Senate debates

Wednesday, 10 May 2023

Statements by Senators

Workplace Relations: Qantas

12:57 pm

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

As I speak in this chamber today, just five minutes down the road in the High Court 1,700 illegally sacked Qantas workers, their families and the Transport Workers Union are fighting. They're not just fighting for their jobs; they're fighting for their rights at work. They're fighting for the rights of every working Australian. This case has massive ramifications for every Australian workplace, and, at its very core, this case is about whether a boss—in this case, Alan Joyce, who's presently swinging his arms around this parliament today—has a right to sack workers before they can exercise a workplace right.

In 2022 Qantas illegally sacked 1,700 workers in what they refer to as 'a vanishing window of opportunity' to sack 1,700 hardworking Australians before they could begin bargaining for a new wage arrangement. Qantas is arguing in the High Court that, because they could not begin bargaining for another few months, their sacking was not illegal. Let's be clear about what the argument means. It means that it is okay if a female employee tells her employer that they're trying to have a child and their boss turns around and sacks them before they can go on parental leave. That is Qantas's argument.

Take another example: if someone tells their employer they intend to take leave to volunteer with the SES or the Rural Fire Service and their employer sacks them in response, again, that would be okay. That is the precedent that Qantas and Alan Joyce are trying to establish—that, if you sack a worker for exercising a workplace right before they are able to take it, it is legal. If the Alan Joyce and Qantas board precedent is approved by the High Court, it would impact every single working family and every single workplace in this country. That is really what is at stake.

The Albanese government have intervened against Qantas in this case because we know what's at stake here. You can contrast that with the approach of the former government. You contrast that with former Assistant Minister for Industrial Relations Amanda Stoker, who was rumoured to be parachuted into the seat of Fadden. When Qantas illegally sacked those 1,700 people, she came into this place and said it was their own fault. That's the difference between us and them. We stand for working people; they stand for Alan Joyce and the reckless Qantas board.

Unfortunately, others employers have taken the example set by Alan Joyce and the Qantas board. Let's have a look at what has been happening at McDonald's, who couldn't stop stealing $250 million in wages theft from their workers, so some McDonald's stores have gone even further. Some stores settled with the Union for Retail and Fast Food Waters, the SDA, last week for conducting an illegal five-year union-busting campaign. To quote Heather, a supervisor at McDonalds in Murray Bridge, South Australia: 'I was pressured into resigning my union membership. They made me frightened I would lose my position as a supervisor. Then, after I gave into the pressure to give up my SDA membership, my hours were slashed because I raised a workplace safety concern.' Take it from Leisha, a former shift manager, who said she felt pressure to resign her union membership 'every step of my employment'. I'm sure we would love to blame this on a few rotten franchisees. That might work, except for the fact that McDonald's own corporate lawyers tried to defend this conduct in the Federal Court. In fact, a survey of 1,500 McDonald's shift managers found 10 per cent had been instructed to engage in anti-union activity. This is happening in hundreds if not thousands of McDonald's stores around this country.

I'm sure if Senator Stoker were here she'd be rigorously defending McDonald's, just as she so loved standing up for the illegal sacking of 1,700 Qantas workers. I can guarantee we will hear deafening silence from those opposite who are still in this chamber about the illegal union-busting wave that is smashing hardworking families around this country. It's this behaviour that is driving the cost-of-living crisis. This is what's underpinning the problem in our workplaces.

1:02 pm

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

Last night's budget was quite the let down from my home state. Sadly, Tasmania as a state is going to be much worse off, as indeed, are the people that live there. Tasmanians as individuals, as families, as business operators—they're all going to be worse off despite the glib, throw-away lines that you might hear from the government about what's on offer and how they might notionally benefit from what they served up last night.

We've had time to go through the budget papers and look at what the Australian Labor Party, now in government, have delivered for our state. I have to say, it was quite interesting reading. That catchcry that no one would be left behind formed the centrepiece of what they, as an opposition heading into an election, were saying. It was very big in the October budget and it formed part of the narrative around the budget that they delivered last night. There were a multitude of promises made to that effect, and we've canvassed a couple of those earlier today in our previous debate. For the first time since the election, we have had a member of the Australian Labor Party in this parliament say the number '275'. That promise was made 97 times before the election to drop household power bills by $275 a year but was uttered not once since. We had our first reference to it today, courtesy of Senator Ayres from New South Wales. I'm grateful—I'm going to be snipping that Hansard because it is important to show them that they haven't abandoned that promise altogether. I look forward to holding them to account on that.

What we've had since those promises were made does not match up at all with the promises that were made—quite the opposite, in fact. This is where I come to Tasmania. The budget delivered last night, that one that was supposed to ensure that no one was left behind, fails so many fronts. Tasmanians are let down every way they turn. On the inflationary impact of their handout for power prices—they've done nothing to reduce power prices. Instead, they're using that finite resource we have, taxpayers' money, to offset the power prices they promised to bring down. That's an indication of failure, and it will have an inflationary impact.

In Tasmania, we also know that regional communities in particular are crying out for permanent full-time GP services. Many communities, particularly throughout the electorate of Lyons—which covers most of central Tasmania and the east coast—want permanent full-time primary health care through general practice clinics. It's something they've been calling out for, and it's something their local member, the Labor member for Lyons, Mr Brian Mitchell, knows about. But do you know what? He didn't deliver on that last night. He did nothing for his electorate when it came to the provision of these services. One comes to mind, and that is the GP service in the Central Highlands. I see Senator Tyrrell, a proud Tasmanian, nodding her head. She acknowledges and knows what the Labor government needs to do to support that community that has been crying out for this service. But the opportunity came, and it was lost. The opportunity was missed. Mr Mitchell has failed his electorate by not guaranteeing the provision of these services, and I bet you we will hear nothing from him into the future about what he will do there. It should be his central focus, but it is not.

I want to turn to roads. Roads are an important part of our economy. They're also lifesaving. Good roads mean better road safety outcomes. Tasmania has one of the worst road death tolls in the nation, if not, the worst, in recent times. The Australian Labor Party, which says that no-one will be left behind, are leaving the state of Tasmania way behind on terrible substandard roads. Road projects have been scrapped. A claim was made yesterday in question time by the Leader of the Government in the Senate that nothing has been cancelled. They're pretty rubbery words when you consider they've basically pushed all these projects and the funding required for them off into the never-never. That's a problem. They won't be funded. These roads will not be built. Tasmanians miss out.

You only have to go as far as Tasmania's peak road user body, the RACT, who today, in a press release, expressed concern about the significant reduction in road funding to Tasmania in last night's federal budget. This is not some Liberal Party talking head; this is the RACT, which represents its road users in Tasmania. I quote the CEO, Mark Mugnaioni, who says:

It's extremely concerning that there is a reduction of nearly $350 million in federal funding to Tasmanian land transport infrastructure.

We're a small state, but that's a fair lick of cash they're taking out. So no-one's going to be left behind. Oh, hang on, unless perhaps you're in the state of Tasmania. He goes on to say:

Now is not the time to cut investment in our road network given Tasmania has the highest road toll of any Australian state. We need more investment, not less.

But that well-connected Australian government with hardworking local members like Mr Mitchell missed that call and have taken funding out of it. Finally, Mr Mugnaioni says:

We are calling on the Federal Government to urgently explain what road upgrades will be delayed, deferred or cancelled as a result.

Again, I expect there will be a deafening silence because they won't want to talk about it, much in the same way they didn't want to talk about their broken promise on power prices, for example. Shameful. But I will tell you something that is of interest. The centrepiece of our budget, and I ask senators to remember that—

Photo of Anne UrquhartAnne Urquhart (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a shame the Premier of Tasmania is happy about that!

Photo of David FawcettDavid Fawcett (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Senator Duniam, resume your seat. Senator Urquhart, as a senior member of this chamber, you should know standing order 197. Such interjections are disorderly. Senator Duniam, you have the call.

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

Thank you for your protection, Acting Deputy President. I feel much safer now. I'm sure Senator Urquhart is interested in this as a Tasmanian. I wasn't going to mention her by name, but she has invited that reference.

We've had $350 million taken out of road funding in Tasmanian. We've had no provisions for essential health services in regional communities. Do you know what the centrepiece was of Labor's budget for Tasmania? It was a stadium on Hobart's waterfront—$240 million to go into a stadium. So they made their decision. A deed is being signed. We've got a team. You know what? That's good news, but there was a point that others in this chamber have made—and I include Senator Tyrrell in this point. All of us in Tasmania have a list of priorities, and we made the point that if you're going to fund the stadium, if you're going to fund the 'nice to haves'—

Honourable senators interjecting

Photo of David FawcettDavid Fawcett (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Duniam, resume your seat. Members of the frontbench and Whip, you should understand that you have opportunities to speak. There are standing orders that provide for order in the chamber. I would ask you to respect them. You'll have your opportunity if you wish to make a contribution later.

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

We made the point that if the Australian Labor Party are going to fund the 'nice to haves', the stadium, then they have absolutely no excuse not to fund the must-haves: roads and health—the services Tasmanians are calling out for and demand equality on, not what we've been served up. But instead they take money out of roads and they put it into a stadium. It's interesting, I have to say, that there's barely been a peep out of any Labor federal member of parliament post budget or, indeed, post the stadium announcement. It does say a lot about Labor's priorities in Tasmania.

I want to make a couple of quick points in my final couple of minutes. I want us to turn our minds back to 28 November 2022, last year, when Senator Carol Brown, a proud Tasmanian, made some points in a debate on the very issue we were just discussing: the stadium. She made the point that the Premier of Tasmania—a very, very good Premier—wasn't listening. She said:

… nearly everyone I've spoken to has indicated that there are other things that the Tasmanian government should be looking at. There are other priorities, and they go to health, hospitals, housing and education … They—

and in this she's referring to the Tasmanian state opposition, led by Rebecca White

… have talked about people coming up to them and asking: 'Why can't we put that money to hospitals? Why can't we put that money to housing? We're in desperate need.'

Of course, Senator Brown does acknowledge that the Tasmanian government have asked for funding for those things. It's interesting that Senator Brown made those points in November of last year but, only a couple of weeks ago, found herself standing there on the waterfront of Hobart, nodding furiously in the background as the Prime Minister handed over $240 million for the construction of a stadium.

It's going to happen. The Australian Labor Party have pulled a swiftie on Tasmanians. They're going to take away our GST as a result of giving us money for a stadium. Not only are they dogging us on health funding and roads but they're giving us a stadium and then making us pay for it by taking away our GST. Yesterday I asked the Leader of the Government in the Senate to guarantee we would not lose our GST funding through this. She refused. Not one Labor member has stood up and asked that this be quarantined. So today I challenge any Labor federal member of parliament to seek a guarantee from the federal Treasurer, Dr Chalmers, or the Prime Minister that we will not be worse off under GST because of your commitment to a stadium. It's the wrong thing to do. By taking away our GST—

Photo of David FawcettDavid Fawcett (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I ask you to direct your remarks through the chair.

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

I beg your pardon, Acting Deputy President. Priorities need to be corrected here, and they need to make sure that they fund our essential services. (Time expired)