Wednesday, 7 September 2022
Regulations and Determinations
Code for the Tendering and Performance of Building Work Amendment Instrument 2022; Disallowance
I was part way through my contribution the other night on this very important disallowance motion, so I'm pleased to be able to continue to make my remarks on it.
When debate was interrupted, I was making a point around what motivates a government to want to disempower an entity such as the ABCC that has done such important work protecting employees on worksites, as we've had many examples of throughout the course of this debate. I don't intend to go over all of the examples that have been provided, though it is important to reflect on how appalling some of those examples are.
As we go to cast our votes on this disallowance motion, and my colleagues have made this point before, it's important to reflect on what it is we are actually doing here. The government seeks to take away from the ABCC powers which protect employees from terrible behaviour.
They seek to gut it, as Senator Scarr says. But I don't understand why. At this time, in this political environment, in the world we live in today, workers' rights—the right to feel safe, the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of a particular attribute, be it your sexual orientation, your gender or any other factor—are something that I thought everyone in this place, including government members, thought was universally important. I'm struggling to think of a workplace where it is deemed appropriate to do the things that have been cited in the examples given by my colleagues who've already made contributions—to make homophobic slurs, to make sexist remarks, to intimidate people with reference to one or more of their personal attributes. Which workplace is it in which that is okay?
If we don't support this disallowance, we are saying that it's okay to do this in the construction industry, that it is okay to turn a blind eye to the claims that have been made and that that is somehow okay behaviour. What message does it send when, here in this place, we seek to ensure that we lead, set the standard and make sure that workers in all industries can go to work and feel safe, no matter who they are, what sexual orientation they have or what gender they have? Again, I am mystified as to why the government would seek to take away these powers from the ABCC. What is it?
What is more disturbing is a number of the contributions I've heard in this debate that have talked about why we would think it's okay to do so by minimising the work of the ABCC, trivialising it and claiming that all the ABCC ever did was go after people with stickers on helmets.
Indeed, as Senator Hughes says, they might have been hung the right way, but the reality is that that is not the bulk of the work that we have been seeing the ABCC focus on. The safety and the integrity of the workplace, the rights of workers to be able to go about what it is they seek to honestly do without fear of persecution, fear of bullying from others and from union thugs—this is a kind of thing that this entity has been focused on.
There are economic consequences that flow from a decision of this nature, and we've seen it all before, because, of course, history is repeating itself. We've had the abolition of this entity before and we know what happened in the workplace. We know what happened to the economic performance of this sector. We know how many days were lost. There were almost quadruple the days lost on worksites because of the Labor decision to abandon workers and leave them to the mercy of union thugs who have nothing at heart other than their own interests: power in the workplace and, of course, a union we've heard many times over call the shots within the Australian Labor Party. I think it is wrong for anyone who doesn't support this disallowance motion to try to minimise what it is that we are seeking to do here—to try to equate the work of the ABCC to simply pursuing a union that placed stickers on helmets and hung flags. What madness. I think people know enough about it.
We only have to look at some of the activities that have been pursued by the ABCC, and I turn to my home state of Tasmania. There was a case in 2017 in which a senior official of the CFMMEU was done for unlawful action and putting workers safety in 'harm's way'—at an excellent project, actually: the Devonport Living City project, a project funded by the Australian government and one that has made a tremendous difference to the regional economy of the north-west cost. The official in question put the safety of workers at risk by climbing into the cabin of a crane while it was being operated. The same official again climbed into the cabin the very next day while the crane was being operated, again compromising workers' safety. This, it was claimed by this official, was done to inform the worker of their rights. I'm not sure why you'd have to interrupt a shift by hopping into the cab of a crane while it's operating to inform someone of their rights in the workplace. Why they couldn't wait until the end of the shift I'm not 100 per cent sure. And there were signs around saying that there was to be no unauthorised interruption of the operator during crane operation—and we are all about workplace safety; at least, I thought unions were, and the party that they are most closely aligned to. A $137,000 fine was taken to the CFMMEU for this particular conduct. The same official appears in a number of other cases related to Tasmania, and in our state, sadly, there are countless examples of it.
Another official, in 2019, was accused of wilfully contravening right-of-entry laws and intimidating managers at a Hobart construction site. The court found that this individual did not hold a federal right-of-entry permit, erroneously claimed that the site had asbestos issues, and returned five days later and said to the head of contractor staff, 'Don't get smart with me'—deleted expletive here—'I'm at the end of my career and I don't give an F what happens to me, but that bloke over there will', pointing to another official: 'He can do whatever he F-ing well likes.' It is that sort of behaviour.
I know that people who represent workers, through unions or other organisations, feel strongly about what it is that they do. But if anyone in this place can point to that behaviour—the examples that have been provided to my colleagues—and say, 'Hey, that's okay in any workplace'—I defy anyone who can do that. If we did it in our workplaces, I expect we'd be called out for it. In fact, I'm pretty sure that has been happening. There's been a high degree of interest in the safety of workplaces, be it in the political realm, the private sector, the public sector or wherever it is; you name it. And rightly so. Workers need to be protected in the workplace, and of course that's what the ABCC has been doing—day in, day out—and all of this against the backdrop of an economy that needs every bit of turbocharging it can get to ensure that jobs aren't lost and costs don't go up. When it comes to the construction sector, this is especially important.
When the ABCC is no longer doing its work, who is going to protect these workers? Do we honestly believe we aren't going to see a return to the bad old days of the last time this happened? And here we are, in the first 110 days of this government, and this is a top priority—to gut, as Senator Scarr said, the ABCC, to enable the CFMMEU to continue to do what it is they do with flagrant disregard for the law and absolutely no regard for the rights of these employees of various construction businesses across the country.
So, again, as I say, I'm just absolutely mystified at how anyone could vote against this disallowance. To those who claim to come into this place to stand up for workers' rights, to make sure that this is a country in which people can work, go out and seek to earn an honest living and get home safely at the end of the day, why on earth is this sort of behaviour—just a couple of very brief and minor examples compared to some of the other ones that have been referred to by my colleagues—okay? Is it okay at other workplaces? No, it certainly is not. So why, therefore, is it okay for the CFMMEU to continue to do this?
Back to those who seek to vote against this disallowance, I did listen to the debate as the bulk of it took place over the last couple of days, and I think I might've counted two or three contributions of people speaking against it. It made me wonder why. Why aren't people defending the decision to gut the ABCC? Why is it that they are just hoping this will disappear, that the disallowance will get voted down, the CFMMEU can get back to business and its officials can get back to abusing people on work sites, denigrating people and making homophobic slurs, misogynistic remarks, sexist remarks, things that you would just never deem acceptable in any other workplace? They are hoping, their mates in the CFMMEU, the Australian government want this disallowance knocked off so that they can just can get back to business, and hopefully nothing more will be said about it between now and the next election. That's what they're after. That's what they're hoping for. I urge senators to vote for this disallowance so that we can actually protect workers in this industry. (Time expired)