Senate debates

Thursday, 7 December 2023


Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023; Second Reading

9:28 am

Photo of Michaelia CashMichaelia Cash (WA, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023 that has just been presented to the parliament. Those on the coalition side of the chamber will always stand with the employers of Australia. Why do I say that? Because a basic fact that the Albanese Labor government just does not seem to understand is that employers create jobs. Governments don't create jobs. Governments put in place the economic framework that employers in Australia, the job creators of our country, need to lever off. They can lever off those frameworks to prosper, to grow and to create more jobs for Australians, which is what we on this side of the chamber want to see. You prosper, you grow and you create more jobs for Australians, and that means you're able to provide your employees with sustainable higher wages—or you can do what the Albanese Labor government is doing today and cut a deal with the crossbench.

I accept that a deal has been cut. We don't have the numbers in this place. We were always opposed to the bad measures in this bill, which would have a negative impact on the employers of Australia. We always said we would support those elements of the bill that did good things for Australia. That is why we had supported the splitting off by Senator Pocock and Senator Lambie of four parts of the bill which we said we would happily have passed today.

This is a devastating day for Australian businesses. Once again, the Albanese Labor government—and it's becoming more and more evident every single day—having said a lot about transparency before the election, having said that they would hold themselves high and that this would be a government like no other government when it came to transparency, has done a deal with the crossbench before the Australian Senate has even been given an opportunity to properly scrutinise this bill.

Let's have a look at it. If Australian employers are not the winners today, guess what? That only means one thing for Australian employees. They're also not going to be the winners. You see, whilst employers need employees—it's a basic fact of life—employees also need employers. It's the employers who have the business. It's the employers who provide the employees with the job. It's the employers that pay the employees' wages. So I would have thought you'd stand up for the employers in Australia, because in standing up for the employers in Australia you actually stand up for the employees in Australia.

But there is some good news today. Of course, there's got to be good news. Good God—good grief—they wouldn't have done a deal if there wasn't some good news. So, congratulations! Give a big clap, everybody, to the ACTU and the Australian union movement, because, once again, you get one of your long list of demands. I have to say, it was a very impressive list of demands—nine years in the making, in fact, and 18 months in the delivery. Give those across the chamber credit! If you want to deliver for the unions, use your numbers and deliver for them—the unions who stand for themselves, the unions who stand for the Australian Labor Party. To the employers and, ultimately, the employees in Australia—guess what? You are nothing more and nothing less then a casualty of the deal that has been done today.

It's a deal that, as I said, has been rushed into this chamber. I give you zero out of 10 points, Mr Albanese and Mr Dreyfus, when it comes to the transparency that you trumpeted before the election. That's zero out of 10 for standing up for the employers of Australia. But, I have to say, I'm not going to give you 10 out of 10 for standing up for the unions. I am going to give you bonus points. That is what we're seeing today—a deal struck with the crossbench, with Senator Lambie and Senator Pocock, to allow the unions in Australia access to workers around Australia and their businesses. They are the great winners out of the deal today. At its simplest, this is a government seeking to deliver a union agenda.

The measures that we had in this bill—some will go through today and some, I assume, will go through next year—were designed for nothing more and nothing less than to deliver on declining union membership in Australia. Why do I say that? I say it because it is a fact. Union membership in Australia is at an all-time low. Okay, we accept that. So, when something so important to them is at an all-time low, what do they do? They abolish those forms of employment that can't be unionised. The union movement in Australia has long been hostile towards the labour hire sector. Why is that? Because people actually choose to work labour hire. They choose to exercise their right not to work for an employer. They choose to exercise their right to work in a fashion that they want to. In so doing, in exercising that choice, guess what? They don't join a union. So what do the government do? They attack labour hire in Australia and deliver for their union mates.

What will be the effect of what is going to happen today on employers across Australia? In the first instance, what I'd say is that the business community, along with the coalition, have always supported bringing forward measures that would improve worker safety. In fact, we were the ones that worked with the crossbench to split the bill and bring those elements on. It was Mr Burke who stood up in the parliament and in the press and said that under no circumstances would he ever split this bill. Given an opportunity to deliver on a union agenda, though, we don't need to worry about what he may have said in the parliament or in the media. The fact is that, today, he has done a spectacular backflip—10 out of 10 and an Olympic gold medal for the backflip that has been done. Guess what? The bill that we are debating today is a bill that, ironically, has actually split the fair work amendment bill in two.

But, as I said, it's a devastating day for Australian businesses. It is a devastating day for the Australian businesses that are going to be impacted by the changes to labour hire in this country. As I said, businesses create jobs. Employers create jobs. Employees need employers. Employers need employees. If you as a government put in place an economic framework that allows an employer and their business to prosper and grow, they are able to create more jobs for Australians. Guess what? In prospering and growing, they are able to create more sustainable, high-paying jobs for Australians. That is certainly not what this element of the bill is going to do today.

Merry Christmas to those employers across Australia who will be affected by this. I am going to call it a dirty deal because it is a dirty deal. I don't have a problem that a deal has been done. Deals get done in this place. What I do have a problem with is that the Senate had agreed that we would be able to inquire into and scrutinise this bill. We all knew that it would go through next year at some stage but only after it had been properly scrutinised. What I do have a problem with 18 months into the Albanese Labor government is that they trumpeted about transparency from the highest rafter before the election and yet time after time all we see now is a failure to answer anything basic in relation to their agenda.

Today is a perfect example, Mr Burke stood up. We all know why Mr Burke had to stand up with—good God!—the train wreck in relation to immigration. A fourth detainee released by this government has been charged by police. You can see why they had to create a distraction. I have no issue with that. But why did they compromise the employers of Australia? Their own incompetence has led to the immigration debacle. It's because of three ministers and the Prime Minister, who is conveniently hiding. The Attorney-General, Minister Giles and Minister O'Neil compromised the safety and security of Australians. It has had a devastating effect on Australia and Australians. It's had a devastating effect on those Australians who have now been offended against by the people that this government released. But do they have to stand up in an attempt to distract from the train wreck which is the handling of the NZYQ case and say to the employers of Australia, 'We are prepared to compromise you,' given, in particular, the state of the economy at the moment?

Industrial relations changes are incredibly important. In fact, I would argue that they are some of the most important changes and economic reforms an Australian government can make. The focus of any industrial relations reforms should be to make us more productive and to create more higher-paying, sustainable jobs. Those on the other side—and clearly the crossbench now, because yes, Senator Pocock and Senator Lambie, you are part of this deal—are delivering on the four elements of your bill that we supported you on. But by standing up here today with those opposite, given everything you have publicly said, you are now tarred by the same brush. So, the next time an employer speaks to you and ask why, I hope you've got a very good reason for why you were prepared to deliver this to them as a Christmas present from Senator Lambie, Senator Pocock, the Australia Greens—expect nothing less—and the Australia Labor Party.

We backed you every step of the way in relation to the four measures that you wanted split off. It was Mr Burke who wouldn't. Why? I hope you disclose the deal that's been done today, because why would you stand here on the final day of the parliament for 2023 and walk back everything you have said to date? Why would you hand this, on the altar of the Australian Labor Party, to employers in this country who are affected by this, when they haven't had an opportunity to properly put their case? Merry Christmas to the Australian employers affected by this bill. Merry Christmas to the Australian workers whose employers will be affected by this bill.

What do Australians actually need? Well, (a) they need a government that has their back. In the last three weeks, what have the Anthony Albanese Labor government shown Australians? I tell you, when it comes to your safety and security, Australia, I wouldn't take these people into battle with me. I know that if I had to look behind me they probably wouldn't be there. They don't care about the safety and security of Australians. They've made that very, very clear. They are prepared to make excuse after excuse after excuse for how they have compromised the safety and security of Australians over the past almost four weeks.

Then today, in an effort to distract from what everybody across Australia knows, there is this complete, total and utter trainwreck. As I said, I've got no issues about a deal being done; deals get done in this place. I would have thought it would have been nice, though, if a deal had been done, to put through the four elements of the bill that we all agree on. But instead, today those employers and those employees affected by this productivity-sapping measure are being given a merry Christmas from Senator Lambie, Senator Pocock and the Australian Labor Party. The economy we have at the moment in this country is a picture of middle Australia being crushed. Regarding everything that Anthony Albanese, the now Prime Minister, promised Australians before the election: on lower interest rates, you've got higher interest rates; on lower inflation, you've got persistently high inflation; on rents, people can't even afford to rent at the moment. And don't even get me started on energy prices.

So, well done on sacrificing the employers of Australia and ultimately the employees who'll be affected by this productivity-sapping measure. Merry Christmas! (Time expired)

9:43 am

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

I rise to speak on the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023. The provisions in this bill are important. They will usher in changes to our workplace relations laws that will deliver real benefits and protections for Australian workers. The world of work in Australia is changing, and we need workplace law that plays catch-up. Too many Australian workers are not being paid what they are entitled to. They are robbed. Too many people, especially young people, are being robbed of their super and of their wages. Too many Australians are not being paid the same rate as the permanent worker alongside them because of confected arrangements by devious employers who want to get workers on the cheap.

I've listened carefully to Senator Cash's comments. She made no comment about wage theft. What does she think should happen for the millions of workers who lose their wages, who approach their retirement without being paid up to $3.4 billion a year in superannuation theft? Senator Cash has made a speech about jobs—about how jobs are everything and they are a contract between the employer and the employee. But it is not just about getting a job in Australia; these days it is also about the quality of the job that you get. If you do not get a job that offers you security of employment and does not offer you safety at work, then your life is on the line, and that is why this bill is important. It will make a difference. It will improve the lives of so many workers.

The bill will simplify workers' access to compensation when they're suffering from PTSD. This is incredibly important to our police, our firefighters, our ambos and our emergency services workers, who do things every day that are critical to the functioning of our society: rescuing the sick, protecting the vulnerable and saving lives. We must support those workers who put themselves on the line for us.

The bill will also add silicosis to the remit of the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency. We do this on the day of the 20th anniversary of when we made asbestos illegal in this country. We need to do the same in relation to silicosis. This will help with setting up a national plan and coordinating efforts to tackle silicosis. That's important, but we need to do more. And this chamber only two weeks ago was in 100 per cent agreement that the cost being imposed especially on young people by silicosis is not acceptable. Every day that we delay banning the import of manufactured stone is costing workers their lives. We need to implement the recommendation of Safe Work Australia to put in place a national plan before 1 July 2024 to ban manufactured stone, which is killing Australians. We know silicosis is entirely preventable. We should be acting on that in ways that go further than what is in the bill.

The bill will also prohibit an employer from taking adverse action against a worker on the basis that the worker has experienced family and domestic violence. We have an epidemic of domestic violence in this country, and it affects so many women at work. We need to have support for workers in their workplace to deal with this epidemic. And we know it's on the rise. In my own state, there were five deaths in a single two-week period in recent times. Our labour law has to play catch-up because of the role it can play in protecting women and ensuring that the attacks on women, the damage to women, are shut down and that women are assisted by proper action in the workplace so that they get the support they need in the workplace.

The bill will close a loophole whereby small businesses don't have to pay redundancy to workers where they downsize due to insolvency. That's important when businesses go under. We need justice for workers, especially that last group of workers, who are often at the tail end of an extended period of redundancies. That's an important protection for those workers. The bill will close labour hire loopholes used to undercut wages and working conditions. Currently bosses can pay workers employed on labour hire contracts a lower rate of pay and offer them worse working conditions than staff. I just listened to Senator Cash say that's a device to avoid unionisation of those workers. That is rubbish. It is a device used to minimise the costs of labour for very large employers in Australia, and it is completely unfair. In inquiries we have heard evidence from worker after worker about $50,000 wage gaps, for example, in very big corporations which make billions of dollars in profit but who are not paying the workers working right alongside each other with the same skills and requests of them the same. They are underpaid. This loophole is used to exploit workers, and it has to be shut down. It is overdue for reform.

We've seen very active campaigns by employers, pouring money into defending this kind of poor behaviour, this unfair behaviour, and misinformation campaigns trying to shoot down this amendment. It's important that we take action, and the Greens back it. I want to assure the Senate and the public out there that the sky is not going to fall because of this amendment. I have personally given evidence as a researcher at inquiry after inquiry for the last 30 years about the evidence on this question. I hate to invoke the ghost of Senator Abetz—a ghost of workplace relations Christmases past—but I've certainly sat opposite him many times when giving evidence on this question, and it is time that we face up to the reality that the sky will not fall when we see workers paid the same rate of pay for the same rate of work for the same job description for the same effort. It will mean fairness for those workers and for their families. They should be paid an appropriate rate of pay. Chicken Little has no role in this campaign and should not be financed in a campaign to attack the attempt to reform this part of our labour regulation.

The bill will criminalise wage theft. I was waiting for Senator Cash to mention wage theft. It is straightforward theft. It should be criminalised. It is worth billions of dollars in the Australian economy. Stealing wages from workers, especially workers with low bargaining power, like young women, young people and migrants, causes serious harm, and it is the most powerless who are most affected by wage theft. This is straightforward greed. It should be a criminal offence.

We Greens have worked very hard to extend that criminal offence beyond the straightforward matter of stealing from someone's pay packet to stealing from their future in the form of stealing their superannuation. With the passage of this legislation, it will be a criminal offence for an employer to intentionally not pay their workers the super they are owed. This amendment places that theft in a similar legal category to wage theft, exactly where it should be, and ensures that workers are protected against the boss who wants to avoid paying them what they're due. This is a big problem for casual workers, especially in hospitality, who may find that superannuation was stolen years after the fact. They've got no way of getting it back. It especially affects many women and those young people and migrants. It's an industry, a robbery, that's worth billions of dollars every year. On average, the workers being affected are out of pocket by $1,700 a year. That's around $3.4 billion that employers are holding onto which is due to working families and working people as they approach retirement. Superannuation is not an optional extra. It is a critical workplace entitlement, and it protects a decent life for Australians into their older age. Not paying it should be criminalised, and this amendment will make sure that happens.

This bill will introduce new protection for union delegates so that they continue to play their vital role representing workers and advocating their rights. The changes enable greater communication with members and accessing workplace facilities. The changes will prevent an employer from unreasonably refusing to deal with delegates or obstructing them in any way. This is vital in terms of communication within a workplace, especially around matters like health and safety.

All the issues addressed in this bill have been there for many years in front of us demanding action. They're matters which the Greens want to help the parliament step up to and deal with. They should all be passed in this parliament, and we need them. We need them as soon as possible, but we need a whole lot more. There are massive changes underway in our workplaces that must take us beyond dealing with the important emergency measures that are in this bill. We need to raise our eyes from those matters and consider the larger question of how our workplaces have changed and how our legislation around workplaces is slipping behind. Some measures missing from this bill are those incorporated in the original closing loopholes bill. The measures in the bill before us are urgent, but the other measures are also urgent.

We must also attend to some very important, wide-ranging issues, like the epidemic of job insecurity, which affects one in four Australian workers on casual terms and a third of Australian workers in precarious employment. These workers run our universities. They teach our kids in schools. They serve us in restaurants. They hold up many elements of the health system. They are vital parts of our labour market, but they don't necessarily know, in many cases, what their hours will be next week or next year, and their casual loading does not compensate them for all that they lose—unpredictable ongoing employment and the loss of holidays, sick leave and so many other conditions, such as the opportunity to train on the job and to progress in a career. We need to see improvements in security for so many Australian workers. We also need to look after the growing army of gig workers, who are dropping food parcels to our workplaces and our homes and are such an important and growing part of our labour market. They deserve a right to safe work and to a minimum wage.

There is also the question of the right to disconnect, which I have spent many minutes talking about in this chamber. Over Christmas, many Australians are going to be answering their emails, picking up their phone, responding to their employer and trying to stay sweet with their work and keep their job secure by responding when they get some kind of contact through their device from their boss. There are many countries who now recognise this is a pernicious labour market practice that costs people their health. It costs people their family time and it steals their working hours from their communities. We have to see a right to disconnect in this country.

Ongoing casual workers must have more opportunity to convert to employment where they are in ongoing employment, to be protected by consistent hours and pay. They should receive—and we saw the cost of it in the pandemic—paid sick leave and paid holidays. The casualisation in our workforce has eroded workers' protections, and the casual loading does not even begin to compensate for those changes. Workers are reliant on their wages to live, and they deserve certainty about their working time and their pay so they can put food on the table. I know, from a great deal of evidence that we took in the Senate Select Committee on Work and Care, how many people in our supermarket chains have no predictability about their working time. They cannot tell what their pay packet will be next week. Their boss can tell you how many Granny Smith apples will be in row 5 next Wednesday morning, but they can't tell their workers exactly what hours of work they'll have next week. We need much more predictability around working time and roster justice.

Most importantly, we need to improve conditions for gig workers. Many of them are an important part of our economy, but they pay too much in terms of their own health and safety and their low pay for their jobs that they are desperate to do—so many of them immigrant workers and powerless in our labour market. I've sat in hearings listening to family members talk about the loss of their children, of their nephews and of their kids in unsafe working conditions, killed on the job delivering our food and the objects and goods we want delivered to our homes. We cannot run our labour market on the lives of those workers, and we cannot have them doing their work systematically, year after year, on wages that are well below the minimum wage. We have to improve our protections for gig workers. Next year I'm hoping we're going to see real change to protect those gig workers to keep them safe and make sure they get the minimum standards that every Australian worker since Federation has thought is an important right—that if you give your time to an employer, then you have a right to be safe at work and have enough food on your table and predictable working time. We need to extend minimum standards and we need to include in those minimum standards the rates of pay and safe working conditions. We Greens will continue to fight for these changes to be passed next year.

We must also see next year a real improvement alongside other countries in that right to disconnect, so that people can save their time that they are not paid for for their families, their communities and their own health. Unpaid overtime is a multibillion-dollar problem that robs Australian workers and communities of our time. On average Australian workers are donating seven weeks a year to their workforce. That is wrong. It affects their health, it affects their families and it affects their communities. We're doing some really important things today that will make a difference, and will narrow inequality in our labour market and protect people who can least defend themselves, but we've got a lot more we need to do. We need to make sure we protect the working time of Australians so they have predictable hours and predictable pay. We need to make sure we aren't running our industries on workers who are unsafe driving around in our streets and paid well below the minimum wage—many of them, we've seen in recent times, potentially subject to the risk of losing their lives. We need to improve immediately the protections around silicosis which affect so many young people, and we need to introduce real improvements across the labour market.

9:59 am

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

What a performance by Senator Cash this morning! I had to reset in here because I wasn't sure if I was in the Australian Senate or on Home and Away, let's be honest. What a joke this has been!

Today the Australian people can see what Independent crossbenchers can actually get done for the better. The Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023 is a big one and it will impact on many Australians and Australian businesses. That's why Senator Pocock and I wanted to split out some of the elements, so we could have time to go through the rest very carefully over the limited time we have over the Christmas period. I would like to thank the minister and his office for coming to the table and working constructively so we could get more protections in place for Aussie workers as soon as possible. I'd also like to thank the minister for agreeing to initiate an independent inquiry into Comcare, which is about 20 years overdue. It has a lot of the same problems as the Department of Veterans' Affairs, and they are problems that need to be fixed. I'm also grateful that the government has agreed to give extra resources to the Fair Work Ombudsman to help small businesses understand their obligations under this legislation. I also thank Senator Pocock and his amazing team, as per usual, for working with my team to get the job done. I know the blue team may not be very happy today about some elements—but I also want to thank you for getting us to this point and for your stance with us over the initial four elements that we wanted to get through for those people affected by PTSD, domestic violence and silicosis and, of course, the redundancy on small businesses and making sure that people get paid. I really do, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for that; otherwise, we wouldn't have got this stuff through before Christmas.

I think if you ask most Australians if they thought every elected MP in Canberra could work together and get the best outcome for the Australian people, they would say, 'Yeah, why don't we see more of it?' Well, today we've seen it. Workers will get these protections from the beginning of next year. That means that federal first responders won't have to prove they have PTSD—and, I tell you, thank God for that—before they can get help. Can you imagine what it's like being in trauma and having to prove that? I would like to acknowledge Tasmania's Simone Haigh. Simone lost a very dear mate, a first responder who took his life because he didn't get the help he needed—and he is just one of many. Simone has pushed very hard for an inquiry, and Senator Anne Urquhart has backed her all the way. Your inquiry that finished in 2019 has made a significant difference. Also, this includes Border Force. I am working with the minister and hoping that Defence will follow suit as soon as possible so that veterans also don't have to prove they have PTSD before they can get the help that they need.

I want you guys to know that we are onto this. Unfortunately, this goes over a few acts, and it has not been simple to get this done this year. But I have been promised we will get onto this in the first quarter of next year and make sure this is fixed. I know the detriment it has on you and your families along with the other injuries that you carry alongside your PTSD. I have seen what it does to you and your families, and I want it stopped.

The passing of the first part of the closing loopholes bill also means that people who are suffering from family and domestic violence can't be sacked or discriminated against because of that abuse. It brings silica in line with asbestos so we can have national rules for silica and we can start gathering national data. The majority of Australians suffering from silicosis are in their mid-30s. They're our sons. They're our daughters. We need to do all we can to eradicate exposure to this horrible goddamn disease. Passing the closing loopholes bill—let's call it 'part 1'—also means that workers who have worked for larger businesses that are facing insolvency get the redundancy payments they deserve. It also closes the loopholes in labour hire exploited by companies like Qantas, who have not helped their own situation. We give you a little bit, and you take the whole kit and caboodle. Seriously, with the amount of profits that you people make—big mining, big gas—you do not pay your people properly? You have brought this on yourselves. You have brought this on yourselves, and you should be ashamed of yourselves. So you're going to lose a little bit more of your profit. I tell you what—it wouldn't even be a sneeze in a hanky. You won't even notice it. Sometimes labour hire works. But you big corporations are abusing it, like I said, and you're cutting corners to beef up your profits. Quite frankly, you should be ashamed of yourselves. Merry Christmas to you!

Senator Pocock and I also agreed that we needed to address wage theft and the nonpayment of superannuation. But we insisted on safeguards to protect and help small businesses so they would have time to understand the new rules. Small businesses are doing it tough, and many of them are still dealing with the impact of COVID-19. All of the small businesses and large businesses that I know in Tasmania want to do the right thing by their workers. Part 1 of the closing loopholes bill also makes industrial manslaughter a criminal offence. It is way overdue. Andrea Madeley, an Adelaide mum, has campaigned hard for laws on industrial manslaughter for nearly 20 years. Her son Daniel was just 18 and operating a horizontal borer in South Australia when his dust coat got caught in the spindle and he was pulled into the machine. He suffered horrific injuries and passed the next day. The campaign got industrial manslaughter criminalised in South Australia and, I am sure, helped to pressure the federal government to act. It is a shame that, in this place, it has taken to so long, and we've lost so many others.

In the last 10 years, 87 Tasmanians have lost their lives at work, and there has not been one criminal conviction—not one. The minister has also agreed to amend the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 to address the ongoing issues of how independent medical assessments are used and are actually killing people, because that is the truth. They are pushing people to the brink. There is nothing worse than when you have your own psychiatrist or your own specialist that reports that they've seen you for 10 years but when you go and see some specialist for 15 minutes they say there is nothing wrong with you. Where is the fairness in that? They spend no time with you, and the department only gives them the documents that they want to give to make the department look good and miss everything else.

This is what happens in DVA and Comcare, and you should be ashamed of yourselves. Many of these independent assessors are also contracted by the Commonwealth. That means they're paid a nice little penny. Guess what they do to keep their job? That's exactly how they act. If that hasn't been a conflict of interest for years and years, I don't know what is. You're paying them to go against us in a 15-minute consultation and paying them 3½ or four grand for a report where they did not have the full information in the first place. How can they possibly make a determination in that amount of time?

Part 2 of the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023 will be up next year. This includes looking at minimum standards for digital platform workers and the gig economy, as it is called. It's a good name—the gig economy—and I'm sure that to all those people out there, especially you young guns, it sounds really cool. But we need to make sure these gig companies are being fair to the Aussies who are working for them. This is quite complicated. I want to be very, very clear about that.

We will also be looking at the road transport reforms. I like many parts of these reforms. I come from a trucking family. My dad drove trucks for 45 years. The big supermarkets pressure truckies into contracts that don't work for owner-drivers. As I've said, some of that is good, but my concern is that the small owner-drivers are treated like the big supermarkets.

It will also look at casual workers who want to become permanent. This also needs to be looked at very carefully. There are some negative impacts in that bill. Some retailers are already doing the right thing. I say this nicely, but I imagine that's because the unemployment rate is down to about 3½ per cent, so you're doing everything you can to see your employees. It will be very interesting to see, once that goes up, whether that will stay in place. I have my doubts. I will give it to Target, though, at this point in time. I've heard some employees from Target in Tassie are already being offered work in a permanent role after just six months of filling a casual position.

I have to say: it is better to treat your people properly, give them full-time jobs and do that sort of stuff, because it brings morale. And morale—here's some common sense for this side—brings productivity. That's how it works. They work hand in hand.

We also need to be careful about the impact on the smaller businesses. We're already aware that they are exempt, and we want to make sure that that stays in place and there aren't unintended consequences for small businesses from this, even though they are exempt. I will work in good faith with the government—as we always do, regardless of who's in government—and the minister on part 2 of the closing loopholes bill. But I can assure you that it is a long way from being a free pass.

I have an open-door policy. I always have. I will talk to everyone and treat everyone the same, whether you're a minister, a senator, a stakeholder or an everyday Australian. That's why the Jacqui Lambie Network doesn't take money from big corporate donors or unions. We do not want to be fogged when we are making our decisions. We want to do the best thing by the nation moving forward.

When Senator Tyrrell and I consider legislation, we look at it from all angles and ask, 'What's best?' That's it. It's as simple as that. It's not that we're worried about losing our seats because we don't have the money to buy them. I want to make sure that is quite clear. We earn them. That is our biggest pride in the Jacqui Lambie Network. We have to earn them. We cannot buy them, nor can we be bought. I will never allow anyone who comes in here, if there are more in the future, to be put in that situation where they are bought. It's not on.

There will be commentators today that will accuse Senator Pocock and I of doing a deal early. To be honest with you, I don't care. Some will say we should have just passed the whole bill. Well, unfortunately, we can't. What we are doing is working as fast as we can with the limited resources we have and relying very heavily on people that we can't afford to pay who are sitting in the middle of all of this. They don't work for unions or big business. We have to rely on their time, free of cost. That's where we're at.

What we set out to do from the beginning was to look at this bill with cool heads and to look at what was uncontroversial and we could get passed and what parts of the bill needed more time to consider the impacts. That is what has happened here today. We will work constructively, once again, with the government and the minister and do everything that we can to try to work out the second half of the bill. Once again, I want to make clear we believe this is the right thing to do. I'm sick and tired of hearing of miners who are doing the same job getting paid $30,000 less than their mates or of having their mates coming to me and saying, 'It's so unfair that I get an extra 30,000 bucks because I'm not working for a labour hire company.' This labour hire crap, I will tell you now, is way off the radar. There is no other way to put it. It is absolutely being taken advantage of by the big boys in town and it is going to stop. What saddens me more than anything is the profits that they make they scrounge off their own workers. They seriously lack a conscience, and that is a problem. It's all about profits instead of people.

So now we are going to fix that. It won't even take a bite out of their profits. We would never have had to do this if they had just done the right thing in the first place, and that is the truth of the matter. Profits over people is going to stop. It is uncalled for and it is unneeded. It does not help productivity in a workplace. I don't care what they say. It does not. Happy workers, happy profits—that's how it works.

10:12 am

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

The sausage factory has been in overdrive this morning. The old saying is that the making of laws is like the making of sausages and it's best not seen. I have seen many deals done in this place where governments have negotiated with crossbenchers or oppositions to ultimately get things done quickly. But I struggle to think of another circumstance where so much complexity has been undertaken in such a way, so lacking in transparency, as has occurred this morning and as is happening with the legislation before us. The sausage factory being run by the Labor Party is determined to take hundreds and hundreds of pages of proposed legislation and split it into two bills. At 9:28 this morning, as we started deliberation on these bills, I was finally handed the two bills. I didn't see them before we started this debate, and we're going to have to vote on them in less than two hours time. That's the way this is being treated. So we're voting on one of the bills, which runs for 133 pages, and the government is deferring until next year the contents of the other bill, which runs for 183 pages. Is anybody in this chamber going to have the time and capacity, before we have to vote, to properly read, properly absorb and properly understand exactly how the government has carved this up? No, they're not, because the sausage factory is operating, showing absolutely no respect to the processes of the Senate, no respect to those senators who were not part of whatever deal was struck and no regard to proper scrutiny, transparency or accountability—all of which the Labor Party had previously promised.

Time and time again this government is demonstrating that they have absolutely no interest in transparency, no interest in accountability and no interest in proper processes. When they get the numbers they will ruthlessly use them and ram through whatever it is they are doing. And that's what's happened here. One bill that was not scheduled to be voted on until next year after a Senate committee had concluded its work has, with absolutely no notice, been split into two bills this morning. And everybody is left scrambling to understand how the Labor Party sausage factory has determined which parts have gone into the bill we have to vote on today and which parts will be left to be determined next year.

Let's get clear some of the facts in this matter, because Labor likes to come in here and make a whole range of outrageous claims, particularly about where the coalition stands. The truth is we have, in the scrutiny of the large omnibus bill that's been before this Senate for some time, indicated for some time a willingness to pass provisions that we think are reasonable, that we recognise are appropriate and that should have consensus across the chamber. So we've passed provisions that relate to small business redundancy exemptions, we've passed provisions that relate to strengthening protections against discrimination, we've passed provisions that relate to asbestos safety and eradication and we've passed provisions that recognise the critical role of first responders and provide additional protections for them. So don't let anybody believe the lies that will be told from the other side and the claims that are being made to suggest that we don't support those elements. We do support those elements. We have voted for those elements. We have passed that legislation. We sent it to the House of Representatives weeks ago. We have sent multiple messages to the House of Representatives.

The Labor Party chose to hold up those provisions because they had other priorities. Their priority wasn't about asbestos safety, it wasn't about first responders, it wasn't about protections against discrimination and it wasn't about small business redundancy exemptions. No. Their priorities were, of course, about delivering for mates.

We are being asked to pass this bill under guillotine today. The government has forced this chamber to have to vote in just a couple of hours' time or less. Then it will be rushed over to the House of Reps, and no doubt they'll have even less time to debate it before the government ruthlessly uses its numbers to ram it through there. In the limited time I've had to have a look at this bill that is being rushed through today, I see that one of the things in here—in addition to the four elements that we have indicated we support—is part 7 of schedule 1, 'Workplace delegates' rights'. It's 'merry Christmas' to the trade union movement from the Labor Party. That's what this is all about.

They could have passed all of the other non-controversial elements quite happily weeks ago with bipartisan support. But, oh no. They held those elements hostage to greater rights for the trade union movement. That's what this is about—delivering a Christmas present to union delegates. And let's be clear, it is a Christmas present to union delegates, because what does the bill say underneath 'Part 7, Workplace delegates' rights'? It says, 'Amendments commencing day after Royal Assent'. So these increased rights for the trade union movement will take effect as soon as these bills have passed the parliament and got the rubber stamp from the Governor-General. They'll be in effect probably by next week, and union delegates will have additional powers across this country before Christmas.

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, union delegates, for the work you do.

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

There we go. Thank you, Senator Pratt, for making clear that's your priority. Your priority is the union delegates and their rights. Let me have a look elsewhere in here. Schedule 4, part 1 relates to industrial manslaughter. Guess when that commences? It's 1 July next year. There's Labor's prioritisation. Union delegates get immediate rights. Let's put that through! But for all we hear from the Labor Party about industrial manslaughter and such issues, that's a lesser priority. They were happy to hold asbestos provisions and provisions of first responders hostage to getting more union rights. They were happy to equally prioritise union rights ahead of their industrial manslaughter reforms, because it's 'merry Christmas' to the trade union movement. It's about the rights they are being given. Rights that even ensure the right of entry, as Senator O'Sullivan highlighted before, and rights that even override enterprise agreements that are struck. That's the remarkable part of what's in here. An enterprise agreement has gone through all of the processes—processes this government has tightened even further—to get agreement between employers and employees about how their shared workplace will work.

As Senator Cash so rightly put it, none of this works without employers. None of it works without successful, profitable employers. I'm happy to say that word, 'profit', because without it you don't have jobs. Without it you don't have businesses. Without it you don't have an economy. Successful, profitable, cooperative, harmonious workplaces where they reach agreement around an enterprise agreement, and reach terms in that enterprise agreement about how unions might operate in that business sounds pretty reasonable doesn't it? Employers and employees work together—'Here's our enterprise agreement. Everyone's agreed on that. As part of that we agree how unions operate within the workplace. Is that okay?' Not under this law it's not, because they'll just override the enterprise agreement to give even greater powers to the union movement. So don't anybody be conned today in terms of the legislation that is before us. The Labor Party, in pursuit of this legislation, have shown their true colours and their priorities, and the priority they are pursuing is, of course, about giving their union mates the Christmas present they want.

Why is this element and others that we have concerns about so serious? Because it goes to the state of the Australian economy and the operation of businesses across the Australian economy. This week we had the latest national accounts released, and they showed that for the last quarter in Australia GDP per capita went backwards by half a per cent. In simple terms, that means on average every Australian was half a per cent less well off in terms of the size of the economy and how you'd carve that up for everybody. Of course, actually, most households and individuals know they're much worse off than that. Most households have seen interest paid on mortgages go up 7.6 per cent over the last year or so, price increases of 9.2 per cent since the election of the Labor government, and their real household disposable income fall 6.6 per cent over the last year on a per capita basis. Australian households are 6.6 per cent worse off per person. And people know there are challenges around the world. Do you know what the comparative analysis of data shows about real household income? It shows that there has been a bigger decline in real household income in Australia than in any other advanced economy. Australian households have gone backwards by more over the last year than in any other advanced economy. That is the real tragedy, the pain being borne by Australian households.

Some of the drivers of these bad economic statistics are poor productivity in the Australian economy. Now, many advanced economies are struggling with productivity at present—it's not an unusual problem—and we've all been working to try to get productivity growing faster. But do you know what these reforms do?

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

They stifle it.

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

They actually stifle productivity. Senator O'Sullivan, you're right. These will hurt the ability of our economy to be more adaptable, to ensure that their work and their embrace of new technologies, of flexible workplace arrangements, of consensus in workplaces, will be stifled and hurt. Productivity will hurt and be damaged further as a result.

We know that because the immediate reaction from business this morning has been to see that this is a devastating day for Australian businesses. It's a devastating day because it is going to constrain businesses and their ability to be as productive and successful as possible. And the more productive they are, the more successful they are, the more they are able to grow, the more they are able to employ, the more they are able to pay and the more tax they can contribute. That is the virtuous cycle we seek to have.

Yes, of course, we need and support strong, effective industrial relations laws in our country. As I said earlier, we have been arguing for weeks now that the non-controversial elements of these laws should be passed as they relate to small business redundancies, to protections against discrimination, to asbestos safety and to greater rights for first responders. We've been there. We backed that. We support this. It's the damaging elements buried in this legislation that we oppose, and we oppose them out of interest for all Australians because ultimately a weaker Australian economy is going to hurt everybody in the long run. A weaker Australian economy will see fewer jobs available for people in the future. There will be less well paid jobs, despite what the government may say. A weaker economy will see so many of those who get to negotiate getting poorer outcomes.

The government and its sausage-machine factory on legislation, is letting Australians down today. It's a devastating and disappointing day for what it will mean for our economy, and the way the Labor Party have brought this forward to this place today is a shame on them.

10:28 am

Photo of David PocockDavid Pocock (ACT, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

After years and years of advocacy and far too many lives lost, today the parliament is taking concrete action to turn that around. Reversing the onus for approving PTSD on first responders will save lives. For police officers, firies and ambos, for those taking the calls from people in emergencies and for Border Force it will save lives from 1 January next year if this bill, the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023, goes through the parliament today.

I thank Senator Cash and the opposition for supporting these important changes and for working with us to see the will of the Senate deliver for first responders. I thank Minister Burke, Senator Urquhart and the government in general for working with us to get this done this year. I'd like to acknowledge Tasmanian paramedic Simone Haigh and the many others who have pushed for more recognition and support for first responders. This is the first step in implementing the Senate Education and Employment References Committee's report The people behind 000. There is clearly much more work to do.

I'd like to acknowledge Vince Parnell and all the Heart2Heart walkers, who travelled nearly 3,000 kilometres from Australia's red centre to Canberra to ask for greater mental health support for first responders. I'd also like to thank Billy Brooks, from Emerge & See; Jim Arneman, from the Australasian Council of Ambulance Unions; Greg McConville, from the United Firefighters Union; and Alex Troy and the team at the Australian Federal Police Association.

Ambos, cops, firies and emergency service workers have met with me over the last 18 months and shared their stories of pain and what they and their families have been going through. I thank them all for their advocacy, their bravery and their service. I hope this goes some way to showing that this parliament has their back. I thank Senator Lambie for the enormous good faith, passion and commitment she brings to this cause.

The review of Comcare will also be a game changer, as will amendments to the SRC Act to change how independent medical examinations are used. The constant retraumatisation of first responders must stop. I met last week with someone who has had 27 independent medical examinations.

I apologise to the people we have let down, the families who have seen their loved ones not get the recognition and support that they need and deserve from us. The parliament has heard you and decided to change this, but we have to acknowledge that for some this has come too late. The tears of mothers and families, like Kay Catanzariti, should no longer be shed in vain. Long overdue changes to industrial manslaughter will help make sure that workers come home safe.

In the midst of a national crisis of women being murdered, in far too many cases by their intimate partners, changes to better protect people experiencing family and domestic violence are also welcome. I note the coalition's strong support for that. This is concrete action in the 16 days of activism.

Additional protections for small business are also part of today's agreement. In addition to important worker safety measures, these changes will help stop workers being underpaid. In this cost-of-living crisis, where real wage growth has stagnated for so long and too long, protecting people's pay has never been more important.

BHP and Qantas have ripped off workers for far too long now. We've rightly seen in the Senate the coalition, with Senator McKenzie and Senator Dean Smith leading the charge, holding companies like Qantas to account for their behaviour and going after CEOs like Alan Joyce, but we're not seeing their support to close down the practices that these same companies and CEOs employ to make sure they make a profit, get their performance bonus and walk away with tens of millions of dollars, while the workers who are handling the luggage and who are on flights get ripped off. This clearly needs to stop. Australians do not want the people who serve them on planes, who will be there to help keep them safe in an emergency, to be employed by 12 different companies and to be constantly undercut. This is clearly a loophole that needs to be closed. There are clearly legitimate uses of labour hire, but we know that some employers are using it to pay workers less. This will stop with this legislation.

Intentional wage theft should be a criminal offence, and now it will be, as will the non-payment of super. This is only intentional wage theft, because we know that mistakes are made. In this legislation we've ensured that small businesses are looked after, with these provisions not starting until the small business code is in place and, as Senator Lambie said, there is further resourcing for the Fair Work Ombudsman to engage with small businesses. We know that small business owners are flat out. Many of them are struggling to simply keep their small business going as well as pay the mortgage.

I've said from day one that this bill was too big to be dealt with all at once, and that's why a number of complex measures will be dealt with next year. The Senate committee has hearings for 22 January and will hand down its report on 1 February. These are complex, economy-wide reforms, like changes to casuals, and will rightly be dealt with next year. I recognise how important things like protections for gig workers are, but it's critical that we get that right for a growing area of our economy where we're regulating across the board.

Every time I hear a first responder recount their experience of trying to live with PTSD and the impact that it has on their families, the urgency of doing better is brought home to me. That's why we're here—to do better. This week, the other place farewelled one of its best—the member for Dunkley, the irrepressible Peta Murphy. Peta said, 'What is politics for if not to make a difference?' And she was right. Today we will make a difference.

10:36 am

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development) Share this | | Hansard source

Today we rise to another deal done by the Labor Party, the Greens and the crossbench. It is another day of a lack of transparency and accountability. We have just listened to Senator Pocock talk about process, but the deal he has done with the Labor Party has meant that due process isn't followed in this place. In fact, the very Senate inquiry that was set up to investigate and to hear from those who are genuinely impacted by these industrial relations changes won't actually be able to be dealt with. Is he actually suggesting we're going to come back in a couple of months time and amend the legislation that's being slammed through the Senate today? I bet he's not, but he talks a big game in terms of wanting to hear from people and wanting legislation to reflect concerns, while simultaneously passing legislation without those concerns being relevantly dealt with.

What we're seeing here today is further proof that Labor's IR laws are bad laws. They've been poorly drafted. That is why we've seen a slew of amendments brought to the parliament, as if Tony Burke didn't have enough time to get it right! This is nothing more than an attempt by the Labor Party to get their failure on border protection and detainees off the front pages of every tabloid, off the front pages of the major broadsheets and off the radio waves in suburbs and regional centres around the country so they can go out on a win. And yet, despite having all the time in the world to get this legislation right, the Labor Party has got amendment after amendment after amendment after amendment. When you're in government, it's pretty embarrassing to have to amend your own legislation. You accept that you have to come into the Senate and maybe deal with some amendments from the opposition or the Greens or the crossbenchers, but to have to amend their own legislation to such a significant level just shows how incompetent the industrial relations minister actually is. Rather than wait for the Senate inquiry to hand down its findings and to therefore incorporate those needed amendments on the basis of evidence, again, they're drafting in the back room on the side chambers of the Senate today in a desperate attempt to get their failure on detainees off the front pages.

What Labor is seeking to do today is to make it harder for Australian's who've put their own capital on the line to run a business, who've put their own homes—mortgaged to the hilt—on the line to run a small business, who have farms that are hot to the hilt, or who are owner-operator truck drivers. They're making it harder and harder for those Australians across the country who believe in their own work ethic, who believe in building a better future for their children. Labor are making their job harder by the legislation that is before the Senate today.

You're going to make it harder for them to make a living and harder for them to employ other Australians. It is absolute anathema in this place. Year on year the Labor Party, the Greens and some of the crossbench seem to think that government employment is the way forward. The fact is, it is private enterprise—small businesses, millions and millions and millions of Australian families—who put down their own hard-earned money and hock the future of their children in order to build a business and employ others. When you make it harder for them to do that, you make it less likely that they will employ other people. They'll just stay small so that they don't actually take on those extra workers, don't actually grow.

The fact that the government is returning to parliament to rush through a further bill to pursue the ACTU's long list of demands is all the proof needed. The fact that the only promises this government has made—the only legislation it's focused on in its 18 months, the only ticks it can have against its report card of 'What have you done for me lately?'—is to the ACTU. Labor premiers were shafted in the infrastructure funding. With the NDIS, tough decisions have been kicked down the road until probably after the next election. Education hasn't improved. The only thing that has been done is the long list of demands the ACTU had for Tony Burke and Anthony Albanese in response to getting them elected.

While they were distracted by the disastrous and divisive $450 million Voice referendum, the government was unable to keep government spending under control. They were all very happy to blame inflation on something happening overseas. Well, sorry: the RBA governor has another perspective; it is absolutely homegrown, and it is because you've added $188 billion of additional spending to the budget. That's not overseas. That is decisions being taken by this government. You've been unable to manage the inflationary pressures. You've got no plan to deliver on the cost-of-living pressures that families are experiencing now. Income has fallen by 6.6 per cent. Taxes have gone up by 27 per cent. Mortgages have tripled. Prices have gone up by nine per cent. They are the facts, on your watch.

Is it any wonder Australians are feeling smashed? And day after day you come in here and make little decisions that accumulate into the fact that it's going to be harder for Australians to get ahead, not easier. You've got no plans to grow the national economy and you've ripped $10 billion out of regional programs from the budget. And after 18 months, no new program funds have been provided to support regional communities. So, you've ripped it out, and for 18 months local councils and regional capitals have had nothing to replace that investment in their future in their communities. You've been unable to deliver on an infrastructure plan. You've got no plan to address congestion, while you're pouring 1½ million additional people into our already-congested suburbs. And you've been unable to deal with the aviation sector, where you've been consumed with protecting your old mate Alan Joyce and a corporate entity in Qantas that does not have the best interests of its customers or its shareholders at heart.

That's what you've actually achieved in the last 18 months, other than ticking the box on the ACTU's Christmas list. Throughout it all, the Labor Party and Minister Burke have remained focused on delivering your union mates' agenda. You're going to deliver on your big corporate mates' agenda, and you're delivering on your union mates' agenda. Do you know who gets screwed over? Small businesses—mums and dads living in the suburbs and dealing with the cost-of-living crisis, which even the Reserve Bank has recognised is homegrown and sits squarely at your feet. Today, on the last sitting day of the year—the last possible moment—you've stitched up a dodgy deal, and it will not have the scrutiny of a Senate committee.

These are laws that threaten to force up the cost of services, especially those that are being delivered by self-employed contractors. That's because you hate that idea; you want everyone to be a potential union member. What about the young apprentice who finally gets their ticket and wants to launch out on their own and set up their own business? You'd much rather they worked for Lendlease or Grollo, or someone else, because then you can have the CFMMEU come in and say, 'Mate, have I got a deal for you!' That is actually the type of Australia you want to see. Walking into the parliament today with this sudden dodgy deal, you're undermining all the confidence that's needed by business to grow the economy. You just keep taking a sledgehammer to people's aspiration and desire to work hard and get ahead, not to clock on nine to five. That's fine; that's an individual choice. But if you actually want to work 18-hour days for 10 years and get ahead then you should be backed in, because that's actually what grows the economy. More government spending here in Canberra does not lift the productivity of this nation. I hope the Treasurer spends this summer writing another thesis, another 18,000-word essay, on what he's actually going to do to lift productivity and grow our economy over the future.

As the National Party leader, I know these laws will impact my community, where small business is the backbone but the farming community is also significant. The National Farmers Federation have been running a national campaign to keep farmers farming, because this government's legislative agenda is making it harder to grow the food and fibre we need not just to put the food on the table of every Australian but to export around the world. They've said that the government's closing loopholes bill is fraught with issues that will make it harder and more expensive than ever to create employment opportunities in farming. I know there are not many farmers in the ACT, Senator Pocock, but there are in Tasmania.

Photo of David PocockDavid Pocock (ACT, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

There are actually a few.

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, I would like to know what consultation you've had with the National Farmers Federation about the impact of the legislation being passed today on their ability to employ people, because they are very clear that it will be incredibly negative. They say:

Instead it—

the government—

is choosing a path that will drive up the costs to engage employees and create a system people will walk away from.

…   …   …

They say:

        That's going to be the lived experience of farmers across the country through the passing of Labor's industrial relations bill. I grew up in a small business, where we lived at the dairy. You are now allowing union thugs—John Setka and his mates—to be able to walk into your home and check out whether it meets their exceptional standards. It is an absolute joke. It's not just farmers but a whole lot of Australians who live where they work, and the Labor Party don't believe that union officials should be required to hold an entry permit under the Fair Work Act. This bill shows no respect for the tens of thousands of business operators who expect the protection of the law before union heavies can enter their home.

        The government have no agenda for relieving the cost-of-living crisis affecting Australians. That's why they've made a cumulative number of decisions that make things worse for Australians, not better. They've introduced a ban on live sheep exports. They've stripped water out of farming communities, which will provide no greater assurance for the environment. They've increased truckie taxes. They've put a fresh food tax on farmers. They've scrapped the agriculture visas and changed the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme to make it unworkable for primary production. They've been too slow to act on fire ants. They've taxed superannuation. They can't even tell us what impact that will have on primary producers in unrealised gains. They've abolished the Roads of Strategic Importance, which were actually all about road safety and the freight task, and they've cut funding for regional roads. That is why yesterday Labor premiers were furious about the future investment of the Albanese Labor government in the regions.

        They've forced up the cost of finance to everyday Australians through their inflationary decision-making and they've actually increased taxes. Their industrial relations changes will create more complexity and uncertainty, add more cost to small businesses and farmers, make Australians pay more, do nothing to increase productivity and actually will put jobs at risk. They're only interested in rewarding their Labor union pay masters, and they're actually going to institutionalise conflict in our workplaces and hurt our economy. This is just insane. On the last sitting day before Christmas the only people that are happy with what's in their Christmas stocking from the Senate today are the ACTU, Sally McManus and all of their Labor mates.

        10:51 am

        Photo of Lidia ThorpeLidia Thorpe (Victoria, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

        I rise to speak to the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023. I know this bill has drawn a lot of attention, and there are some present here today who are actively advocating for businesses to be able to pay their workers less than the minimum wage. I might criticise this government on a lot of things—you all know that—but this bill is actually good news for workers, and that's why I'll be supporting it fully. I'd like to thank Minister Burke for constructive engagement on this bill and commitment to gaining better outcomes for workers. I was one of those crossbenchers that Senator Wong forgot to mention when she mentioned the others who worked constructively with Minister Burke.

        A lot of what is put forward in this split bill today is uncontroversial and much needed to finally make workplaces safer. Nobody should ever die or suffer lifelong consequences through their work. I'm thinking of all of those who have lost loved ones due to unsafe working conditions. While these families will never get to hold their loved ones again, the criminalisation of industrial manslaughter to reduce recklessness and negligence and the improvement of work health and safety provisions might at least bring them a little bit of justice and peace in knowing that hopefully others will not have to go through the same. The measures in relation to silica safety and silica related diseases are a much-needed and overdue change so that we don't lose more people to the asbestos of the 21st century.

        As First Peoples of this country, we know what it means to have wages stolen. Wage theft, as the name tells you, is theft and yet has never been treated that way. People get criminalised for stealing petty things, sometimes just because they're struggling to survive. Yet employers have been getting away with undercutting and stealing employee wages for decades to maximise their profits. How is that not criminal? This is about people's livelihoods. It is time to stop dodgy businesses getting away with it.

        The business lobby is incredibly powerful in this country, and the major parties are under way too much influence from it. An important part of countering this has been the strong union movement in this country. My family have long been a union family. Our people know oh-so well what it means to have their rights not respected. First Nations people across this country put up with discrimination and breaches of our rights in workplaces every day.

        Workers of all kinds hold this place together—a shout-out to the cleaners and the working class in this place, who have to deal with the privilege of politicians every day of their lives. They provide essential services we all depend on every day. They deserve to have a safe, supportive workplace and to live decently from their hard work. We need strong unions to uphold workers' rights, the rights of all workers, because how can individuals ever counter the interests of big business? If we left it in the hands of big business, it would be a very fast race to the bottom. Unions provide a vital service to society, and I thank them all for doing this often vilified work. This bill's provision to strengthen delegate rights to ensure workers can have better access to their representatives, and delegates can have better access to workplaces, is a step in the right direction to support unions and the important work they do.

        Let's talk about the family and domestic violence provisions of the bill. I know what it's like to live with that violence and try to show up to work, pushing on, pretending nothing is happening because of the fear of what consequences it could have on my jobs. Thousands of people, in particular women, go through that every day. As a society it is our duty to support people through these situations, not punish them further. I therefore welcome the stronger workplace protections against discrimination for employees who are survivors of family and domestic violence. Safer workplaces, free from discrimination and based on the respect of workers' rights, is not something that just concerns the working class; it applies to everyone, and everyone benefits—even employers. I would hope that we can all agree on this today so that we can make this a good day for workers in this country.

        10:55 am

        Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Health and Aged Care) Share this | | Hansard source

        Firstly, can I put on the record that the coalition absolutely supports safe workplaces. Any suggestion in the contributions of those opposite and those at the other end of the chamber that the coalition would stand in the way of safe workplaces is just absolute rubbish and political misinformation. We were very happy to support the four components of this legislation, the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023, that were extracted from the body of the bill and put through this place. At the time, we congratulated Senator David Pocock and Senator Lambie for the responsible way in which they were handling this. There were four particular provisions contained in this legislation that enabled some really simple things to occur. They addressed some things that I don't think a single person in Australia wouldn't have supported. We congratulated Senator David Pocock and Senator Lambie on that.

        Just to reiterate, those things were, first, making sure first responders didn't have to prove PTSD—because we know our first responders, day in, day out, are confronted with some of the most extraordinary traumatic situations—and to recognise that. Enabling them not to have to go through the process of proof at the first instance was something that we 100 per cent supported. In relation to silica based diseases: of course we want to make sure that Australians who are confronted with these often fatal conditions are getting the appropriate support, and to make sure there isn't a provision that allows a company that's downsizing to avoid their responsibilities in terms of their workers and adverse action against people who are suffering from domestic violence. They are clearly four quite simple but universally supported provisions that we were prepared to support, and we congratulated those senators.

        But what we've seen now is a crossbench that is obviously up for sale. On the remaining provisions in the bill, the crossbench and the opposition agreed they were quite complex, potentially had unintended consequences that hadn't been fleshed out, as a part of the process of the bill, and required a proper and thorough inquiry to make sure that all the concerns of Australian businesses, Australian employees and the Australian community, and any of the consequences of this legislation, were able to be fleshed out before the more complex, complicated and sometimes more controversial components of the legislation were considered.

        But clearly what's happened sometime over the last few days—who knows what the government have given to the four crossbenchers who have now changed their position in order to get their support—is that these four crossbenchers are prepared to have their votes bought. Only a matter of weeks ago they were absolutely 100 per cent indignant that the remaining parts of this bill required further scrutiny and they were not prepared to budge on it. Then, on the day before the Christmas break, they come in here and are happy to have their vote bought, and we'd love to know what that was all about.

        The reality here is that this is a government who have had a terrible few weeks because they have ignored hardworking Australians for way too long, and hardworking Australians have become quite annoyed with them. So the government is trying to create some sort of smokescreen to cover up the fact that they're not focusing on the things that matter to Australians—the really important things like the fact that they can't afford to pay their mortgages, that they're struggling to pay their power bills, that every time they turn up to the supermarket their bill is higher than it was the last time they went. This government doesn't seem to care about that. They also don't seem to care about keeping Australians safe. They completely wet the bed after the High Court brought down a specific and individual decision on NZYQ and let 140-plus very seriously offending people out into the community, and we now see that four of them have already offended since they've been out there.

        So we've got a government who seem to think it's okay to just smokescreen this by coming in with these IR bills. But the reality—a contribution that's been made on this side of the chamber—is that there are concerns with this bill as it currently stands today, without the appropriate scrutiny and without going through and looking at the unintended consequences that could come from some of these provisions. And you'd like to think that after a Senate inquiry the government would be prepared to listen to those concerns and maybe amend the bill to make sure these things don't happen. But no, it's just sort of, 'Happy Christmas unions, but I'm afraid everybody else in Australia has had their Christmas stolen.' Unless you're a union or a union member or part of the union or part of the Labor Party Friendship group, you've had your Christmas stolen by this legislation.

        I'm sure we will see many organisations come out and highlight the faults that are contained in some of the provisions of this bill. Most particularly—having a look at my area of great passion, which is rural and regional Australia—we know that the National Farmers Federation have expressed extraordinary concern about the impact this is likely to have on farmers in our country. I will quote from the new president of the National Farmers Federation, David Jochinke:

        We've consistently called out this Bill for being fraught with issues that will make it harder and more expensive to create employment opportunities in farming.

        …   …   …

        Put simply, as it stands, it will create layers of complexity for small farming businesses.

        …   …   …

        We call on the Senate to have the common sense to make sure this Bill as it stands does not go through.

        Where was the opportunity for Mr Jochinke and all the farmers he represents to put their case forward, to explain to the government why these changes are going to have an impact on farmers?

        We're all for industrial relations that make our economy more productive. We're all for industrial relations reforms that make sure the safety of employees is absolutely paramount. We're all for industrial relations that make sure we have a fair operating system in this country. But what we're not for is a piece of legislation being shoved through here with no consideration whatsoever for legitimate concerns that are being raised by organisations that are here for this exact purpose.

        Not only the National Farmers Federation has expressed concerns but also the MCA. Today the government has declared war on millions of Australian businesses, particularly small businesses. This country runs on small business.

        Small businesses are where the majority of employment is created. So if you are going to add additional burden, via the insult of this legislation, to small businesses, what do you think is going to happen? Small businesses will stop employing people because they simply can't afford to. Worse still, the biggest issue that's facing Australia at the moment—outside of the national security debacle we've seen unfold through the absolute knee-jerk reaction to the decision of the High Court by those opposite—is the cost of living. Just about every single piece of legislation that the Labor Party have brought in so far has sought to push up the cost of living. I'm sorry, but Senator Watt's idea of making Christmas hams cheaper is not going to make Christmas any easier for Australians. With this kind of legislation and this kind of action we're seeing here, the complete contempt and disregard this government has for Australians is once again on show.

        While it very disappointing that we couldn't have industrial relations reforms that actually deliver benefits for all Australians, what we have seen today are industrial reforms that are going to benefit Labor's union mates. I want to know what you have paid to those at the other end of the chamber who stood so firm a few weeks ago. What have you paid them to buy them off so that they can come in and do a dirty deal that we know is likely to damage Australian businesses and push up the price of goods, and is not going to serve the majority of Australian workers, either?

        It's a complete and utter insult to Australians that Labor would bring something in here and guillotine it, no less. We have probably one of the most significant and consequential pieces of legislation—700-odd pages of it that you have brought into this place. I'd like to know: what is the desperate rush? I would say that the reason for the desperate rush of bringing this through here is because they don't want this legislation to be scrutinised. If they had been happy to have this legislation scrutinised, if they were happy that there was nothing in this legislation that would cause the concerns that have been raised by organisations like ACCI and the MCA—there are a whole list of them who have already provided concerns, and many of them have provided concerns this morning. If they were concerned about that, and they weren't concerned that the concerns that have been raised by these organisations had any legitimacy then why wouldn't they let some scrutiny take place? Instead, at nine o'clock on Thursday morning, on the eve of Christmas, they bring this legislation in here and then they guillotine it. For a government that promised to come into this place and sweep clean with a new broom—we were going to have transparency, accountability and scrutiny—nothing could be further from the truth.

        The reality is this legislation will impact negatively on Australian businesses—big, small and everything in between. It will create a greater level of complexity for Australian businesses. It will create extraordinary complexity for businesses and make it more difficult for them to be able to afford to employ new people right in the middle of a labour-market crisis. The No. 1 thing that I am told everywhere I go in Australia at the moment is that the main crisis facing Australian businesses is access to workforce, and now Labor are going to make it harder for them to get access to workforce. Not only that; they're making it more complex and removing the flexibility and choice from Australian workers. They're telling Australian workers how they have to be employed. They're telling Australian businesses how they have to employ their workers, and refusing those workers the choice and control over the decisions about how they want to be employed.

        Nobody will disagree that Australian workers need to be treated fairly, but you can't have a one-sided argument where your workers are ignored, at the exclusion of those who are members of a union. Today is the day that the Labor Party gave a Christmas present to their union paymasters. All you're doing today with this legislation is making a bad situation worse. So I would condemn the government today for this unbelievably callous decision to bring and to rush this bill through this place. At the end of the day, you destroy all flexibility in our labour market by doing this. You refuse any scrutiny so that you can actually be held to account for the concerns that have been raised. This piece of legislation will have such a major financial impact on investment decisions in this country. Guess what? International organisations have a choice about whether they invest in Australia or not. What we're seeing here is something that is going to curtail investment, push up prices and give everybody, apart from your union mates, a worse Christmas.

        Before concluding my remarks on this bill, I would like to move, at the request of Senator Cash, a second reading amendment, which has been circulated in the chamber:

        At the end of the motion, add ", and:

        (a) the Senate notes that:

        (i) this is a devastating day for Australian businesses, with members of the crossbench siding with the Albanese Labor Government to pass through highly contentious labour market regulation before it receives proper parliamentary scrutiny through the Senate inquiry process,

        (ii) the Government's new labour hire laws will substantially increase the burden and costs imposed on businesses using legitimate labour hire arrangements to meet demand surges or remedy staff shortages, and that these costs will be ultimately passed on to consumers in a cost of living crisis,

        (iii) the Government's new labour hire laws are incompatible with a modern labour market that must be flexible, dynamic, and rewarding for workers, and

        (iv) the Coalition support amendments which address small business redundancy exemptions, industrial manslaughter, protections against discrimination, wage theft, the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency and first responders PTSD changes; and

        (b) Part 6 of Schedule 1 (which abolishes modern and flexible workplace arrangements) and Part 7 of Schedule 1 (which gives unions unprecedented access to Australian workplaces) be referred to the Education and Employment Legislation Committee for inquiry and report by 1 February 2024".

        I condemn the government for its lack of concern for everyday Australians.

        11:11 am

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

        The Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023 is not just about helping workers but about helping good employers, the people we on this side actually represent, who are being crushed. These people are being crushed by thieves, fraudsters, the corporate racketeers and the industrial murderers—the big businesses who don't play by the rules and drove a race to the bottom on wages, conditions and safety. This bill is about standing up to those bottom feeders, like Qantas and BHP, and saying on behalf of workers and good employers alike, 'Enough is enough.'

        We're about to find out whether all the grandstanding from those opposite about Qantas in recent months was worth anything. In my three decades representing Qantas workers, I never once saw those opposite lift a single finger to help those workers. Even as workers were being smashed by the labour hire loophole created by Alan Joyce himself, they did nothing. Even as Alan Joyce split the workforce across 38 different companies, they did nothing. There are Qantas planes right now in the air where there are four flight attendants employed by four different companies on four different rates of pay, all set up by Qantas. The cabin supervisor may be earning less than the people they're supervising because of this rort they want to protect. Those opposite knew about it. We've been telling them for years, and they never did a single thing about it. Even as Qantas workers were being illegally sacked in their thousands to be replaced by cheap, disposable labour hire, they did nothing.

        When I pointed this out at a Canberra hearing on the closing loopholes bill last month, Senator McKenzie said something that actually shocked me. She said:

        … I ask you to withdraw those accusations because I am not on a unity ticket with Qantas and Alan Joyce when it comes to ripping off Qantas workers through labour hire. I am not. I never have been.

        So there you have it. We're about to find out whether Senator McKenzie will be true to those words that she uttered that day. Senator McKenzie has an opportunity right now today to make her position on Qantas ripping off workers through their labour hire very clear, as does everyone in this chamber. Either you are voting for closing the loophole or you're voting for keeping it open. It's that simple. What's it going to be? Are you on the side of thousands of Qantas workers who've had their livelihoods destroyed, or are you on the side of Alan Joyce and Richard Goyder? We'll see whether Senator McKenzie has any credibility when it comes to Qantas or whether she's more worried about her cozy seat in the Chairman's Lounge than closing Alan Joyce's loopholes. It's actually very simple.

        The other parts of the bill that the Liberals and Nationals hate aren't even in here. They're being delayed until next year, like helping casuals get secure jobs—they hate that. Helping truck drivers earn enough money so that they don't work themselves to death—they hate that. Ensuring gig workers aren't getting butchered on our roads for $6 an hour—they hate that. Making it easier for unions to investigate wage theft—they hate that. All those things that we desperately want to get done and the Liberals and Nationals hate are successfully delayed until next year. So the part we're voting on today is the part that closes Alan Joyce's labour hire loopholes. So good news! Everyone gets to have their verdict on Alan Joyce's legacy put on the record for all eternity here today. I look forward to Senator McKenzie joining me over on this side of the chamber and voting with us, as she said she would.

        For those who aren't familiar with how Qantas has seriously hurt thousands of people through this loophole, let me tell you through the words of their victims. Sarah de Wilt is a flight attendant employed by one of the internal labour hire firms, subsidies, created by Alan Joyce. Qantas has not directly employed a flight attendant since 2008. Instead, they are employed through a web of 17 subsidiaries. Some earn less than half of what directly employed flight attendants earn for the exact same work. Ms de Wilt didn't even learn that she wasn't a Qantas employee until five months on the job. She told the inquiry:

        It's quite disheartening, quite confusing, a little bit demoralising, knowing that you're there on the cart doing the same thing. When the fire alarm went off in the bathroom, you were there bringing the emergency equipment and so were they. You are cleaning up the vomit on the floor alongside somebody else. You were doing 19-hour duty and keeping your eyes open and keeping each other awake the same as everyone else, wearing the exact same uniform … I was a little bit blindsided … on my payslip there's a kangaroo and it says 'Qantas' … You can imagine what it would do for unity and morale in the workplace.

        You just can't imagine the result. And it isn't just the flight attendants; it's the ground handlers, including the 1,700 that the High Court ruled were illegally sacked. So how can the Liberals and Nationals defend this? What side are you on? Alan Joyce's side or that of Qantas workers and hardworking Australians?

        Since Alan Joyce has created this loophole, it has been picked up by others, like BHP. If there is one company in Australia that can afford to pay its people fairly, you would think it's BHP, wouldn't you? It's the biggest, richest company in Australia. Just like Qantas, BHP thinks it's above the law. Just like Qantas, BHP has set up internal labour hire companies that it uses to avoid paying fairly negotiated rates in its workplace agreements. The workers of the company that BHP set up, BHP Operations Services, earn 40 per cent less for doing the exact same work at the exact same mine sites. We took the inquiry to Rockhampton, and we heard directly from BHP and BHP Operations Services workers. Brodie Allen, a mine worker at BHP Blackwater coal mine told us:

        I've been coalmining and in the industry for seven years. I've been labour hire the entire time, so I go in and do the same job as everybody else, but I'm paid $40,000 less a year to do the exact same thing.

        Brodie has been ripped off $40,000 a year for seven years. BHP is the richest company in Australia. They don't need to rob their workers of their pay. But they keep running a protection racket for those racketeers on the opposite side. They do it because they can and because the Liberals and Nationals let them get away with it.

        I know Senator Roberts has been talking about this issue for a long time, and I will give him a great deal of credit for that. But now we get to put our cards on the table. Now we see who really is going to vote for 'same job, same pay' in the mining industry. Senator Canavan is another advocate for the coal industry. I'm very interested in his vote on this as well. This is 'put up or shut up' time when it comes to standing up for mine workers, especially coalmine workers in Central Queensland and the Hunter. Surely, Senator Roberts and Senator Canavan can't stomach hardworking people in their communities being treated like this. Isaac council mayor, Anne Baker, couldn't have said it better. She has 28 coal mines in her region, and she said in the inquiry:

        We are actually living a casualisation pandemic …

        …   …   …

        labour hire, or a form of casualisation, … should never have been allowed … to be a model of full replacement. We are actually living and breathing this, to the detriment of the viability and the resilience of our community.

        To the Nationals opposite, who are supposed to be representatives of regional Australia: here is a regional council with regional workers crying out for this bill. The ball is in your court. Every other employer in the country must be looking at how BHP and Qantas have used this loophole and be asking, 'Why are we playing by the rules?' when the richest employer in the country isn't and the protection racquet of those opposite, in the Liberals and National Party, has been exposed. It's just the big corporate guerillas that are doing this. That's why BHP, through the Minerals Council, have funded the whole campaign against the bill. It's not about small business; it's about the richest and most powerful people in our society doing over working families. So voting against this bill is actually a vote to let the big corporate guerillas and the billionaires play by different rules than the rest of us.

        I also want to touch on the other important things that this bill does, which, again, are completely uncontroversial, unlike your one on the ideological extremist at the Minerals Council. It makes an employer intentionally stealing wages from their employee a criminal offence. Just this morning we've seen the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees' Association launch another class action against McDonald's over wage theft. It is endemic. Are the Liberals and Nationals going to vote against that too? We'll soon be finding out, won't we? Because this bill also introduces a new criminal offence of industrial manslaughter, and I want to commend the families of those killed at work who have campaigned tirelessly for this reform. I want to commend Kay Catanzariti, Pam Gurner-Hall and Linda Ralls and many others who have fought so hard for this. Are the Liberals and Nationals going to vote against them as well? Really?

        Those opposite say they're tough on crime, but are they going to be tough on intentional industrial manslaughter? This bill makes it easier for democratically elected workplace delegates to do their jobs and to ensure they have the training they need to actually do their jobs properly. Are you going to vote against that too? Make it work better, where people can work together, be tripartite and actually work out how to make a better workplace—are you going to vote against that?

        Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

        They will vote against it!

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

        Heaven forbid, because we heard from delegates who are paramedics, aged-care workers, nurses, teachers, retail workers. Are you going to vote against fairness and rights for them to make sure their workplace is safer and more cohesive, with more of a chance to talk about how we can make the workplace so much better for everybody, including their own employer?

        We have heard from Emma Foreman, who has worked as a midwife for six years and has been elected by her peers to be the representative for the last three years. Emma said: 'I might be one of the four midwives who are put on a 32-bed patient ward. They are impossible ratios. I pushed forward, and I moved that we deal with those ratio issues. It was about improving our women's care and our professional standards of care and about our patients' safety. As soon as I began to raise those issues, I was public enemy No. 1.'

        It's not just protections. We heard through the inquiry that delegates improve communications between employers and employees, which can deliver productivity benefits for everyone. That's how it works—cooperatively, together. That's what the bill is about. They don't want it, because they know who's in charge. When we're talking about nurses and teachers and aged-care workers having a voice in their workplace, are those opposite seriously going to vote against that? Of course, those opposite have already voted for the rest of the bill—the better support for the first responders with PTSD, the better protections for workers subject to domestic violence, expanding the functions of the asbestos agency to include silica dust and closing the small business redundancy payments loophole. We'll see if those opposite are going to backflip on their support for those as well.

        The fact is that, as you through this bill, item by item, every single provision is about making work safer or about making work fairer, and about decent employers having decent competition, not just supporting the racketeers at the top as that mob opposite is doing. We know the opposition leader, Mr Dutton, always stands for low wages and insecure work. We know that Mr Dutton stands with billionaires like his best mate, Gina Rinehart, over working people. But I also know there are senators opposite who say they feel very uncomfortable about this. We'll see if they do the right thing today, won't we?

        I also want to touch very briefly on some of the reforms that have been delayed until next year. It's absolutely essential that, when we return in February, we pass the rest of the bill. The bill will make a life-changing difference to labour hire workers at Qantas, BHP and across the country. It will make a massive difference to the families of those killed at work. Workers who have had their wages stolen will now have a recourse to obtain justice. But we also need gig workers and others on our roads to be protected. The Liberals and Nationals go to this Christmas without the life-saving protections that those workers would get. I say this to those opposite: don't stand in the way of the industry, the workers, the owner-drivers and all those that say that that bill has to be put through. When it comes up next year, vote for it.

        11:26 am

        Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

        I will be taking up Senator Sheldon's invitation to put my cards on the table, and we will be putting our cards on the table. I will be doing exactly that.

        The Australian Labor Party is Australia's oldest continuous political party, so you'd think that it would have got the hang of government by now—but no. This week has been a shocker. Perhaps 122 years is enough. It's time to find a nice twilight home, put your feet up and listen to Alan Jones, enjoy a juicy steak, read the Spectator and contemplate this government's many, many failures—so many failures that the Labor heartland are turning against Labor. The polls are an indictment of the performance of this one-term Labor government. Now the ALP thinks that doing dodgy deals to get parts of its signature industrial relations policy through will quieten the heartland—a heartland that can't pay their mortgage or rent, who can't buy groceries, whose kids are taught a hidden agenda at school and who will now be stalked at every turn, using Labor government sanctioned cameras. This bill doesn't fix those things. This bill doesn't fix those basics.

        More importantly, from the perspective of the union bosses, this bill, the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023, is about forcing people to join the union. That won't fix their declining support. The very thing that turns people off unionism these days—the thuggery and cronyism and backroom deals that only favour the union bosses—will enable more of it. We need more accountability, not less. Union bosses, and some large companies, have become accountable to no-one because they are arrogantly enshrined in a cosy monopoly of being the only union for their sector. Nothing here will claw back the reduction in real wages per capita that Australia's workers have suffered since Labor took over—a six per cent reduction in real wages in just 18 months, a reduction that just keeps getting worse with every new piece of economic data, as we saw again yesterday.

        This bill will be full of unintended consequences, as any legislation that is written out of dodgy ideology always causes. Let me review the detail of this bill. There are four measures that the Senate has already passed. Easier access to PTSD support and compensation for first responders: we voted for that. Domestic violence protections: we voted for that. Asbestos and silica safety: we voted for that. Protecting redundancy entitlements: we voted for that. These four were passed by the Senate, with One Nation's support, and they've been sitting on the books down in the House of Representatives, left by the government to gather dust because it would be too embarrassing not to pass measures the Senate passed in defiance of the government. So much for workers—the government doesn't give a damn. Instead of looking out for workers, the government is more interested in looking good.

        Photo of Karen GroganKaren Grogan (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

        Senator Roberts, I'll ask you to mind your language.

        Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

        Now the government has brought on this bill, which contains those four uncontroversial measures and wraps into it four more issues for eight in total. The four additional issues in this package of Tony Burke, the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, include the criminalisation of wage theft and industrial manslaughter. We support both of those; we agree with them. But his legislation introduced with no notice this morning includes two poison pills wrapped up in the uncontroversial. Those two poison pills are unfettered right of entry for union bosses and the deceptively named same job, same pay framework. It is deceptively named, as I'll explain.

        Again we are seeing Labor wrap up a bundle of things everyone supports with the most-controversial proposals in industrial relations law. The right to entry allows union bosses to enter any business at any time under the pretext of safety issues. There are no criteria for what satisfies 'reasonable entry', because the assumption is that union delegates should never be prevented from entry. Union bosses will abuse this. Union bosses in some lawless large unions already are concocting safety reasons for claiming entry to businesses and then, inevitably, hanging around to apply pressure on employees to join up. If a business believes the right to entry has been abused, it has next to no recourse. The Australian Building and Construction Commission used to enforce workplace entry and union conduct in workplaces—no more. Employers can't complain to the Australian Building and Construction Commission because the Labor Party disbanded it for being a check on the unreasonable behaviour of union bosses.

        I turn now to the real poison pill: same job, same pay. It sounds good. One Nation totally supports a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. Let everyone in this chamber remember that I introduced into the Senate the first bill for same job, same pay. Let me tell you why and then explain why we knew it would cover up the real problem, which is wage theft that the Mining and Energy Union, formerly under the name Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union, enables—not just sanctions, but enables and drives. I'll tell you why I support same job, same pay. A courageous miner in the Hunter Valley, Simon Turner, and some of his mates came to see me about what was going on. I thought it was a major coal company and a major international labour hire firm were colluding to screw workers. Then I found that the CFMMEU in the Hunter enables these agreements, that it drives these enterprise agreements. Not only do they not pay the award, not only do they not pay the enterprise agreement of the host company—the employer, the mine owner—they underpay the award, sanctioned by the CFMMEU in the Hunter. It is sanctioned by them, driven by them, resulting in the theft of over a billion dollars from miners. Tony Burke, the minister, knows because we have provided the details from miners on dodgy enterprise agreements that dodge the Fair Work Act. It is something we have been working on relentlessly with the miners in Central Queensland and the Hunter for 4½ years since it was first brought to my attention. Miners provided them directly to senior ministerial staff, to senior staff of his Department of Employment and Workplace Relations in personal meetings the miners had that we arranged. The provided the details in writing with documented evidence. There were details that I put in writing to the minister himself twice.

        The loophole is a fabrication that Labor senators echo like propaganda through this chamber. In the mining industry, that is false. There is no loophole. The core problem is that the Fair Work Act has been breached repeatedly, systemically, systematically and cold-bloodedly. The underpayment of miners in the permanent casual rort is possible only with enterprise agreements signed by the Mining and Energy Union, formerly the CFMMEU. In some cases, that union sold enterprise agreements to labour hire firms. In fact, speaking of labour hire firms, the Hunter CFMMEU started the first labour hire firm in our coal industry and pretends to oppose labour hire. It enables labour hire and rewards labour hire companies with dodgy deals, enterprise agreements and paying below the award.

        As a former coalface miner and later a mine manager, I am absolutely appalled at what I see going on at the moment in the coal industry and in a union that used to be very proud and strong. Elements of it are now gutless and crooked. The Hunter CFMMEU approved and signed a statutory declaration as part of the Fair Work Act process for approving enterprise agreements. All of the deals were done with the signature of the CFMMEU. The Fair Work Commission oversees the process of developing an enterprise agreement. Repeatedly, it has breached the statutory process. It has broken its own law repeatedly. When we've drawn the Fair Work Commission senior management to that fact, they have done nothing. They don't give a damn about workers, whom they're supposed to be protecting. It's duplicitous. When miners draw the Fair Work Commission's senior management to that fact, the Fair Work Commission does nothing. We have told Minister Burke, and he does nothing.

        Miners have made formal complaints to the Fair Work Ombudsman, who were stumped until they were given a bevy of documents including court rulings, an Australian Taxation Office declaration, PAYE slips and PAYE group certificates. Those are legitimate documents. To those legitimate documents, they responded with a fraudulent document that a labour hire firm fabricated. The Australian Taxation Office has said that it is a fraudulent document. And then the Fair Work Ombudsman's senior managers used that fraudulent document in the Fair Work Ombudsman's office knowing it was fraudulent. We will not fall for Minister Burke's cover-up of his mates in the CFMMEU. We will continue to fight for back pay for thousands of coalminers. We will not allow this cover-up. We will not look the other way, as Senator Lambie and Senator Pocock have. We will double down and hold Minister Burke accountable.

        How was it done? Let me give you a hint. The Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union, formerly the CFMEU, own 50 per cent of coalmines' insurance and workers compensation for coalminers—Coal Long-Service Leave and AUSCOAL Super. They have co-directors, who approve various contracts. For example, the Coal LSL administration was contracted out to AUSCOAL. A director was on both of those boards when the contract was signed. This is really sloppy stuff. I'm surprised with Senator Lambie, as I said. After I arranged a meeting with her and a particular miner in the Hunter Valley, she spoke with the miner and confirmed it with me. Senator Pocock was offered the same opportunity. As miners caught in the permanent-casual rort know, the solution is simple: enforce the Fair Work Act and get the more than $1 billion in back pay that miners are entitled to. Simon Turner and other miners in the Hunter initially thought that, yes, the same work, same pay bill that I introduced to this parliament was needed. Now they know, having dug deeper and seen the corruption that's gone on, all that's needed is to enforce the Fair Work Act. This bill pretends to be closing loopholes. In reality, though, every time you add a page of legislation, you just create an extra loophole for lawyers to find. The answer is less legislation, not more. The current legislation is too complex and hides protections from miners and small business and makes it easy for the industrial relations club or large union bosses, large employers and industrial groups to clobber workers.

        Minister Burke, stop burying the evidence. Face up to the fact that your mates in the CFMMEU are directly responsible for wage theft of more than a billion dollars, as you've been informed. The solution is not covering up the rort or fabricating an imaginary loophole. The solution is simply to enforce the Fair Work Act. That is your job as minister. We will not fall for this bill's deceit. We will continue to fight for workers to be paid their full entitlements and make up for wage theft and for workers to obtain their full lawful entitlements.

        When I started working with miners in the Hunter 4½ years ago I put forward—and they agreed with this—three aims. The first was to get Simon Turner his lawful and moral entitlements in full. We are still chasing that. We have gone part of the way. The second was to stop this permanent casual rort across the coalmining sector. We've heard from one large employer group. They're coming to the party. The third was to bring justice to the Hunter CFMMEU, which is now the Mining and Energy Union, and the Chandler Macleod group, the perpetrators at the Mount Arthur mine. We will continue to fight for industrial relations reform. We will continue until all my three aims are achieved for the miners in the Hunter and Central Queensland.

        One Nation will always fight for workers being able to understand their rights and fighting for those rights. The first step towards doing that is making them simple enough to understand. This bill does nothing to help that, and we will be opposing it. The big gorillas in the room—to use Senator Sheldon's term—are the Mining and Energy Union in the Hunter; the CFMMEU; the Chandler Macleod group; Recruit Holdings, the largest labour hire firm in the world; the Fair Work Commission; and the Fair Work Ombudsman. Hiding mates and crooks from scrutiny will not get the Labor Party out of this. This bill will be the Labor Party government's death knell.

        11:41 am

        Photo of Susan McDonaldSusan McDonald (Queensland, National Party, Shadow Minister for Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

        I don't know that we have ever faced a more distressing, country-dividing, business-destroying piece of legislation than what we are 'not' debating today—the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023. There are 15 pages of amendments that we have had no opportunity to examine. There have been days of committee hearings and the report will not be tabled. This is absolutely shocking from Labor. I'm going to go through exactly why. Before I do though I want to acknowledge the Jacqui Lambie Network and Senator David Pocock for their attempt to mitigate the worst of this legislation by splitting out the non-controversial protections of workers that should rightly be in place. We've talked about the PTSD compensation, domestic violence, silica and some of the other elements.

        Some 42 per cent of jobs in this country are generated by small business, not by the big businesses that the unions are attacking and that Labor is fixated on and obsessed by. A third of the country are employed by people who take a mortgage, who work themselves to the bone and who in bad times pay their staff before they pay themselves. I would like to see people in this place or the other place put their hand up if they've done that. I've done that. I've put my name on the directors form. I've taken personal responsibility for my workers, for their mortgage payments and for their ability to put food on the table.

        This is a time when business has never done it more tough. Thanks to this government there's skyrocketing electricity prices, skyrocketing insurance prices and skyrocketing costs of doing business. If it's not transport, it's fuel. Everything is driving small business into the ground. What has this government done? It has brought in legislation that makes it harder for them to operate.

        Businesses wonder what this is about. This is about going to jail if you are late with wages. Let me explain to you what that's like. Let me explain to you what it's like in a pandemic. Let me explain to you what it's like when you have a lull in trade, which is what small business is seeing right now. Retail businesses have been smashed. Discretionary-spend businesses have been smashed. What is this government's answer? They're going to send you to jail if you cannot get wages paid on time. If you are busting your guts, paying other people ahead of yourself and your own mortgage, and jeopardising your family's future, what will this government do? They will send you to jail. They won't send rapists, people who are paedophiles or thieves to jail, but they will send you to jail.

        It means right of entry. It means unions turning this into a business plan to grow their membership numbers, because Australians are choosing not to be a member of a union. Australians are choosing to have a relationship with their employer. They're choosing to work in a business where they are part of it, where they offer their services and are paid fairly for it. We have a very rigorous fair work regime, with awards and protections for long service leave, annual leave and sick pay. Senator Roberts is right: we have a fair work award that works. This is a business plan for the unions—be clear. Labor don't care about you. They don't care about your wages. They care about the unions putting their hands in your pockets. More union fees and more super donations—that's what they care about, because they are barking for their union masters. The government are desperate and weak, and this desperation is shown, on this last sitting day of the year, by how they're jamming through legislation that nobody has had the opportunity to see the amendments for and the committee hasn't reported on. We know that Labor is not for business, which means it's not for you. If you have a job in a business, Labor is coming after your job with this legislation.

        What do we expect? We can't expect much from a cabinet that has 23 members who have had, on average, 35 years work experience each, 750 years of work experience, but only four of those years in business. What would they know about how hard it is to generate a job? I hear them talking about the reduced discrepancy in female pay. It is not them doing it; it is business. It is the mining companies that are employing more women and paying more. It is small business doing that. It is not government that creates jobs. It is people who take risks and who put their homes and their lives on the line.

        I have done this. I know the stress of running a business, of trying to support workers and of trying to support my suppliers and my customers. I know what it's like to juggle these things and to look into the faces of my employees and say, 'I will get you through this and I will take the pain and I won't tell you about it.' It is not just me; there are thousands of small-business owners right across Australia who are doing that. But Labor doesn't care about that. They don't care about what it's like to run a business, particularly right now when it has never been harder. Workers are important, and businesses know that. If businesses are forced to close their doors or if business owners say they cannot go on because of this legislation and they have had enough of the layers of government regulation and stresses, where will those workers go to get a job? Labor, I assume, thinks that because there is a workforce shortage low unemployment will go on forever. But it won't. It is hard fought for. It is hard fought for to create jobs. Labor claim to be the party for the working people, but they're not. They are the party for the unions, and they don't give a damn about you. They won't give businesses the flexibility to ensure they can continue to operate. Right now, it has never been harder to employ someone.

        Labor make no secret of their disdain for the mining sector. We have the energy minister running around the world, saying that we'll stop investing in fossil fuels. Maybe he forgot to mention that to all the well-paid workers in the mining industry. What jobs are they going to go to where they will receive a 50 per cent higher salary than they do in the mining industry? It certainly won't be polishing solar panels. What is the alternative? I feel bad for the member for Hunter, Senator Chisholm and Senator Ayres because they understand the value of the mining sector for mining communities. I wonder what they are telling those workers. It is obvious that the Left, the unions, are running the show. They don't understand that mining is a cyclical business. It's a commodity business, like agriculture, with boom and bust cycles. Companies have to invest billions of dollars to get up and going. They're at the whim of global markets, and the cyclical nature means they use labour hire companies for surge capacity.

        Apparently running a business or understanding how we compete on the world stage is of no interest to Labor. What Labor has just done is ensure that Australian workers on well-paid jobs—50 per cent higher than the average Australian salary—will be the first to go because it is so hard to get investment in this country. It is down, and it is going down like a sinking stone because of Labor policy over the last 18 months. This industrial relations policy and legislation is one more nail in that coffin.

        We will look back on the golden years of high employment and the quality of life that we have; these years will be the golden years, because Labor is ensuring they will not last. Our children will not enjoy the same quality of life we have enjoyed. When your employer says: 'I can't go on. I'm closing my doors. I've got to reduce your hours or put you off', thank Labor. Make sure you thank Labor because they are responsible for your job going. Labor don't care about businesses, don't care about all the people who work in those businesses and certainly don't care about you.

        11:51 am

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

        To say that I am disappointed or incensed by what this government is doing here would be a gross understatement. I'm the Deputy Chair of the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee. I'm on that committee with Senator Brockman, who's in the chamber with me. We've been going through a very exhaustive process looking at arguably the most complicated legislation that has hit the parliament this term, the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023. To be ramming it through in this way today, with but a minute's notice, demonstrates very clearly the disdain that this government has for this place, the Senate—and that means for you, the Australian people, because you've put us here to do a job particularly in the Senate, which is the house of review. We are not being given the opportunity to even report before considering, as I said, some of the most dramatic changes by legislation. It is an absolute disgrace!

        We have received 176 submissions to this inquiry. What are you, the government, saying to all those submitters? You're saying that you don't give a stuff, that you don't care, that you won't take their views into consideration. It doesn't matter because the only view that matters is the view of the trade unions; that's what you're implementing here. It is an absolute outrage! If you think I'm upset about it, guess what: you ain't seen anything yet. Wait until we finally put our report in. It's disgusting what you've done.

        I want to quote one of the submitters—and I want to give some time to Senator Brockman; he'll only have a couple of minutes because we will cut off at midday. This person withheld their name. They're a small-business operator, and they're probably worried about the impact that coming out publicly might have. They said about this bill:

        It is proposing a policy to reverse union court defeats & effectively saying to the economy that "unless you employ someone part time or full time, all methods of engagement are invalid or unwanted" …

        …   …   …

        I fear for the outcome of Australia if this bill is passed.

        By rushing this bill through today, you, the government, are saying to submitter No. 170 and all the others that put in a submission that you do not consider their concerns seriously.

        One of the measures that have been brought in here through the splitting of the bill is penalties that go even to imprisonment for wage theft and other things that break this law. So the parliament today are going to decide to put people into jail, but we're not actually going to scrutinise whether there are proper processes in place to make sure it's a legitimate and valid consideration. That's what we're doing here today. It is unbelievable.

        The government talks a big game on transparency. Right before the election—we all remember it—time and time again that was their slogan. It was the basis on which they said, 'Australians, will you elect us to lead this country.' Yet here they are demonstrating, yet again, the opposite. Should we be surprised? Of course not, because it is the pattern of this government. They are reverting to form.

        I'll finish with this very good point that the MCA, the Minerals Council of Australia, made in their media release today:

        The Albanese government has never been honest on its true agenda on 'same job, same pay'.

        They talk about transparency and honesty, yet they've never been honest, the MCA say.

        Its election policy was to deal with what it said were the "limited circumstances" in which 'labour hire' is misused.

        But in this legislation here we don't even have a definition of what labour hire is. We don't have a definition of it. We know what is really intended by this legislation. The MCA said it beautifully when they said this legislation:

        … does nothing of the sort. It has nothing to do with labour hire and is not about 'closing loopholes'.

        Instead, it allows unions to impose 'same job, same pay' not just on labour hire but on every business that employs its own staff and contracts to another business.

        That's what this is about. This is about giving to the unions unfettered power in the workplace. It is going to destroy business. What we're doing here today is an absolute travesty.

        11:57 am

        Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

        Two minutes and 31 seconds is all I've got to contribute to this debate—two minutes and 20 seconds now. There will be no committee stage. Sorry, Senator Colbeck. I know that means you're not going to get a chance. I know that you have a very important contribution to make on this bill, as have many others, but we are going to run out of time because, yet again, this government is gagging debate. They've never met a bill they didn't want to guillotine.

        This bill will have a real impact on businesses and employees right across Australia. It will have a negative and disruptive impact. Let's just set the record straight. Those on the other side say—we heard it today from Senator Sheldon—that this somehow has to do with the casualisation of the workforce or the boom in contract workers and the boom in labour hire. The general structure of the Australian employment economy over the last generation has not changed. The percentages for casual, labour hire, full-time and part-time have not changed materially in a generation. Some people choose casual work. It suits their life. It suits their lifestyle and their priorities. Gee, wouldn't it be shocking if this parliament actually paid attention to the priorities of Australian workers and not to the priority of unions! Wouldn't it be shocking if this parliament paid attention to the choices that the employees of Australia demonstrate, in an economy with almost full employment, rather than listening to the priorities of the Australian union movement! But, surprise, surprise!—we have a Labor government in power—we are about to hit the guillotine; the guillotine is about to fall on every small business across Australia. Those opposite should be ashamed.

        Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (President) Share this | | Hansard source

        Thank you, Senator Brockman. The time allotted for consideration of the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023 has expired.