Senate debates

Thursday, 24 November 2022

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Answers to Questions

3:07 pm

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

I move:

That the Senate take note of answers given by ministers to questions without notice today.

I look around and I see an Australia that's getting smarter and smarter, an Australian that's getting tired of getting talked down to and controlled. Why is this? Union membership is heading to an all-time low. According to ABS statistics, just 14 per cent of employees were trade union members, and we're well down on the 40 per cent of employees who were trade union members back in the 1990s. Although those opposite want to take our industrial relations laws back to the Hawke Keating years, we do not live in the Hawke-Keating years, Senator Ayres. Despite this, the Labor Party is intent on pursuing an industrial relations policy that lives in a fantasy land where everyone is beholden to a union, and that's what those opposite want. They want to take Australia backwards.

Don't get me wrong, we on this side of the chamber want changes to Australia's industrial relations system. To quote the Leader of the Opposition in parliament:

We all have a genuine desire to improve our industrial relations system. What we don't want is a system of control that those opposite want—a system that wants to control workers, to control where they can work, control what they can earn, control their lives inside and outside the workplace.

The industrial relations legislation that the Labor government has been trying to pass is some of the most radical in decades. If this government gets what it wants—or should I say, what its union masters want—small business and the economy will suffer. Like most legislation from the Labor Party, it's small business that gets hit hardest because under Labor governments small businesses are on their own.

One of the most dangerous parts of Labor's new industrial relations bill is the prospect of multi-employer bargaining. If it goes ahead, small business will face bargaining costs of $14,638. Don't take my word for it: this is according to the department's regulatory impact statement to the bill. Medium businesses would face costs of $75,148 and large businesses $94,311. Unlike Labor and the union hacks who have never run a business in their life, I've actually run a business, and businesses know that they're hurting under this government.

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you very much for that segue. Thank you, Mr Mouth, you wait until my contribution!

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

Didn't you come from a union, Senator Sterle? While businesses are dealing with the Labor Party's 56 per cent increase in power prices, those opposite seem to think businesses have a spare 14 grand lying around. Well, wake up! They don't.

Labor's proposed changes will move Australia's industrial relations system from bargaining done at enterprise level, also known as bargaining with the businesses where you work, to bargaining done across multiple workplaces and potentially across a whole industry. This would massively expand the power of trade unions, allowing them to operate in businesses they currently have no connection to. This includes tens of thousands of small businesses right across Australia. Under Labor's legislation, multiple sectors will be able to engage in crippling, economy-wide strikes. Those opposite don't realise that enterprise-wide bargaining will mean industry-wide strikes and the breakdown of the Australian economy.

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

Industrial relations illiteracy.

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

Don't you worry, Senator Ayres. It's my time to be on my feet, so you can be quiet. If the Labor Party gets its way, the union thugs that they protect will be breaking down the doors to small businesses and telling them what to do. That's what the Labor Party are all about: command and control. Their attitude is: 'We know how to run your life and run your business better than you do.' Guess what? You don't.

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

Just open a book and read a book.

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

To conclude, Labor's dangerous industrial relations changes will mean more strikes and fewer jobs, giving unions unprecedented access to small businesses, which will lead to the death of hundreds of those small businesses.

3:11 pm

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There is a saying: only one van comes along in your lifetime. But I have to say: seriously, Senator Van? You want to have a real good look at yourself and get a grip when you start accusing us on this side of never running businesses and being union thugs and union hacks. I'm going to give you a little bit of history. For your information, I grew up working class as the son of a truck driver. I'm now the father of a truck driver, and I was a long-distance truck driver myself. Nothing hurts me more than when ill-informed ignoramuses make stupid statements like this.

Don't leave, Senator Van. Don't leave. I want—

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

A point of order, Senator Van?

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

I believe that was a reflection on me, and I also noted another one from Senator Ayres earlier. I ask that both senators withdraw them.

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Is this another point of order? Let me deal with the first point of order.

The Deputy:

This is not a debate, Senator Henderson. Senator Van, who is the second senator that you have taken issue with?

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

Senator Ayres.

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

I didn't hear what Senator Ayres said. Senator Ayres, do you wish to withdraw?

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

Deputy President, there is so much sensitivity over there—

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Don't debate it. Either withdraw it—

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

If you're asking me to withdraw, I'm very happy to withdraw.

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you. I'll take the withdrawal. I think Senator Sterle was referring generally to Liberals, but I would ask him, to the extent that he may have referred directly to Senator Van, to graciously withdraw.

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Deputy President, to assist with your running of the chamber, I am more than happy to, but I will not resile from the fact that—

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

I have asked you to withdraw.

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have withdrawn, but I will not resile from the fact that I take umbrage. You're now walking out of the chamber, you weak link! To have a crack at me as a union thug—

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Sterle, you shouldn't reflect on whether a senator is leaving the chamber or not. I ask you to withdraw to that extent and then proceed with your contribution.

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

I'll debate you any time.

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Van, that was inappropriate as well. You go back to your chair and withdraw that.

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

I happily withdraw, Deputy President.

The Deputy:

Okay. Are we all ready to go? Senator Sterle?

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's all good, Deputy President. Thank you very much. But I just want to stress this—through you—

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Don't disappoint me, because I was—

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm all cool. I'm having a ball. I actually ran my own business. This is what irks me when I hear ideology and ridiculous statements from people who have no idea of the background of others in this chamber. I, for one, can talk with the authority. I left school early. I ran my own business. My wife and I put our necks on the line with one month's payment and a house to hock everything we had to buy our first truck. Six trucks later and I'm proud as punch that we did that. I couldn't have done it without my wife, and I couldn't have done it without the drive that I had. To be accused of not knowing business really gets up my nose.

Senator Van, in the first speech to this motion, came out and said that this is all about ideology. He said it has nothing to do with providing an opportunity for lower paid workers to get a decent pay packet and negotiate decent contracts. This is what really, really annoys me—I speak to this from authority—when we look at the likes of the bed wetters and the ones who are running around this country screaming out that the last thing that we should be doing is pushing to change industrial relations laws so that those who can't bargain collectively could actually have a chance to increase their pay packet and their working conditions.

And who is this charge led by? It is the usual suspects, starting with ACCI. I'd be so sad if ACCI went missing because I'd think something had gone wrong and that they actually had some brains in that outfit. The Business Council of Australia is another, as is AMMA—if AMMA didn't start the fight, there's really something going on. Guess who started the fight? AMMA. And guess who else bought into it? None other than Mr Alan Joyce and Qantas. Senator Sheldon, you've got a massive pair of shoes to fill. I can't fill them when you're talking about how bad an employer Qantas has become under Mr Joyce's tenure, but I'll give it a good shoot. Here we have a man who has his footprints etched into the blue carpet in this joint. He ran to the previous government's ministers, seeking support to give him money to give to his employees. Was it Work Choices?—I'm having a real nightmare today! It was through JobKeeper. That was nearly a billion dollars, and what did it deliver? I'll tell you what it delivered: it kept Mr Alan Joyce and Qantas going—ably backed by Mr Richard Goyder AO, with his $560,000 sitting fee and God knows whatever else as the chairman, so he could go out in the middle of the night and sack nearly 2,000 baggage handlers.

Then I read in the paper today not only the fine comments from my colleague and mate over here to my right, Senator Sheldon, but that Qantas have to upgrade their profit margin now. We've only been out of COVID for seven or eight months or something, but they made a mistake: they have to up it by another $150 million. While Qantas are gouging the travellers of this nation, they're now saying that they're back in the red—anywhere between $1.4 billion and $1.5 billion. I say to everyone in Australia: who thinks that Mr Alan Joyce has run a magnificent business since he's been in charge?

I can tell you now—and I look at my colleagues around this chamber from all sides—that we spent more time on his planes than anyone. I had no problem for many, many years as a Transport Workers Union organiser, after I sold my truck and after doing two years nonstop in Darwin, with two babies at home that I never got to see. I missed my daughter first walking and talking, and I wasn't going to miss more time with my six-year-old son. So I came off the road. The TWU gave me an opportunity because—guess what?—I actually know things about trucks, I actually can put two words together and I actually can talk to employers and employees. I want nothing more than employers and employees working together to deliver magnificent outcomes for both. Without a successful business, you don't have the opportunity to provide an appropriate wage for your employees, who I was so proud to have join me in my union so that we could collectively bargain. I have the greatest of respect for them, but I have absolutely no respect for Alan Joyce.

If you fly in this nation, you could be gouged, lose your baggage or be lied to whilst you're sitting on the tarmac. And then they're blaming baggage handlers, an explanation which I copped this morning, and there wasn't even any baggage being put on. This is what really irks me.

3:18 pm

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

I too rise to take note of answers made during question time today by Ministers Watt and Farrell. It is very, very clear, colleagues, that the old saying is true: leopards do not change their spots. It has taken very little time—in fact, less than six months—for it to become crystal clear to the Australian public why Labor was in opposition for nearly a decade. It is so clear that they have not yet learnt. Just as they have done before in government, they are taking both our workplace relations system and our economy backwards at the same time. They simply cannot be trusted, not only on their word but on their ability to manage our nation through challenging times.

What have we already seen in less than six months under a Labor government? We have an economy with high inflation, we have high interest rates, we've got a rising cost of living and Labor has had to admit that electricity prices under their policies will go up 56 per cent and gas up 44 per cent, together putting unsustainable cost-of-living pressures on everyday Australians. They talk a lot about solutions, but they have done absolutely nothing this year in a policy sense to change any of that.

And now the Albanese government's reckless attempts to change industrial relations laws will hit every single sector of our economy and, in particular, every single small business in our nation, who are the absolute backbone of our economy. They are going to be hit the hardest. Shame on Labor for that. The cost of bargaining under the Albanese government's radical shakeup of the industrial relations system was revealed at just under $15,000 for a small business and $75,000 for a medium-sized business. How on earth is any small business going to find another $15,000 just to comply with what Labor are imposing on them? Most of them will no doubt not be able to afford it.

Let's have a look at the impact of this in my own home state of Western Australia. The West Australian has reported that small businesses across WA could, if not will, be pushed to the brink if Labor's one-size-fits-all industrial relations omnibus bill is rammed through the federal parliament this and next week. That is very clear. What does our own Premier, the Premier of Western Australia, a Labor Premier, say about this? Is he backing small businesses? Is he backing Western Australian families? Is he backing employers who are already doing it tough? Nope, of course he is not backing any one of those groups in Western Australia. In fact, he says that what we're saying about all of these pressures is just scaremongering. I tell you what, if he was a small-business man who had to put his hand in his pocket, with all of the other cost-of-living and cost-of-doing-business expenses, to find another $15,000 to comply with this, he would not see it as scaremongering, because it is the truth.

A poll taken by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Western Australia is the first in the country to reveal the true sentiment of Australian businesses to these reforms. It revealed that more than nine in 10 Western Australian businesses fear impending change to industrial relations laws, and only eight per cent said they were unconcerned by the changes. Thirty-four thousand workplaces would employ fewer staff if they were no longer able to set their own work conditions and had them replaced by the Fair Work Commission. Twelve thousand businesses would employ fewer people if limits on fixed-term contracts were put in place, as is proposed by those opposite. More than four in 10 businesses would scale down operations if forced into multi-employer bargaining or immediate bargaining for a new agreement when the existing one expires. This, more than any of the other destructive elements of their bill, is the most duplicitous, because this was not in the Labor Party policies that they took to the election. They had a workforce summit—and guess what? Surprise, surprise, this popped out of the union's mouths and the Labor Party said, 'Oh, we didn't think of that before the election, but let's implement it and let's destroy our businesses.' Shame on you, Labor.

3:23 pm

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

We come to a situation here in the Senate where we get a number of speakers from the opposition who get up and talk about industrial relations. In actual fact, they even have the hide to talk about being the representatives of small businesses. Senator Sterle set them straight. In actual fact, I have the great pleasure of saying I was the elected head of the largest small-business organisation in this country, the Transport Workers Union of Australia, with over 15,000 owner-drivers. I know that whenever I went into a workplace I wanted to make sure there was an outcome where the company was successful, the industry was successful and those workers got a fair deal, whether they were a small-business person or an employee.

All those chimpanzees on the other side of this chamber are saying they're going to make sure that they do what they're told by the big gorillas—the ones that were called out by Steve Knott—because those big gorillas give them bananas; they just won't share them with the rest of the country.

The fact is, small business is getting it in the neck, under these laws that were stood over by this opposition when they were in government. We have to have a law that turns around and makes sure that we can lift productivity. Productivity gets lifted when groups of workers come together and collectively bargain with their employer and—heaven forbid—across an industry.

I've been in industries and have seen industries where employers that are in the middle of the supply chain are continually stood over by the top of the supply chain—the big gorillas that they are protecting, the ones who have the hide to come in here and represent ACCI and others and have turned around and supported not small business but big business. If you really talk to small business, they'll say it's those economic employers who engage them that are the problem, because they're the ones who don't turn around and make sure their payments are made on time. They're the ones who give them 120 days. They're the ones who turn around and say, 'I can't train my staff,' because it's a race to the bottom. They say, 'I can't turn around and give them a pay increase, to keep my experienced staff in the business, because my competition will go lower and it's a race to the bottom.'

You only have to go to Alan Joyce to see that. Now that's the big gorilla. They're the people they are supporting. It's not just them or even Alan Joyce; it's companies like Amazon, these international companies that are competing with small and other businesses that are stealing their arrangements. What they're doing is undercutting, by turning around and having multiple labour hire companies, having very few people on decent wages, refusing to have bargaining arrangements, that sack people because they're pregnant, that sack them because they're in a union, that sack them when they try to organise. They're the people they're standing up for. They don't want the system changed.

Wait a second—they do want the system changed. Only in this last number of days, and again this morning, Angus Taylor said the system's working okay. Wages aren't going up—that's why he said it's working okay. Small businesses are getting done over by those big gorillas because they can't keep and train their staff, they can't get the wages across their markets, and sometimes that's even negotiations across government contracts. They have to have the capacity, in the private and government sectors, to bargain when they want to, when there's an appropriate way to do that. Workers have a right to say that, as business has a right to say that, and parties have a right and obligation to come around and negotiate an agreement.

If an employer says, 'I want to negotiate an agreement across the site,' they have a right to do that. If an employee—more than 50 per cent plus one—says, 'I want to negotiate an agreement across the site,' they have a right to do that. Heaven forbid! That's where you have an equal voice. That's where you have equal opportunity. That's where you can turn around and start moving wages up. When wages go up, people start talking about how to make it more efficient, more effective, with better training and skills, and, heaven forbid, productivity goes up.

You only have to look at the ACHC that gave evidence to the inquiry. You only have to look at what was said by the Victorian early childhood educators and their employer association. They said that's how they got better conditions, better arrangements, not just for the workforce; these small multiple employers all got together and said, 'Let's do it together.'

The last big myth is when Senator Reynolds talked about this $15,000. It was in place—right now—without any law change! The fact is, you make a choice whether you want to do it or not.

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Sheldon.

3:28 pm

Photo of Alex AnticAlex Antic (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I was loathe to stand up and interject then, because Senator Sheldon was recounting what appeared to be a game of Donkey Kong Country there, with his analogies about gorillas and bananas. I was lost in the theatre of it all. But I'll tell you what I'm not lost on: the radical, dangerous and ill-conceived rushed bill that we're seeing coming through our parliament, as we speak.

These are changes that represent the most significant change in our industrial relations system in decades. They are, ultimately, changes that will do exactly what we all know. This is not Super Nintendo. This is not a game of Donkey Kong Country. This is a very serious matter. These are the first stages in handing back the keys to this country to the militant union movement.

And we're already seeing this in South Australia, where there are already reports of the John-Setka-led CFMMEU taking the reins of the South Australian branch and starting to swing the axe. And why wouldn't they? They now have Labor governments at both the state and federal levels, both of whom are paving the way for what we know is going to be a terrible time for business. This is not an issue of people talking about their personal stories, which are excellent stories—the story Senator Sterle spoke about was basically a small business story. These are stories about the imposts that are going to be put on business.

We've heard them from the Albanese government's regulatory impact statement, which has said, very clearly, that the costs associated with this bill are going to be significant: $14,638 for small businesses and $75,148 for a medium business. Those ain't small bananas; they are serious, serious imposts. And they're real; they're not made up. They are absolutely real and they're now written down. Labor have made it clear that they don't care about small businesses. Small businesses do well for workers when they're profitable, but they don't do well when they're getting hit with sums of money like that. Labor have made it clear that they're going to hand all workplaces over to the unions, whether small or large. Industry-wide bargaining is simply set now to increase the number of strikes across the economy. We've seen this before; we saw it through the Hawke-Keating era and we're going to see it again. This is going to be devastating for the Australian economy and it's going to be devastating for Australian businesses, with widespread strike action and, potentially, sympathy strikes by those unrelated to a potential dispute. We saw this in the 1970s; it has happened before and history is repeating itself.

Everyone in this room wants higher wages for every Australian, but there's no evidence that the reforms will ever deliver higher wages. In fact we know, based on comments from businesses and employers, the evidence is that it will be quite the opposite. This is just a fact: Labor's legislation is going to lead to more strikes and more job losses, and it's going to allow unions into small businesses, which have never really had to deal with them before. Take a business, for example, like Crane Services, which was reported on last week in the Adelaide Advertiser. That's a fine publication; as you all know I'm a great fan of it—that's me being ironic, by the way, in case anyone wants to hear about that! But that's not on point and I'll come to that later on. The article said that the boss of an Adelaide crane company said that the livelihoods of the workers were at stake as a stand-off with the militant CFMMEU neared the end of its fourth day, at that stage. This is a family owned business, just like the story that Senator Sterle told about a family owned business. It's now going to be stood over by Mr Setka and his 'colleagues'—we'll use that terminology. There is absolutely no question about that. There will be unreasonable demands for conditions like a 25 per cent wage rise in one year. Businesses can't stomach this sort of knee-jerk reform.

These laws are also going to hold up wage rises because of the complexity of the system. We're now seeing more imposts put on businesses, which are now going to have to get to grips with various different systems. This is going to undermine competition and therefore Australians are going to have fewer choices and higher costs. It's going to force up prices and increase the cost of living—all, by the way, at a time when the country cannot afford it. Thanks to the conditions imposed here, we're all living through growing inflation, higher costs of living and higher energy costs. We have lots of batteries and wind farms though, which is good—lots of batteries and wind farms. They're doing a great job for the grid, by the way, while we're on the subject— (Time expired)

Question agreed to.