a different set of donors at the parliament's door, because that's how it works up here. That's really unfortunate and it's really unfortunate for the country. By the way, there's a 24-hour news cycle and the rest of the country is catching up on what these political donations are buying. The bottom line is that it makes me really sad to tell both sides in here that you're underselling yourselves and you're being bought off really cheap. That is the sad truth of the matter.

The coalition gives the construction regulator stupid power and stupid laws to get a good headline and embarrass Labor. Now Labor sits in the government seats they hit back and gut the whole ABCC—as if it's all bad and there's nothing going wrong in the industry. Oh, please. Meanwhile, everyone in the industry bounces back and forth between two extremes. I can tell you, the instability in the construction industry is bloody unbearable. We never get to the actual problems that hurt tradies and their bosses. Tradies and their bosses and the industry deserve better than this. Builders and small businesses deserve better than this. That's why I'll be supporting this disallowance motion this evening.

I'll tell you what I am looking forward to: watching the CFMEU run amok. And I imagine it will only be just after Christmas, because, trust me, they're way too big for their boots, and now that you've taken that choker chain off them, they're on the loose. You have completely lost control of the CFMEU, just like that, and that's going to play havoc with our industries right across this country. This is a very proud moment for the Labor party: three months in and this is where we're at. Quite frankly, I look forward to standing up here in the coming months and absolutely berating you for doing what you're doing because by then it's all going to be out in the papers. They are going to be completely out of control, and we'll be going back to before the ABCC was even put in place. I know, and we know, there are things wrong with the ABCC, but by gutting it the way you did you're inviting problems, and they're big problems, and you have no control.

If you want to continue to allow yourselves to be bought off by the CFMEU because of their political donations, because you really won't back yourselves, to win future elections, that makes today a very sad day for this country. To let the construction industry loose is one of the worst things I've seen so far this year, and it is only going to get worse. But, once again, I look forward to coming in here very shortly and berating you for their behaviour, because I know exactly where it's heading. You cannot change the practice of things and the culture of things if you do not change the leadership. And if you think that leadership has been sitting silent, it's because they knew you were coming into power. Now you've allowed them to take complete advantage of you, and you should be ashamed of yourselves. But the menace is there and what they are going to do to this country in the next six to 12 months, God forbid. I look forward to you standing up and explaining yourselves. We all do. Bring it on.

7:38 pm

Photo of Hollie HughesHollie Hughes (NSW, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Lambie, that was just an outstanding contribution and completely spot on. And the thing that gets me—because the heads are down for those that are forced to be in the chamber on the other side, and, again, kudos to Senator Sheldon for being the only person brave enough to actually come in and try and defend this—is that in the previous parliament, those opposite were the bastions of the treatment of women. Women needed to be protected, they needed to be looked after, they needed to be safe in their workplace. And I remember many a speech from the far left and those opposite about how women needed to be safe in the workplace. Well, never again should any of you have the gall to come in here and demand in any shape or form that women be safe in the workplace, because you are opening the doors wide with a big welcome sign to the CFMMEU to come in and make women unsafe in the workplace—for women to be abused, to be pandered to in a misogynistic and condescending way or to never be able to achieve anything on a building site for being shut down by misogynistic bullies.

You are the government. You actually owe responsibility to all Australians, not just your mates who pay for your votes. It is an absolute disgrace, and any woman who sits in the ALP or the Greens and deems this worthy to pursue should never again open their mouth about the safety of women in the workplace, for the hypocrisy may ensure that they burst into flames immediately. We can all put up with a lot in this place, but the blatant hypocrisy that you lot are going on with is just astounding.

We hear from Senator Sheldon and those opposite that the breaches that have occurred are because of a sticker on a helmet or because a flag was flying. I can tell you there are a few flags flying around here that I'm not too happy about, but I still turn up to work and pretty much make sure they're hanging up in the right way for those virtue signallers that couldn't even get the flag flying in the right direction by hanging it correctly. They're so concerned about it they don't even notice which way to put the flag. Never let a good virtue signal—a symbol—get in the way of actually improving anybody's lives!

I apologise to those in this place if I repeat any, but, outrageously, I may not, because there are so many breaches that the CFMMEU has conducted and been through the ABCC for. There is such a litany of breaches and abuses on worksites that I'm pretty sure every member in this place could speak for a good 20 minutes just reading them out and just keep going and going. It would probably take us through to the end of the year, because those opposite, who campaigned on transparency, have ensured we have as few sitting weeks as possible to hold them to any form of account.

I commend Senator Lambie for also making this point: Where are they all? Who's here to defend them? As I said, Senator Sheldon has turned up. Where are the rest of them? Setka might not be sending the cheques if you're not here to really stand up for him. We know you're all going to vote there, but your tummies might not be tickled as heavily if you're not here to defend him and say how absolutely fantastic the CFMMEU is.

I thought I would go through a few of these because, as we know, this is a union that's been penalised for more breaches than any other union. In some ways maybe it's a bit unfair that we pick on the CFMMEU, because there are plenty of others with breaches as well. It's just that these are so breathtaking in the blatant behaviour, the misogynistic behaviour and the abuse of women—and for those who purport to be such great supporters of the LGBT community.

There is a term that Judge Vasta felt so appalled by he had to put an annexure on his judgement to explain what it meant.

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

The prosecutor didn't even know what it meant.

Photo of Hollie HughesHollie Hughes (NSW, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy) Share this | | Hansard source

The prosecutor didn't know what it meant. I've got to tell you that I didn't know what it meant either when I first heard the term. Whilst those charged with this are appealing the decision, they're not appealing the finding that they said the term. They're appealing the finding that it was homophobic in nature. This is a term which I won't repeat in this place. I didn't know what it meant. I read Judge Vasta's annexure and I felt physically ill.

Maybe go and read the annexure, Senator Chisholm, and if you think calling someone the term that was used that is so vile—

Do I think that? In fact, do you know what? Just for your benefit—because Senator Chisholm here seems to think attacking the judge is something that should be brought out—I will say that the homophobic slur was 'pumpkin eater'. Do you know what it means? I didn't know what it means, but go and look it up. It is the most disgusting homophobic slur I have ever heard, and those CFMMEU members that are appealing the decision—

Government senat ors interjecting

You snicker over there, and a female Labor senator is snickering over there. As this was said, they're not appealing against the finding that they said it; they're appealing that they didn't mean it in a homophobic way. What a disgrace!

So don't ever come in here and say you care about women's safety on workplaces. I'm looking at the far Left of the chamber, who pretend to virtue-signal about LGBT. Don't you ever come in as you defend the CFMMEU and tear down the ABCC, as the most homophobic slurs are allowed to be put around on worksites. It is not denied that they're said. The fines that are given are just the cost of doing business for these unions. Australians are allowed to be treated this way on the workplace, whether they're gay men or whether they are women. The fact is that those opposite—that whole side of the chamber—think that this is a union that, as we just heard up here, is filled with decent people doing wonderful things. Well, I'm pretty sure that most gay men being referred to as 'pumpkin eaters' wouldn't think that was a nice thing. I identify as a woman. I was born as a woman. I maintain myself as a woman. I breastfed my children—all of those things. I can tell you: if somebody referred to me as an 'F-ing slut' and said that I will need kneepads because I'm going to be sucking off these F-ing dogs all day—

Government senators interjecting

Well, do you know what? I'm pretty sure I wouldn't take it as a compliment. I wouldn't say, 'That's a pretty cracking workplace, and I want to head back there tomorrow.' I think that would be something that I might have a look at and about which I would think: 'Well, they're not a particularly pleasant person. I don't think you're providing a safe workplace for me. I don't think you're defending my rights as a worker.' I would suggest that calling someone—a woman—those things might actually be considered a little derogatory.

Those opposite were the bastions of the Jenkins review, saying that we needed to adopt everything because everyone needed to feel safe in their workplace. We know Senator Thorpe pulled out a cracker to me last December,. If I wanted an apology from Adam Bandt, I apparently needed to go and get it myself and ask for one. That's the class and consistency of that lot up there. To be fair to the ALP, it is not everyone. A couple of their decent members did come and see me and say that was the most abhorrent thing that they had heard. To be fair, it was in reference to my son with a disability. It could have been misinterpreted in another way. It wasn't meant that way, and no-one heard it that way at the time in the nature of the debate. But that's equivalent, in some ways, to being referred to as an 'F-ing S'. Maybe I could enjoy—

An opposition senator interjecting

Well, maybe Lidia could get to the CFMMEU and they'd actually welcome her language.

Again, I think we are all clear that, if you turn up to work and bark at a woman like a dog, it's not really a sign of affection. It's not really saying to them: 'I value your work. I welcome you into this workplace.' Yet that wasn't enough for this CFMMEU official. He then called her an 'F-ng dog C'. As most women will tell you, when someone tells you they'll see you next Tuesday you'd usually think they're asking you for coffee, but occasionally in the CFMMEU that's not what they mean. They think that you should go to the police, and they say, 'You F-ing dog.' Again, those opposite—and, of course, the hypocrites of the century up the far end will insist on taking any opportunity they can to grandstand, because they love saying Parliament House isn't a safe workplace. I can tell you I feel very safe in this workplace. Most people I speak to feel very safe in this workplace, because we don't refer to each other as F-ing Ss or F-ing Cs. Well, maybe some do, but certainly not in this chamber, and certainly with it being considered unparliamentary language. But I can also say—and maybe I'm not paying attention—that no-one has ever threatened to gang-rape me. Now, rape's not about sex; it's about violence. It's not about thinking, 'She's a bit of alright,' or 'A few of us are interested in you.' This is an act of absolute misogynistic violence. Yet women on worksites are being subjected by CFMMEU officials to threats of gang rape.

Yet we will hear from those opposite that the ABCC's interested in stickers on helmets. No, they are not. They are interested in protecting people at work places and worksites from being abused, from having the most derogatory and offensive language used—and not even behind their back. At least in this place when people say stuff about you it's usually kind of in the background. You hear about it through the corridors occasionally. But this is to their faces, onsite. Maybe that's what you think, because hypocrisy's your special flavour. But you might actually welcome the CFMMEU. They're not so much hypocrites as just blatantly revolting. They don't hide behind what they do. They actually promote people who behave in this way, because, as I said, these fines from the ABCC are just the cost of doing business.

We could just keep going through these: three threatening phone calls, late at night, to a female inspector. Is this the way the ALP and the Greens think anyone should behave—that women should go home from work to be subjected to a continuing form of intimidation and harassment? As if it isn't enough that they are being abused on the worksite. I genuinely ask the question, and I look forward to hearing from those opposite as they go through the litany of findings from the ABCC, as they go through the decisions that have made. I mean, it almost seems silly that anyone could be offended by being called a bimbo or daddy's girl on a site, because maybe they should be grateful that they aren't called an F-ing C. It's almost as though the person who called them a bimbo and a daddy's girl didn't get the memo that we'd upped the language! I feel as though that was the kindergarten side of things, and those who have moved up into the more senior echelons of the CFMMEU use language that is so derogatory that it can't even be used in this place.

So I do look forward and I hope we see some of them tonight, if any of them are actually paying attention. They can put it on channel 104. It will tell them what is being debated. They won't even have to think for themselves. They can come in here and just say to us: 'We think it is completely appropriate to refer to women as F-ing Cs at the workplace; not only that, but we think it is completely appropriate to continue that harassment and intimidation when they go home with late-night phone calls. We don't think women should be safe in the workplace, but we are going to hypocritically stand here at every opportunity and bark on about safety in the workplace whilst they allow this to occur.'

7:53 pm

David Shoebridge (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise with my Greens colleagues to speak against this disallowance motion. At the outset I acknowledge the contribution of Senator Barbara Pocock, who clearly put the case for why this disallowance motion is just part of the coalition's ongoing attack on unions, part of the coalition's bias against unions. I commend her for her contribution.

The creation of the ABCC and the aggressive code that they enforce was a deeply political attack by the Liberal Party, who designed a body to target unions, to target workers and to do everything they could to make it unlawful to be a union in this country, particularly in the construction industry. We've seen repeated million-dollar fines and police raids, trumped-up criminal charges and perhaps the harshest anti-union laws directed against the construction unions that exist in any comparable country on the planet. And of course this was all drafted by former PM Tony Abbott and the now disgraced former High Court judge Dyson Heydon, and it was designed by those two to target the construction union and try to put the union out of business.

And while millions and millions of dollars of public money has been lavished on this attack on the construction union, the industry is largely unregulated, and construction firms that kill their workers, kill young apprentices, go off without a single prosecution. And what do we hear from the coalition about the deaths of building workers? Not one word. Did we see anybody from the coalition go and see the film Lethal Bias? Did any of them go, to hear from the parents, hear from the mums, hear from the dads, who were talking about their kids who went to work at a construction site—unregulated because of your rules, without a union because of your rules—and died on site and didn't come home? And there was not a single word from this bunch of hypocrites over here. They're still backing in Tony Abbott's war on unions. They don't care about the young apprentice who was killed in a scissor lift or the collapsing scaffold that's been dodgily put together, where it's a crime for the union to go on and do a safety inspection, under their rules. They don't care. They want to criminalise the union, take the union out of business, because they don't care.

Well, we won't support that code. The lawlessness in this industry is not from people putting stickers on helmets or posters in lunch rooms. The lawlessness in this industry comes from builders cutting safety corners, excluding the union, failing to live up to their work health and safety obligations and seeing workers go to work and not come home. That's the lawlessness from the unregulated industry. But I've got to say, at a state level, it has been a combined project of Labor and coalition governments—deregulating the construction industry, making it one of the most dangerous industries in this country, full of phoenix companies, tax dodgers, work health and safety breaches and crimes. That's the industry they love, because it maximises profit. They don't care about the apprentices who don't come home. They don't care about worksite safety. They want to have a war on stickers and a war on flags, not a war about safety or protecting anybody, because that's their politics, right? They hate unions, they love profits and they don't give a rats about safety. That's the coalition summed up in one go, and that's what this motion is about.

A watchdog with teeth is clearly needed in the construction industry to keep an eye on the employers and keep an eye on unions if they step out of line, but not to be running multi-million-dollar cases because you don't like a bunch of posters in the lunch room or you don't like stickers on someone's hat or a flag on a crane. What are you afraid of with a flag on a crane? I appreciate some of the work of Josh Bornstein. He has fought some of these nonsense cases. He wrote a piece in March this year setting out some of the outrageous hypocrisy in this space. He points out a prosecution of union officials who visited a union delegate to catch up over a cup of tea. That was the prosecution: a union official catching up with a union delegate over a cup of tea. It was a case commenced by the ABCC. Do you know what the Federal Court said about it? This is what the federal judge said:

… this is a case where the ABCC should be publicly exposed as having wasted public money without a proper basis for doing so …

But you love that. It's not your money; it's just taxpayers' money! You don't read the judgement. You don't care.

And then Bornstein says:

And who can forget the televised raids by federal police on the premises of the Australian Workers Union in late 2017?

That was apparently because they didn't do their paperwork 10 years ago. It was a highly publicised, televised raid on the AWU for 10-year-old paperwork, all paid for, under this mob in government, by the taxpayers.

Bornstein also points out:

In his zeal to prevent union officials from attending workplaces, Nigel Hadgkiss, then the head of the ABCC, published misinformation encouraging employers to restrict unions from accessing workplaces. Such conduct was found to have contravened the Fair Work Act, and Hadgkiss was forced to resign in 2017.

ABCC itself engaged in serious unlawful activity, and what did we get from this lot? Not even embarrassment. They just put some new headkicker into the ABCC. They don't even care. In fact, they gave Hadgkiss a nice little retirement gift, again at public expense.

Bornstein says this as well:

Two years earlier—

that's two years before Hadgkiss, the head of the ABCC, breached the Fair Work Act to try and discourage union activities—

two union officials had their lives turned upside down when they were charged with blackmail over a coffee meeting with company executives to discuss an industrial dispute. The charges fell apart three years later.

They fell apart. But that's what those opposite want to spend taxpayers' money on, Mr Acting Deputy President.

Meanwhile, under their watch, when the corporate regulator, ASIC, exposed what was going on in Crown Resorts—and again I appreciate Borstein's summary here:

ASIC said that it would not prosecute the directors of Crown Resorts notwithstanding findings by an independent inquiry that Crown had engaged in "conduct that was variously illegal, dishonest, unethical and exploitative" over many years. According to the Finkelstein inquiry, the illegal conduct included money laundering, lying to the gaming regulator and tax cheating. Its board was found to have failed to ensure that the company met its legal obligations.

But this lot love Crown. They love Crown. They love the gross illegality of Crown. They love it.

Photo of Matt O'SullivanMatt O'Sullivan (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Colbeck on a point of order?

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

A point of order on relevance: we are talking about a disallowance on the ABCC; we're not talking about Crown. We're talking about the ABCC and the disallowance motion in relation to the ABCC. We're not talking about other matters in the economy.

Photo of Matt O'SullivanMatt O'Sullivan (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Colbeck. You have reminded the senator of the subject that we're discussing right now—disallowance. I return the call to Senator Shoebridge.

David Shoebridge (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I understand the embarrassment about having the hypocrisy of your former government pointed out. I understand that it's awkward to have pointed out the gross double standards and hypocrisy whereby you're willing to prosecute unions for stickers but not prosecute a multinational gaming corporation that was found to have engaged in money-laundering and criminal activity under your own watch. I understand that the hypocrisy is awkward to hear. I get it, and I get it's awkward. But let's be clear: the risk to workers' safety is not flags. It has never been stickers. The risk to workers' safety in the construction industry is the lawlessness, the deregulation, the attacks on unions and the attacks on safety. That's why young apprentices go to work in the morning and don't come home. That's why construction workers, tragically, have deaths on a weekly basis on construction sites. It's not about stickers. It's not about flags. It's because of the war on safety, the war on unions, the deregulation and the property developer donations that this mob suck down, day after day—the property developer donations that roll like gold into the Liberal Party's coffers federally, creating the lawlessness that's creating the safety issues on the construction sites. Of course we don't support this disallowance motion.

8:04 pm

Photo of Gerard RennickGerard Rennick (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, well, we couldn't expect anything better from an inner-city barrister who loudly proclaimed that he was a proud member of the BLF and worked with the BLF in his former history. But this isn't about attacking the union membership. I want to be very clear: this is about protecting the union membership from the union officials who use violence and intimidation against workers. Somehow, it's this side of the chamber that doesn't care about working-class Australians. This side of the chamber believes in working-class Australians. I can assure you that it's the inner-city elites, whether they're big companies, big unions or big bureaucracies—there's not much difference between them these days. Don't come in here and accuse the Liberal Party of not standing up for working-class Australians. Come to Queensland, Senator Shoebridge. I'll tell you who the working class Australians stand up for. Look at the outer-metropolitan seats. The working class back us because we back the working class. We back the working class!

We have seen what 30 years of Labor and their union mates have done to our economy in Queensland. They have run it into the ground. For you to come in here and talk about hypocrisy—Senator Hughes just gave one of the best speeches I've ever heard in this chamber, calling out the hypocrisy of those on the other side. They come in here and feign as though they care about women. They feign as though they care about workers. They feign as though they care about essential services. They don't care about any of it! All they care about are their rivers of gold. Why is that? Because over the last 20 years the CFMMEU has put more than $16 million into the Labor Party—and that's just one union. For you to come in here and say that somehow we are living off other donations or anything like that is totally false. Not that you'd know, Senator Shoebridge, living in your little ivory palace in Sydney, in the eastern suburbs. Don't talk to me about the battlers, mate.

Queensland Health blew billions of dollars on the Sunshine Coast hospital, and that money got sucked out of the maternity wards in the regions because of cost overruns. Because of union bullying, they're going into inner-city Brisbane and building casinos and a tunnel from one side of the city to the other. That's going to cost about $10 billion. It already has a couple of billions of dollars in overruns. It's going from one side of the city to the other. Do you know what that does? It kills essential services. And all you care about is casting aspersions that the Australian Building and Construction Commission is a spurious body. Well, here's a little fact for you: 98 of the 107 cases have prosecuted the unions. That is not spurious. They have found the unions guilty. That is not a spurious body. It's one of the few bureaucratic or judicial institutions that actually achieves something. That is an over 91 per cent success rate.

You come in here hand you mock this. You trivialise it by saying that this body is going after unions because they're waving flags or flying flags or there are stickers on their helmets. No, this is much more serious than that. This is about violence in the workplace. It is about cost overruns. It is about misogyny. It is about the fact that the money's being wasted on cost overruns because of the mates, the tier 1 construction companies. I can assure you that we're no friend of the tier 1 construction companies. They're in bed with big unions. So this whole idea that you're going to keep painting us as the party for the big end of town—no, no, no. The Greens is the party at the big end of town. The Greens seats are all in inner-city Brisbane and Melbourne, and the teals are all in the rich suburbs. The Greens party, the unicorn party, is the party for the elites who don't want to do the hard yards—unlike the workers who put their noses to the grindstone. I tell you what, those seats are all coming our way, especially in Queensland. We are starting to see it in Western Sydney. We see it in outer Melbourne, because you guys are only interested in your rivers of gold and your command and control, where you get to dictate the rules to everyone. A classic example was vaccine mandates. You guys could have stood up for those workers who exercised their free and democratic right to choose what goes into their body. Where were the unions then? They were nowhere. Or I should say, where were the union officials? I have to distinguish between the membership, who I do care about because they are the people, the workers, who put their noses to the grindstone. But the union officials and the Labor Party are not interested in the workers. What they're interested in doing is driving small business into the ground, getting into bed with their big foreign-owned tier-1 building contractors and the unions, making sure that they rip out rivers of gold, whether it be via union fees, superannuation fees or by managing over a trillion dollars in wealth on behalf of the workers. They have marched into the corporate boardrooms via their industry super funds and are running our companies into the ground.

I am going to run through here exactly the misbehaviour that the CFMMEU and many other unions get up to. This is the abuse and misuse of power by these union officials, who aren't actually standing up for the workers. They're not interested in the guys who go to work every day, who get out of bed, who put their nose to the grindstone, no. So let's go through this. They paid $2 million in penalties just in the last financial year alone. The Australian Building and Construction Commission has received a successful outcome in 80 out of 88 cases against the CFMMEU. Over $16 million in penalties have been awarded against the CFMMEU and its representatives since 16 December. Another $22 million in penalties have been awarded against the CFMMEU and its representatives in cases brought by the Australian Building and Construction Commission. These aren't trivial amounts of money. They're not penalties or fines because someone wore a sticker on their helmet or flew a flag or anything like that, no. This is all because of violent misogynistic behaviour going on within unions and in workplaces that is actually intimidating people working there, and it's also increasing the cost of building essential services.

I tell you what, we need to start building in this country. If we're going to keep this country on its feet, we need to get more infrastructure going in this country, but you cannot do it because of this cosy relationship between tier-1 foreign building constructors and the union movement. The union officials are basically doing out the taxpayer because the taxpayers are forking out billions of dollars more than they need to in order to build this essential infrastructure and it has got to stop.

Let's just go through some of the actual egregious misbehaviour by union officials towards their own members. The thing about the Australian Building and Construction Commission is it's a union that actually fights against union officials. I mean, if the union officials were doing their jobs properly, the members wouldn't be intimidated. They wouldn't be assaulted. They wouldn't have these spurious names, as Senator Hughes pointed out previously. The behaviour is outrageous. Senator Chisholm was sitting there smirking at this when it was all going on. Somehow this will be the new intimidation practice—to sit there and smirk. This is on top of his intimidation of Senator Cash this afternoon. I mean, this behaviour goes on right here in this chamber. We have seen it from Senator Chisholm. We're used it to from Senator Watt. It's not the sort of behaviour we should be tolerating. It is not on. A CFMMEU official was jailed for assault and once told a female inspector that she—I won't even repeat the words. He asked if she had brought kneepads because she was going to be beep, beep, beep dogs all day. This stuff is outrageous.

The Courier Mail revealed that a CFMMEU official allegedly barked like a dog at a female health and safety consultant at a Gold Coast construction site and said: 'Go on, off you go, you beep dog. Beep, get your police.' He allegedly called her 'a beep dog, beep beep' twice more that day. How is it that the Labor Party want to abolish a commission that is standing up for women in the workplace? What is it with the Greens party? Why are you standing up there and basically removing a safeguard for women in the workplace? Seriously! What is the reason for this?

The reason is that Labor are all talk and no action. They don't care about women; they don't care about the working class; they don't care about providing essential services. All they want to do is get their rivers of gold from the union movement—whether it be through union fees, whether it be through superannuation fees, whether it be through controlling all that money in their industry super funds. All they want is command and control because that is the modus operandi of the two parties opposite us, the Labor Party and the Greens party. All they want to do is tear down and destroy this country in order that a few inner-city elites—and people are waking up to this. Working-class Australians are waking up to just how dangerous and how—they're seeing through the Labor Party. The Labor Party used to stand up for the working class, but not anymore. The working classes are seeing how dangerous this party and the Greens party combined are going to be.

You've only got to look at who's running the show. We've got the Prime Minister, he's from inner-city Sydney. We've got people from the Greens over here; they're from the inner-city as well. They've always had good essential services where they've grown up—St Vincent's Hospital and things like that. But why won't they stand up for people in metropolitan Australia and regional Australia? Why won't they do that? Because that is where the wealth of this country comes from. It is the backbone of this country, they are working-class people, and Labor have turned their backs on them. By trying to remove this body from standing up to the thuggery and the violence and the intimidation in the union movement, Labor are revealing their true colours—they do not care about the Australian worker.

This country was built by the battler; it belongs to the battlers. And I can assure you that we on this side of the chamber are going to do everything we can to make sure it's the battlers who are rewarded. If Labor had their way, they would concentrate power within the bureaucracy, within the unions and within big business with their inner-city mates in their ivory towers of Sydney and Melbourne and basically let the rest of the country fade away. They'd be happy with that. I tell you what: we on this side of the chamber aren't going to let that happen—you watch!

Peter Dutton, the member for Dickson, knows a thing or two about the working class. He's been standing up for the good people of Dickson for the last 20 years. You've been writing him off, but I tell you what: he knows what it's like. He grew up on a farm—he's got a multigenerational family out there at Samford. I'm from a multigenerational working-class family. My grandparents used to vote blue-collar Labor, but do you know what? You guys lost the plot. You became Marxists and communists and you forgot that the true capitalists in this country are the people who get out of bed every day, put their noses to the grindstones and do the hard yards. But you're not interested in that; you're interested in protecting your bureaucrats and your unions and your big corporate end of town. None of these guys—these guys aren't your primary and secondary industries. They're not your farmers, they're not your miners, they're not your manufacturing industry.

Who can remember the Hawke-Keating years? You destroyed the manufacturing industry under the Button plan, yet you subsidised the academic sector. You now have an academic sector that is out of control, selling university degrees for all sorts of crazy studies. And how you do you solve the problem? You bring in more immigrants to fix the labour shortage that is only caused because so many people—50,000 people—work in paper shuffling within superannuation alone. About 150,000 work in universities—most of these degrees aren't worthwhile degrees. Sure, STEM degrees, medicine—I get it. You go to university if you want an engineering degree and things like that. I get it. But the fact that you guys are trying to remove this commission just goes to show that you don't care about the real people in this country. You're not interested in standing up against violence, intimidation, sexual assault and misogyny. Shame on you Labor and shame on you the Greens!

8:19 pm

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Unlike most who have spoken—in fact, probably unlike anyone who has spoken in this chamber—I actually have worked in the construction industry. I started working in the foundations of buildings. I did my trades apprenticeship as a carpenter-joiner. I worked on construction sites and I saw the impact of good unions and the impact of bad unions. I have a good friend who was a boss and had a picket through his windscreen as he drove onto a construction site that had a militant union. It's an outrage that those on the other side come into this place and run a protection racket for bad unions and bad union leadership.

This is not about flags and stickers. For those on the other side to try to hide behind a cliche that this is about flags and stickers and people who just don't like unions is a complete and utter cop-out. In fact, it's outrageous. We all sat in this place over the last three years while we investigated and condemned poor behaviour in this workplace, particularly against women. Yet those on the other side, particularly as we have seen in contributions from the Greens just now, are effectively running a protection racket for those who abuse women, who threaten women with unspeakable things. I imagine what would be said about any of those on this side had we been associated with anybody like that—the outrage that would have come from the other side of the chamber. It would have been relentless. It would have been unending. And yet what's happening right now from Labor and apparently from the Greens is that they're running a protection racket for those who threaten women in ways that so many of my colleagues have put on the record here tonight and I don't intend to do, because it is outrageous and a disgrace.

You don't rack up millions of dollars of fines for flags and stickers. The Supreme Court and the High Court don't award damages of that scale for somebody who has flags and stickers. It's an absolute outrage and a disgrace that anybody would come into this place and try to use that as a smokescreen for what we all know is happening in the construction industry and which this side, the coalition, tried to rein in. I agree with Senator Lambie. It's an outrage that there are attempts to use this process to try to undermine the efforts and the role of the ABCC, which brings us to the situation where we have to go through this disallowance process. They on the other side don't have the courage to bring in legislation that will put in place their version of what they say will be an effective watchdog.

We know it's needed. I give Labor credit for the action that they took when they were in government last time and dealt with the BLF. Bob Hawke actually dealt with this behaviour once before. This government doesn't have the courage to do that effectively or properly. I had forgotten that Senator Shoebridge had worked with the BLF. He talked about his work on the green bans. I completely differentiate what occurred in Sydney with regard to the green bans from what I know happened on construction sites around this country, where concrete pours were disrupted, where companies were stood over so that they didn't supply materials to certain construction businesses that wouldn't do things the way the CFMEU wanted them to. It's an absolute outrage that we have to go through this process and not through a formal process, a genuine plan to fix the current structure if that is what Labor actually want to do. To hide behind the smokescreen of flags and stickers when we've heard colleague after colleague, particularly Senator Reynolds and Senator Hughes, get up and detail the way that women were spoken to and the way that women were treated on building sites is an absolute outrage—that they actually had to do that and that we are talking about that sort of behaviour on building sites. As for the excuse that it's a robust working environment, it has been said that this is a robust working environment, but we don't tolerate that sort of language and that sort of behaviour to women in this workplace. On what planet is a woman, someone going about their work, in any other workplace in this country than a building site treated in that way?

That's not a safe workplace. For somebody going onto a building site to be abused, to be threatened and to be spoken to in that matter is not a safe workplace, so any discussion from the other side that this is about workplace safety is a complete and utter crock as well. It's not. In fact those that are perpetuating that are creating unsafe workplaces. Those on the other side try and pass it off as flags and stickers. They hide behind, 'It's a robust workplace. It's about workplace safety.' Senator Shoebridge's suggestion that construction sites are unregulated I find distressing—

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


Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

and bizarre, Senator Scarr, coming from someone who just came from a state legislature. They have regulatory oversight of building sites and workplace safety through their state-based regulations. He was obviously not too effective a regulator as a legislator in his previous life in the New South Wales parliament. But it is an absolute outrage and a disgrace that we have to be considering this.

I thought it might be worth considering the economic impacts of this, considering where we're looking to go over the next decade. Obviously from the last parliament, due to the actions of the coalition Queensland is in the very delightful position of being able to host the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games. According to economic modelling, the potential impact of the removal of the ABCC is an additional 9.1 per cent to the cost of building projects over the next decade. I made a contribution in this place a few weeks ago in relation to the failure of this new government so far to put in place the deal the coalition insisted on with the Queensland government to ensure that there would be some discipline around the billions of dollars in expenditure for the construction of the infrastructure required for the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2032.

We have a Queensland government which at this point in time runs at the behest of the unions and is completely out of control. We're not going to put in place some very sensible provisions about the decision-making and expenditure of Commonwealth taxpayer funds on a fifty-fifty basis with the Queensland government for the construction of infrastructure. Now we're going to take away the discipline of the ABCC, and can you imagine what it's going to be like if this government goes ahead with pattern bargaining? Unions, particularly the CFMMEU, would be out of control, if they're not already, potentially adding billions in cost to the construction of the infrastructure for what will be a magnificent event for Australia in 2032, the Olympic and Paralympic Games. There's about $12 billion worth of infrastructure to be built for those games, and at nine per cent we're talking about over $1 billion. That's just for the removal of the ABCC. Just imagine what patent bargaining might do to that as well—and no economic supervision through a joint administrative body that was proposed by the then Commonwealth government. We're very concerned about how the Queensland government will make decisions about that infrastructure. When you have a Queensland minister saying that the Gabba, for example, which is a billion-dollar project, is really just a sketch at this point in time, what's there protecting Australian taxpayers' dollars? There is a lot of discussion from this government about being sound economic managers, yet the decisions that it's making are going in exactly the opposite direction in relation to a significant event that we're looking to welcome in a decade's time and the costs that might be appropriated as part of that process.

As I worked my way through the construction industry, as I said before, I saw good unions and I saw bad unions. When I was operating in the sector in a professional sense, in the administration of the construction industry, there were some in the union movement that you could have a great relationship with, who you could work with, and you could get good deals for your business and for your workforce. That's what we want to see; we want to see a constructive and positive relationship. But I can tell you that we all felt it when the bad things were happening, when big building companies did deals with big unions and the cost of that trickled down through the rest of the industry. We all saw that. We all felt that.

I already have had small businesses come to me saying that they are already being threatened by the unions. They are already being threatened by the unions, particularly the CFMMEU, because the unions know, if Labor gets this through, they're off the leash 'This is what's going to happen to you. This is what we're going to do to your business. This is how we're going to make it harder for you to work and this is what you're going to pay.' These threats are already being made in the construction industry.

I don't want to smear the frontline workers, the workers on job sites, with the same traits that are coming from the union leadership. I agree with those in the chamber who've made statements about wanting workers to go to work and come home safe. I've been there; I've been on construction sites and I know what trauma it brings right through the workforce when something goes wrong—through the workforce, through a business and through all of those associated with it. That's not what any of us want to see. This is not about being anti union. This is not about being anything other than wanting to see appropriate behaviour, good behaviour, on worksites. This is wanting to make sure that those horrific examples put on the record by Senator Hughes and Senator Reynolds don't happen again. We don't accept them in our workplace. No other worker in any workplace should accept them either, because that's not a safe workplace.

The suggestion that it's a robust industry and so you expect some of these things to the happen is a complete cop-out. I won't accept the Labor Party and the Greens running a protection racket for this abhorrent behaviour. I will stand up every day for people on the frontline in the workforce because I've been there. I'm one of the few in this place who actually has. I will be supporting this disallowance motion because it should be supported in the interests of good behaviour in the construction industry to make sure that anybody working in the sector can go to work safe, not be threatened and go home safe and that the appropriate regulatory frameworks are in place throughout the sector.

12:00 am

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Shadow Assistant Minister to the Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

With the indulgence of the chamber, before I get into the meat of this disallowance, I would like to pay homage to Senator Cadell and his first speech from earlier this evening. Ross and I worked on the Country Liberal campaign up in Darwin back in 2012. I've known him since then, and I can see that he's going to be such a strong fighter for regional and rural New South Wales and across Australia. His earthy sense of humour and his self-deprecation will be a welcome addition to this place. I thank the chamber for allowing me that small indulgence before I get down into what we're here for.

What's interesting, for those who might be listening at home or over the worldwide web, is the name of what we're dealing with here. We keep talking about a disallowance. It's a motion for disallowance of the Code for the Tendering and Performance of Building Work Amendment Instrument 2022. What the Labor Party are doing is trying to slowly strangle a safe workplace in Australia. Before they can get legislation before the chamber, they've brought forward regulations that, in the words of Tony Burke, will mean the Australian Building and Construction Commission's powers will be pulled back to the 'bare legal minimum'. That's what this is about. This is about the Labor Party doing the bidding of their union paymasters.

What is interesting if you're a student of history and especially if you're from Queensland, like Senator Scarr is, is that Queensland is the birthplace of the Labor Party. It came from a shearers' strike. The Labor Party came out of the union movement. The Labor Party was established as the political wing of the union movement. Labor senators and MPs are very proud of that, and good on them; I'm sure their parents are proud. But what has happened with the modern Labor Party is that it actually isn't the political wing of the union movement; the union movement has become the campaign wing of the Labor Party. The Labor Party, in its soul, has died. The flame on the hill of Prime Minister Chifley has become a sort of damp sponge. What has happened with the union movement is that they've effectively become subcontractors to the Labor Party, as you might see set up in some of the government affairs agencies around town.

What the union movement do is say to the Labor Party, 'Look, we'll campaign for your election, but we want something in return.' Remember, for those who are listening and fellow senators, the union movement now has only about 10 per cent of the workforce. Nine out of 10 Australians don't join a union. I'm someone who proudly believes in freedom of association—that you should have the right to join an industrial association and the right to join a union but also the right not to join an industrial association or union. So what the Labor Party do, through their subcontractors in the union movement who run these public campaigning bodies, is try to protect the institutional power of unions. Unions have failed in their fundamental reason for existence—that is to be mass membership organisations that defend the rights of the working class. They don't do that anymore. They defend the rights of union officials.

For those who are listening, this debate is not about union members. This debate is not about the right to join a union or not join a union. This debate is about the exercise of power by union officials. In particular, it is about the exercise of power by union officials who, over the decades, have proven themselves incapable of understanding good governance, but proven themselves capable of understanding the power of thuggery, understanding the power of corruption and understanding the power of pure malice.

That is sad because that reflects upon the entire union movement. It reflects poorly—and this is quite sad—on those union members who trust those union officials to do what is in their best interests. That does not happen with the CFMMEU, because this effectively is a criminal organisation. It is an organisation who exists not to protect the rights of its members. This organisation exists purely to protect the power—the feudal power—that exists within the structure of the CFMMEU. We've heard tonight some very powerful examples. I want to commend Senator Reynolds and, in particular, Senator Hughes's very strong and very touching approaches about how safety in the workplace is disregarded by the Labor Party and the union movement when politics are involved. We hear in this place loudly and clearly that we must have safe workplaces across Australia, and, indeed, in this building we've had reviews and committees. As Senator Hughes very eloquently said she's never felt unsafe in this place, but she did go through some examples of what women and what some gay Australians have had to deal with in the workplace because of officials of the CFMMEU. What is interesting is that of the speakers opposite, none of them—none of them—have commented on or expanded upon why they think that the conduct of these union officials is right or defensible, because they know it's not.

Remember that in the UK we do have—and I am looking forward to the announcement of the new British Prime Minister in 45 minutes time—the House of Lords, an appointed chamber with 92 hereditary peers. But in Australia we've got the Senate which is, for the Labor Party, the house of retired union barons. They come here after serving a term or two as the assistant general secretary of some acronym. They come in here as part of a deal and they sit on the benches over there. Quite frankly, they don't add much to this place except when they depart and then someone else comes in to warm that particular seat. This is what is sad. You'd think that these union officials who sit opposite us would defend the right of all Australians to have a safe workplace. But, no, they don't do that. Remember that the unions are subcontractors to the Labor Party—and we experienced this during the May election, when my side sadly lost. But what was interesting was the dying Labor Party infrastructure across Australia and how it was saved—or salvaged—by the union movement. I experienced this on various prepolls around the place. You would have these charming—I use that word sarcastically—men, and they're always men, who would come along from the particular union headquarters. They'd have their tattoos and their generally menacing approach to life, where they snarl at trees and chase cars. What they'd love to do was intimidate people. They'd stand over the little old ladies and little old men of the LNP—that's why I love my party, because the little old ladies and little old men would stand their ground as the union thugs would stand over them and intimidate them and call them all sorts of terrible names.

That's when we get to the breaches of a safe workplace that the CFMMEU have been found to undertake. I know it's true. I don't need a court of law to tell me that because I've seen that on polling day. I've seen that on what should be a day of celebration of our boisterous democracy, when often there are frank exchanges of views between the Left, the Right, the far left over there and the Greens. But what the union thugs do is always take it to the next level and threaten violence against the coalition volunteers. And they are volunteers, whereas these aren't union members; they're union officials and union thugs.

The CFMMEU has been penalised for more breaches of the Fair Work Act than any other union. I am going to read out some of the findings of what's happened in these workplaces because I want those opposite to defend the actions of these union officials. I want them to get up and say that it was right for a CFMMEU official who once was jailed for assault to tell a female inspector she was an effing, well, S-word that rhymes with glut, asking her if she brought kneepads because 'you are going to be sucking off these'—goodness me—'effing dogs all day.' I want those union officials over there to come into this place and defend those actions.

So yes, that was what should happen in a workplace! This is why we need an honest cop out there. This is why we need the Australian Building and Construction Commission because they go in and stop this behaviour. The Courier Mail revealed that a CFMMEU official allegedly barked like a dog at a female health and safety consultant on a Gold Coast construction site. From memory, this was when the Commonwealth Games were being structured. This charming guy who you'd love to take home and meet your parents—imagine him sitting around the dining table—said, 'Go on, off you go, you effing dog'—goodness—'C. Go get your police.' Then he went on to call her.

We love the Left over here, who are always speaking about the rights of women and the rights of minorities but not when it comes to those women and those minorities who might have a different view to them as to the role of thuggish union officials. No, they don't have their rights. They don't have any rights, not in a workplace that is going to be governed by officials of the CFMMEU. Welcome to the modern Labor Party: the party that, as Senator Rennick said, is not the party of the working class; it is the party who defend the rights of spivs and thugs to threaten women and members of minority communities in Australia.

The CFMMEU delegates have also been accused of harassing the daughter of a builder when they picketed a worksite. This is charming, isn't it? This is our building industry, which is so important for Australia's economy and so important to make sure that people have jobs, that people have skills, that people have homes, that we have roads and that we have everything that we can build to make Australia a better place. We're not talking about some two-bit business, as much as I love two-bit businesses because I'm a big fan of small businesses. This is a multibillion dollar industry that is held to ransom by the thugs of the CFMMEU. Because of their failure to act, grow and mature as a political party over the decades, the Labor Party needs to subcontract their campaigning to the unions. People talk about the need for a federal corruption commission: 'The Labor Party's going to bring that in.' And I wonder sometimes whether the Labor Party doing a policies-for-votes deal with the union movement would fall within the remit of an anti-corruption commission. Is the Labor Party saying to the union movement, 'Campaign for us and we will deliver the following policies,' or is it a case of the union movement saying to the Labor Party, 'We'll campaign for you if you deliver the following for us.' In terms of some of the definitions of this anticorruption commission, I wonder whether I'll be knocking on that door at 9 am when this anticorruption commission opens and lodging complaints there about the conduct and behaviour of this terrible, terrible octopus that is the modern Labor Party and the failing union movement.

8:50 pm

Photo of James PatersonJames Paterson (Victoria, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Cyber Security) Share this | | Hansard source

In contemplating my contribution to this debate I carefully listened to the contributions of other senators. I listened to the contributions of my coalition colleagues and, in particular, to those who shared the harrowing stories and shocking examples of the misbehaviour of CFMMEU officials targeted towards women, minorities, workers and public servants. I also listened to the contributions of the Greens, who, to their credit, have so far in this debate provided more senators to speak in defence of the government's actions in this area than the government has provided to speak in their own defence. And, of course, I listened to the contribution from the sole Labor speaker so far, Senator Sheldon. I wonder whether Senator Sheldon—

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

A number of us spoke last time.

Photo of James PatersonJames Paterson (Victoria, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Cyber Security) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Watt, for that interjection. I look forward to further contributions from your colleagues. I wonder whether Senator Sheldon drew the short straw in caucus this morning and is their designated speaker for the day to come in and defend the indefensible, or whether he is the only one who has the courage to show up and defend the conduct of the CFMMEU.

I sincerely try to put myself in the shoes of those opposite, many of whom ran no doubt very sincerely committed to the advancement of women and minorities and to the defence of the rule of the law. Yet they will come into this place when this motion is put for a vote and dutifully do as they are told and defend conduct which surely even they know deep down is not right, is not okay and is not something that we should want to see in Australia.

I puzzle to myself: what is the possible reason why good people would come in and defend such reprehensible conduct? I'm sorry, but after reflecting and listening to the contributions of all senators there really only is one possible contribution—it is, as other senators have alluded to, ultimately all about money.

The CFMMEU is one of the Labor Party's most important financial benefactors. In the last 20 years alone they have donated $16.3 million of their members' dues to the Labor Party. That's $16 million that's allowed the Labor Party to run and finance their campaigns and, ultimately, to prevail at the last federal election and to occupy the government benches. Maybe they can tell themselves in the quiet of their room in the dark of the night when they're reflecting on their contribution to public life that it might have been a bit uncomfortable to defend this reprehensible conduct, but it was worth it because that $16 million allowed them to win the election and to be in government.

I wish I could say that this was an isolated case. I wish I could say it was the only instance of the Labor Party making moral compromises for donations. But it's not, because in just the first 100 days of this new government they haven't done much. They haven't outlined a plan to address the cost-of-living crisis facing Australians. But one thing they've done very well—one thing they've done remarkably efficiently and productively—is deliver for the constituencies who delivered for them, particularly for their financial backers.

This is, in fact, a pattern of behaviour. We've seen it in the regulations issued recently to try to protect super funds from the measures of disclosure and transparency that the former government—particularly the good work of Senator Hume, who was the responsible minister in the previous parliament—imposed upon them. All that we ask, which I don't think is an unreasonable thing, is that, when they are donating their super members' money to causes, political and otherwise, they disclose that to their members and they be transparent about that to their members.

Yet, in its first 100 days, this government has issued a regulation to try to obscure that information and hide it from those super fund members. The Assistant Treasurer, Mr Jones, has even laughably said that this is a red tape reduction measure and that this is about reducing the cost of compliance and the regulatory burden on super funds. He was very embarrassed when Michael Roddan at the Financial Review pointed out that other areas of the law, in particular reporting obligations to APRA, already require super funds to provide this information. The only thing this regulation did was to make it public.

Why would the Labor Party be so passionate about delivering for super funds, by helping them to cover it up? My colleague, Senator Bragg, who I know is going to make a contribution shortly, has very deftly exposed over the last few months why that would be the case. Because in just one financial year alone, the most recent financial year for which we have data—2020 to 2021—super funds paid $12.9 million to the union movement. And we know those funds don't just go from super funds to the union movement and stay there. They help subsidise the political campaigning activity of the union movement and, ultimately, the political donations that the union movement makes to the Labor Party. So this is yet another example of the Labor Party trading donations for regulatory favours when they get into government.

Unfortunately, this is only one of many examples, because at 4.30 on Friday afternoon—it's always a bit of a giveaway when ministers issue a media release at that time—the Attorney-General, Mr Dreyfus, and again our favourite Assistant Treasurer, Mr Jones, issued a media release. The footy finals were on and people were heading away for the weekend, but just in time, before journalists clocked off, they shared the news that they were also overturning regulations governing litigation funders and class actions.

To give you a brief recap of the history of this issue, it has become very clear in recent years that the conduct of class action law firms and litigation funders is underregulated, and that the victims of that lack of regulation have been successful class action participants who banded together, finally had their day in court and won their case. When it came time for the proceeds of that successful action to be handed out among those class action participants, they got cents on the dollar. And they got cents on the dollar because the overwhelming lion's share of those proceeds instead went to class action law firms and the litigation funders who finance their activities.

These are litigation funders who are typically located in tax haven jurisdictions like the Virgin Islands, the Jersey Islands or the Cayman Islands. These are litigation funders who are treating our justice system like it is a casino and generating returns on investment for their initial outlays of the many hundreds of per cent. And in fact it emerged during an inquiry I chaired in the previous parliament that these funds are so oversubscribed that every time they advertise for an injection of new funds from overseas investors they cannot meet the demand. And why wouldn't you invest with such guaranteed lucrative returns through the Australian justice system?

Quite reasonably, the former Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, issued a regulation which required some very basic and minimal compliance on the part of these litigation funders and class action law firms. One of the things it required of them was that they apply for and obtain an AFSL—an Australian Financial Services Licence. One of the key criteria for obtaining and holding an AFSL is that you must conduct yourself honestly, efficiently and fairly. It remains an open question which one of those three criteria—honesty, efficiency or fairness—that litigation funders and class action law firms are unwilling or unable to comply with, and which one of those things this government, the Albanese government, thinks is an unreasonable thing to require of them. These regulations, issued by Mr Dreyfus and Mr Jones, would have the effect of removing that requirement from class action law firms and their partners in the litigation funding industry.

So why would it be that late on a Friday afternoon, within its first few months in office, one of the priorities of the Albanese government was to issue a regulation to remove basic compliance and oversight of an unregulated industry? To explain the answer to that question I turned to a Janet Albrechtsen article in the Australian newspaper published on 16 May 2020 in which she writes:

In the 2009-10 financial year, Maurice Blackburn donated $163,300 to Labor, then its highest donation on record to the party. The previous year it sent only $12,951 Labor's way, and the year before that it was just $12,616. For the next 10 years, Maurice Blackburn donated more than $1m to Labor, compared with $257,767 over the previous decade.

In the last financial year, with a state election in Victoria in November 2018 and the federal election the following May, Maurice Blackburn donated $354,805 to Labor, the third-largest donation on record. It gave a further $200,000 to the ACTU, which campaigned for Labor. That is just one class action law firm and just one snapshot of the millions of dollars which flow from this industry to the Labor Party. It is the third example I cite today of major Labor Party donors getting regulatory favours from this government. They are regulatory favours which help these organisations evade scrutiny, transparency, disclosure and oversight.

This is a political party, the Labor Party, which campaigned for office on being the most transparent government ever, on being an ethical government that was going to bring in a corruption commission. And yet in its first hundred days in office it has engaged in behaviour which I think is arguably corrupt. I share Senator McGrath's advocacy that perhaps this is something that a future corruption commission should examine when it is established because it is very hard to think of any other reason why the Labor Party would go to such lengths to expose itself to some political risk and some political damage in order to protect its friends except for the very significant financial donations that they receive.

Senator Lambie made a good point in her contribution. She made a number of good points, but there is one in particular I want to highlight. She noted that the Albanese government aren't proceeding on this issue by way of legislation, at least not for now. They're doing so by regulation. It's no coincidence that in the case of letting their friends in the super funds off the hook they are also proceeding by regulation. In letting their friends in the litigation funding movement and the class action law firms off the hook, they are also proceeding by way of regulation.

Regulation has an appropriate role in a Westminster system. Not everything needs to be specified in legislation. But it's generally regarded as a tool for less contentious areas of public policy, the rats and mice of public policy, the filling in the gaps of the legislative framework. But these are not rats and mice. These are not trivial things. These are three big substantive things. And yet this government does not have the courage of its convictions to bring forward legislation to deal with any of these three issues in testing the numbers in this chamber to see whether it can obtain 39 votes for these things and exposing itself to a full and proper debate, a debate that would involve referrals to Senate committees, public hearings and inquiries and examination of this issue. They want to do it quick, they want to do it dirty and they want to do it with minimal scrutiny because they know, ultimately, if exposed to the public it would not reflect very well on them.

This is a new government. It is understandably riding high. The polls are strong. It's in a honeymoon period. But that will not last. Let me tell you: no government enjoys that level of public support forever. When the worm turns, as it inevitably will in a few years time, decisions like this will not stand the test of time. Decisions like this will look like a stain on the early record of this government. I really urge those opposite to consider. I know it's hard. I know you're members of the Labor Party. I know your caucus discipline and solidarity. But consider: is this what you entered public life to do? Did you run for office to provide regulatory favours to your political donors? If the Liberal and National parties did these things in government, you would be the first people to charge into this chamber and accuse us of corrupt conduct and corrupt behaviour. If you think it's bad if your political opponents do it, you should reflect on whether it's okay for you to do it as well. You should reflect on whether that is really the purpose for which you came to the federal parliament to represent your fellow Australians.

9:03 pm

Photo of Andrew BraggAndrew Bragg (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to make a contribution on this disallowance motion on the Code for the Tendering and Performance of Building Work Amendment Instrument 2022. In coming after Senator Paterson's very good remarks, it is appropriate that I start off on this theme of vested interests. The reality is that there will always be vested interests. That will be the case in any organisation. Former Prime Minister Paul Keating was mentored by Jack Lang, who was a former Premier of New South Wales. I believe Mr Lang coined this expression: in the great race of life always back self-interest because at least you'll know it's trying. It is, I believe, a very true statement that conflicts are perhaps unavoidable, but it is the job of ministers to work to their oaths, to take their oaths seriously and to only pursue public policy initiatives which are genuinely in the public interest.

It is true that the Labor Party won the election with a very threadbare agenda. They had some policies—some bad ones and some good ones, to be fair—but they had very few policies. So now, in these first 100 or so days, they have had to pull together, fashion together or thrash together a bit of an agenda for the next little while. They have been able to pick up the speed dial to their closest associates and say: 'What have you got in the top drawer? What are the issues we can work on that will make us look as if we're doing something? We need to do something now we're in this job.' It's like the dog that caught the car.

Senator Paterson eloquently walked through a pretty good list of the vested interests which are ruling the roost here. There is no problem with having a summit and discussing policy issues. In some ways it's quite refreshing. But I'm not sure that the invitation list really reflects the modern economy we have. This particular issue of the ABCC is part of a pattern of behaviour that we have seen already across class action law firms and superannuation.

The point about restraining vested interests and protecting against the concentration of power is very important in a democracy. It's very important that governments are not captured by vested interests. My own political party, or my own side of politics, has had a very mixed history with these issues over the long run. The predecessor party of the Liberal Party, the UAP—which I note has now been reborn in some sort of new capacity here in Canberra—was effectively destroyed because the vested interests which had been involved in the party's governance and had paid the party's bills then sought to set the policies of that party. That party was run into the ground, and Menzies set the party up in a way whereby policies were not going to be set by the people who paid the bills, because they had clear conflicts of interest in doing so. Unfortunately, the Labor Party is now where the original UAP was some 80 years ago. Their paymasters are setting the policies. That is a risk for the nation and it's also a risk for the Labor Party.

On the issue of this particular measure, the case has been made very effectively by my colleagues that when you're looking at an economy of this magnitude, almost 10 per cent, when you're talking about a labour market component of 1.15 million, and when you're looking at unbundling an institution which has already proven its value by reducing labour costs, by increasing productivity and by effectively dealing with the cases that were brought to its front door, you have to ask yourself why you would want to do this.

Of course, we know the answers. I won't bore the chamber with those answers again. They've been well and truly set out. It is, as I say, a pattern of behaviour. The ABCC has to go because the CFMMEU say it's not good for their operation. The regulation we put in place to ensure that all the superannuation funds would have to disclose the contributions they make to unions has to go because, again, the unions don't want to have that. The super funds certainly don't want to tell their members where they're sending their money.

Equally, the class action lawyers don't want to lose money, because the way that it's established now means they can run the cases. It's very important that we have class actions. It's a very important way for people to be able to access justice. But the idea that these class action law firms would not be subject to regulation when they are running managed investment schemes, often on behalf of thousands of people, is ridiculous. The proposals that were before this parliament were simply that you can run a class action but you can't take all the money if you're the law firm. You've got to maintain a reasonable balance, and the bulk of the money that is won in a class action should go to the people for whom you're working. That is a reasonable proposition but apparently no good, because of course class action lawyers and donors don't like it.

I do want to talk about this issue of where some of these things come together, because I think there is no question that the CFMMEU does have considerable power over the Labor Party. We have talked about the donations they make directly to the Labor Party, and we have also canvassed in these contributions this evening and earlier in the day the statement that Mr Stephen Jones, the Assistant Treasurer, made on Friday night when he made a regulation that removes the requirement for super funds to disclose their payments that they make to unions. All they have to do now is aggregate these payments. Mr Jones in his media statement he said that he was going to maintain the requirement for the super funds to disclose their political donations. That's very cute because anyone who has looked at this matter knows that the money is washed through the unions; it is not paid directly to the Labor Party itself. Doing that, effectively allowing the aggregation of the money from the funds into unions to be maintained, is giving a green light for the money to be supercharged.

I do want to talk about the amount of money here that has been paid over the past few years. The CFMMEU is the number one recipient of all the unions out of the superannuation system, from super funds, over the last five years: in 2016-17 the CFMMEU received $750,000, in 2017-18 the CFMMEU received $1.4 million, in 2018-19 the CFMMEU received $3.5 million, in 2019-20 the CFMEU received $4.7 million and in 2020-21 the CFMMEU received $6.1 million. We've gone from $750,000 in 2016-17 to $6.1 million in 2020-21. Those are not Andrew Bragg's figures; those are the figures that were disclosed on the Australian Electoral Commission website. That is a very good example of where people's retirement savings, which are essentially managed for their benefit, are increasingly being filed into the coffers of the CFMMEU. That is a massive increase over the course of five years.

You have to ask yourself how that can be justified. Under the regulations we made in the former parliament, all of those individual payments would have been disclosed to members. The members of these funds, by the way, are not going to trawl through the Australian Electoral Commission website. They're not going to pull together and sticky tape together pieces of paper that are filed by the various unions in their annual returns which show their income that is paid from other sources. Most people have better things to do than go through and do that, so the whole point of the member disclosures was to set it out in detail so people could see it if they wanted to.

With the aggregation model that Mr Jones made through the regulation on Friday we will now not be able to see the individual payments made into the unions. The minister is free to make his regulation. That's his right under the act. He's been given those powers. Now the Senate will have to decide whether it will stand up for integrity and transparency and make a judgement about whether it thinks that people should be able to see the contributions being made by their super funds to other organisations and whether or not that is something that they want to finance. The same goes for this disallowance. The questions are: will the Senate be prepared to hold the line on an institution which has proven that it has been able to successfully consider cases; that it has been an effective cop on the beat; and that its abolition would result in a loss of productivity in our economy, a hit to GDP and a loss of 4,000 jobs? These are very clear questions that the Senate can consider in this disallowance on the ABCC. I'm sure that there will be an opportunity in the near term for this chamber to consider the matter on the super non-disclosure and the loss of transparency. But of course, this is all just a theme of a government that is seeking to work for vested interests.

One would have hoped that the issues that really matter to the Australian people would have been the subject of this government's early initiatives. But sadly, the government is working through its top drawer of issues and vested interests, and these are the issues that are coming up now. Given that there's a pretty threadbare policy agenda, goodness knows what we'll be seeing 12 months from now. It may be more radical. I mean, I have to say, this is a pretty brazen agenda to try and run all these things through and to assume no-one will care, that the media won't be interested, that it is too technical and that it is too hard to understand.

But my sense is that a lot of these things will be stopped because they are not in the public interest. People will not want to go back to their electorates and say, 'Yes, we allowed the ABCC to go because we didn't think it was important. Yes, we thought it wasn't important that you should know where your super funds are going. Yes, we thought it was a good idea to get rid of the class action regulation because we think that the class action lawyers should have more money than you when you win a case.' I mean, these are not the arguments that people will want to run in the retail environment. These may be impressive arguments to people who need to pay off debts to various vested interests but, at the end of the day, this chamber, surely, given it has great power vested in it, should be always looking to maintain the highest possible standards.

Frankly, we would be doing the Labor government a favour by stopping this particular repeal, by not allowing them to proceed with their antitransparency measures in super and all the other things they want to do because, in the long run, as Senator Paterson, I think, pointed out as well, these are not things which will reflect well on the government in the long-term. In the long-term they will have to justify why they did this. The reality is that these are not the policy initiatives that are the most important things to the economy or to the Australian people. These are the list of issues that are important to a few vested interests that have a disproportionate amount of power over the government and over the governing political party. So I'll be voting on this disallowance to ensure that the ABCC can be maintained for the good governance of the construction industry.

9:18 pm

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

Having listened to some of this discussion over the course of the last several hours, I've been tempted to point a few things out. I might take the time to point a few things out without unnecessarily prolonging this obvious filibuster attempt. I can tell you that my history in the labour movement and my engagement with the construction industry says that there is a very important place for strong and effective trade union representation, whether you lot like it or not, in the construction industry. There is a history in the construction industry of mindful militancy, a focus on safety, a focus on the interests of members and a focus on good jobs in the construction industry. I used that phrase earlier because it's a phrase that I associate with the tradition in the organisation that I once worked in. While those on the other side might not have liked some of the things that we did and while, in fact, some on the other side worked hard to change industrial relations regulation to disadvantage workers in industrial relations, I was very proud indeed of that tradition.

Some of the behaviour that has been set out by some quite eloquently in the allegations that have been made, if proven, is utterly unacceptable. The answer to that, of course, is not the continued operation of the ABCC. It is a failed hyperpartisan regulator. It does not have the confidence of participants in the building industry, and that is not limited to just the trade unions in the industry, although their voice in this is important. There is a broad view in the community that this regulator cannot be trusted to act in any other way but a hyperpartisan and unfair way and that it has failed. If its objective is, indeed, to prevent bad behaviour in the construction industry, it has utterly failed.

The problem with the argument being made over there in the attempt to establish that there is some vested interest here is that there is no vested interest. There is just a clear and unambiguous view. It has not been hidden. It's not new. It was in the lead-up not just to the last election but the election before. This failed, hyperpartisan regulator is not fit for purpose in the construction industry. There are bad behaviours by industry participants in the construction industry. There are some workplaces in the construction industry that have a bad culture, and I would have thought that people would have paid attention to the Jobs and Skills Summit last week and seen that the answer to these problems is not a hyperpartisan, failed regulator—a police force that goes around telling people what stickers they can have on their helmets or what flags they can fly or whether or not they can meet. That's what this failed hyperpartisan regulator has done. Those over on that side don't have the faintest interest in productivity in the construction industry. It is just a continuation of the hyper-ideological obsessions of that group.

What's really going on here this evening? This isn't a genuine debate about how to create good jobs in the construction industry. Nobody on that side has ever had the remotest interest in good jobs and productivity in the construction industry. This is a full-scale filibuster from an opposition who can't help but delay and divide and distract when it comes to climate policy. That's what all this is really about. Not only did the coalition's climate wars in government see total policy paralysis and political division for more than a decade but now they're clinging on to this sentiment and this strategy from opposition. Keep it coming, because people see it for what it is.

The Liberal Party and the National Party in this place have spent hours of Senate time railing on the disallowance of the building work amendment code. So far we've heard from at least 10 coalition senators on this disallowance, all speaking for 15 minutes each. That's one opposition senator for every year of the wasted decade when it comes to climate in terms of failed climate policy and failed energy policy in this country. Why are they doing that? Perhaps it's because they don't want this Senate to debate a bill on climate emissions that would see Labor's 43 per cent emissions reduction target enshrined in law. The best that they've got is delay, and it's inherently partisan and self-interested and political. That's what this behaviour is really about. It's not in the public interest. It's to engage in an ideological obsession which still holds the majority in the Liberal Party, led by the fanatics on the backbench who are determined to drive what remains of Mr Dutton's leadership into the ground. The National Party and Mr Pitt are clearly still in control of the Leader of the Opposition's policy unit.

This lot over here will never change. They don't listen to the Australian community. They didn't get the memo in the last election that people want to see action on climate change and to see Australians work together to resolve the issues that confront them, whether it's in the construction industry or anywhere else. They simply won't learn.

I think we should have a vote on this matter. That's my view. We should get on with the business that this chamber needs to deal with over the course of this week, and in the interest of doing that, at the halfway mark, I'll sit down.

9:26 pm

Photo of Claire ChandlerClaire Chandler (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I always enjoy a contribution from Senator Ayres with his misty eyed recollections of his time in the union movement. We've heard them many times in this chamber, and I suspected, when I saw him stand up tonight, that we were about to get one again. Indeed, we did.

I'm glad, Senator Ayres, that you recognised in your contribution this evening that some bad behaviour has occurred. I'm glad that you again recognised that there are some bad cultural issues in some elements. I'm very pleased to hear you recognise that. But we had another government senator revert to the standard Labor talking points of blame shifting, while neglecting to address the very serious issue that we are examining here—the threat that Labor has proposed to the very existence of the body that can regulate that very same bad behaviour that Senator Ayres referred to—the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

Here we are, into only the third sitting week of the Labor government, and we are already seeing Labor capitulating to the bidding of their union masters. Instead of concentrating on the issues affecting everyday Australians, like the cost-of-living pressures being felt by households around the country, Labor have focused their attention on appeasing their union mates. At a time when Australian families are doing it tough, this is what Labor are proposing as one of their bright new ideas.

I've been listening to the contributions of other senators in this place this evening. I'm sure those good Australians listening to the contributions at home would be quite shocked at what they're hearing, although, it should be said that all the stories here this evening in relation to certain behaviour from the union movement aren't matters of public record. I remind those Australians listening at home that the ABCC was established for very good reasons. It was established to curtail union lawlessness, to protect construction workers from thuggish behaviour and intimidation and to stop the harassment of workers, particularly women, both on and off work sites. But, as we have heard here this evening, there are some truly terrible instances which paint a clear picture as to why this body, the ABCC, is essential to protect those who work in these industries from the sheer thuggery of some individuals in the Australian union movement. As many of my colleagues have said this evening, and I will make a couple of remarks on this myself, there is no greater example of that than the truly disgusting and despicable actions of the CFMMEU.

As we've heard throughout this debate, CFMMEU officials have previously been caught out cursing at and spitting at individuals and threatening to gang rape and even kill women. A CFMMEU official was jailed for assault and once told a female inspector she was an 'F-ing S' and asked her if she had brought kneepads as she was going to be 'sucking off those F-ing dogs all day'. CFMMEU delegates were accused of harassing the daughter of a builder when they picketed a work site. The picketers were accused of harassing the daughter of the builder when she entered the site in her car by commenting on her appearance—her breasts and her bottom—and making inappropriate sounds towards her. They allegedly called her a 'daddy's girl' and a 'blonde bimbo', and they said: 'Here comes the freeloader, living off your dad. That car belongs to us because daddy pays for it.'

These are truly horrific stories. This behaviour would not be tolerated in any workplace around this country. Taking all of this into consideration, I just do not understand how in the world the Labor Party think it is appropriate to abolish a body as important as the ABCC for keeping this sort of union thuggery and bullying in check, to ensure that it does not occur in Australian workplaces. The Labor Party don't want to listen to the cases of the many women who have been relentlessly harassed by the CFMMEU and don't even want to listen to the High Court of Australia, which ruled unanimously against that union in a case brought by the ABCC—the very body we're discussing here this evening—about the union's lawlessness in the construction sector. The High Court found in the 2022 Pattinson decision that the CFMMEU was a 'serial offender' that engaged in whatever action and made whatever threats it wished without regard to the law. It had contravened laws on approximately 150 occasions. The court said it was:

… well-resourced, having more than sufficient means to pay any penalty the court might have been disposed to impose.

And it treated penalties for serious breaches of the law as just the cost of 'doing business'.

These are the people that the Australian Labor Party, this government, is prepared to defend and side with—the law-breakers and the thugs—over Australian construction workers and businesses. By promising to abolish the ABCC, they are condoning the CFMMEU's vile record of appalling treatment of women. Everyone deserves the right to go about their work in a safe environment. But the government seem to think that this doesn't apply to those working in our construction industry. It is an absolute shame. The ABCC is the last line of defence between a strong building sector and the chaos and the delays that are caused by a union-run Labor government. Since the ABCC was re-established by the coalition in December 2016, the commission has proved effective at tackling union excesses head-on.

Our construction industry is a key component of Australia's economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. I note that we've had a few heckles from the other side of the chamber about the fact that, apparently, we on this side don't understand anything about the construction industry and don't support the construction industry. I find that very hard to believe after the very strong support that the former government provided to that very industry over the last term of government as we were dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. But, by promising to abolish the ABCC, Labor are putting that economic recovery at risk. For what? Why are they doing this? It's because they are beholden to their masters in the union movement, and heaven forbid the ABCC does its job effectively and holds unions to account for their atrocious behaviour. The CFMMEU, or its representatives, are respondents in 37 matters currently before the court. Almost $2 million in penalties in the current financial year have been awarded against the CFMMEU and its representatives.

On the other hand, while the unions are running around racking up fines and disrupting workplaces, the ABCC has secured over $5 million in recovered wages and entitlements for construction workers since it was re-established in 2016—something that I would have thought those on the other side of the chamber would have been in strong support of—and have made over $13.4 million in progress claims for subcontractors since 2019. This body is doing good work. To those listening at home, you shouldn't believe the rhetoric from those on the other side. The ABCC is a good thing, and it just shows that it is an essential function for Australia's building and construction industry to combat union thuggery, end violence in the workplace, and work to recover the wages and entitlements of hardworking Australians.

So, the question one must ask oneself is, why is this a priority for this Labor government? Well, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the CFMMEU was one of Labor's biggest financial donors in the financial year 2020-21, providing them with nearly $1 million in payments. And now here they are, the Labor government, pushing to abolish the ABCC—the very body that has tried to ensure that the CFMMEU ceases their lawless and thuggish behaviour on Australian worksites. This in no way passes the pub test. Does this government really think Australians will look at this move and see it as anything other than a politically motivated attack against the ABCC? The truth is plain for everybody to see, and it has been put very eloquently by my colleagues in contributing to this debate this evening. Clearly the Labor Party's allegiance is not to the Australian construction industry and not to the over 1.1 million Australian workers in that industry, who just want to go to work and do their job and come home, free from intimidation. No; their allegiance is to the CFMMEU and the donations they receive.

I think we do need to consider here tonight what will happen to the construction industry in the absence of the ABCC. We've talked a lot about some of the behaviour they've cracked down on. If we don't have this body, what is going to happen on Australian worksites? When there is no watchdog, industrial laws and penalties in this industry are seen as no more serious than a parking ticket: you speed, you pay the fine and the offending conduct is repeated again and again. But of course, in this example, we're not talking about speeding; we're talking about workplace intimidation, harassment of workers, particularly harassment of women, as I just described.

The federal government—any federal government, of any political persuasion—has a responsibility to ensure that our laws are strong enough to deter people from breaking the law and that there is an effective regulator in place to prosecute wrongdoers when they act unlawfully. When laws are repeatedly flouted and are not acting as a deterrent, it is clear that those laws must be strengthened. When there is an effective regulator who enforces laws with meaningful penalties, people will think twice before breaking the law. As soon as Labor abolished the ABCC in 2012, the improvements in respect for the law were lost almost immediately. After that abolition, the rate of disputes in the construction industry rose to approximately four times the all-industries average. In the first quarter, after the abolition of the ABCC, the rate of industrial disputes had increased fivefold. And here we are, yet again, in 2022, with a newly elected Labor government, and one of their first priorities is to trash this body that was created to protect Australian workers from the coercive controls of the militant union movement.

So, after all that and after numerous speakers—in this place tonight and previously on this motion when it was before the Senate back in August—have raised deep concerns about the government's move to abolish the ABCC, about how this will adversely affect workers and how this will embolden militant unionism on construction sites around Australia, I certainly hope the government will be prepared to do the brave thing and perhaps think twice about supporting the CFMMEU and their union mates ahead of hardworking Australians. My hopes aren't high, but I certainly do have them, because if they don't, if they side against the ABCC and with the CFMMEU, the Labor Party are condoning that union's abysmal record in the treatment of workers and particularly the treatment of women. And that is an absolute outrage. They are prepared to defend and side with law-breakers and thugs over Australian construction workers and businesses because it is in their financial and political interests to do so. It is plain for all to see.

This is a party and this is a government that talked a lot about integrity over the last few months during the election campaign and talked a lot about transparency. I'm not entirely sure how those opposite on the government benches can talk about integrity on the one hand and, in exactly the same breath almost, in their first few weeks of government in this country, instead be talking about siding with their union mates and abolishing the very body that has sought to make those unions better and to make Australian worksites safer. It is just a disgrace.

9:41 pm

Photo of Sarah HendersonSarah Henderson (Victoria, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Communications) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, if ever we knew the risks and dangers of electing Labor, this is it. This simply is a dirty deal. The abolition of the ABCC is the price Australians will pay for electing Labor and, might I say, one of the many prices they will pay. This proposal is a dirty, rotten deal with a dirty, rotten union, the CFMMEU. I'm not referring to the members, many of whom are hard working. I'm referring to the union bosses. We've heard many excellent contributions from coalition senators this evening about the unlawfulness wreaked on building sites across this country by the CFMMEU, the hundreds upon hundreds of breaches of the law and the intimidatory treatment to which so many are subjected by the CFMMEU bosses, including, of course, the disgraceful stories we've heard about the treatment of women.

In my brief remarks I want to particularly pick up on the comments of Senator Ayres, and I'm pleased that Senator Ayres has acknowledged the many instances of unlawful behaviour by construction unions. However, in saying that the ABCC is a failed regulator, Senator Ayres is completely and utterly wrong. That's absolutely false. I want to refer to an excellent opinion piece by Denita Wawn in the Australian Financial Review. She is the chief executive officer of Master Builders Australia, and she reflects on a time when former Labor prime ministers Hawke, Rudd and Gillard stood up to militant construction unions. This marks a very, very dark day for the labour movement led by the most left-wing Prime Minister in living memory. The likes of Bob Hawke, Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd had the guts to stand up to militant unions like the CFMMEU, and, in fact, the then industrial relations minister back in 2008, Julia Gillard, commissioned the late Murray Wilcox to conduct an inquiry into the need for a specialist construction industry regulator. In his report Wilcox concluded that the work of the ABCC was not yet done.

I want to briefly put on record that it is quite false to assert that this regulator has failed. This regulator has done a very important job, and as Denita Wawn writes:

It is disingenuous in the extreme for people who know better to assert that the primary focus of the ABCC has been to stop construction unions flying their flags from the top of cranes. Since it was re-established in 2016, the ABCC has brought more than 100 cases to court, and only one involved the display of construction union motifs. Overall—

as a result of the work of the ABCC—

the courts have found more 2500 breaches of the law by construction unions which resulted in more than $16.5 million in fines.

The courts have found there to have been:

              So this regulator has done a very good job at maintaining the law, at regulating the militant unions and, of course, in ensuring that our construction sector thrives.

              Shame on the Prime Minister, Mr Albanese, shame on Labor senators opposite and shame on the labour movement for not having the same courage that former Prime Minister Bob Hawke had, that former Prime Ministers Rudd and Gillard had to stand up to the very worst elements of militant unions. The Labor Party have done a rotten, dirty deal. This is our fifth-largest industry which employs more than 1.1 million workers and Labor are happy to wind the clock back decades and put all of that at risk. And, yes, they got their dividend: $16.3 million in donations. The unions now have the Labor Party on the hook to abolish the ABCC. This is an utter disgrace. Thank you very much.

              9:47 pm

              Photo of Jonathon DuniamJonathon Duniam (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Environment, Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

              UNIAM (—) (): Like my colleagues, this is a great opportunity to make a contribution on what is an important debate. It's one that I think we need to boil back to the basics rather than heading off into some of the tangents that some of those opposite have done in the contributions they've made so far.

              At the end of the day the ABCC had one job, and that was to protect those in the industry who wanted to lawfully and safely go about their work. That is something that we are all for. In fact, safe workplaces result in greater productivity, something that is great for the people of Australia and for this economy, which has been through such a tough time over the last couple of years especially.

              When we talk about the construction sector—1.1 million Australians work in it; we have 400,000 registered small businesses operating in this sector—we need to make sure we have every measure in place to ensure the protection of those who participate in this sector. With it being a vitally important part of the economy, in built-up areas and larger population centres, but also in regional communities, we need to make sure we have every protection in place for those who are part of that sector.

              We have to look at the motivation behind the disempowerment of the ABCC. What is motivating the government to strip out the powers of this organisation, which really does have just one thing in mind—that is, the protection of workers, those who lawfully want to get about their business, do their job to the best of their ability without the undue influence of those who seek to interfere. What is behind the ALP's motivations to bring in the measures that they have, the measures we are seeking to disallow today? I think it's worth hovering on that for quite some time, as my colleagues also have. A range of issues have been raised that I'd love to ventilate in the time available to me, which I'm sure will run out tonight but we'll pick up again at another time. But what is most disturbing about this debate is the minimisation of what the CFMMEU did, what the ABCC took issue with and what the former government particularly focused on.

              Debate interrupted.