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Tuesday, 17 March 2009
Page: 1813

Senator BOB BROWN (Leader of the Australian Greens) (10:54 PM) —by leave—I move Greens amendments (1), (3) and (4) on sheet 5730:

(1)    Clause 12, page 13 (line 2), omit the definition of conscientious objection certificate.

(3)    Clause 601, page 472 (lines 15 and 16), omit paragraph (5)(b).

(4)    Clause 625, page 485 (lines 13 and 14), omit paragraph (2)(e).

These amendments draw to a close a longstanding opportunity for religious organisations to have a different workplace arrangement from other sectors of the community. It is not really for religious organisations in general because the clause that this would take from what was Work Choices legislation was one specifically placed there after lobbying by the Exclusive Brethren organisation or sect in Australia.

In the event, if I can shorthand it in the short time we have left this evening, the particular clause that this and the consequent amendment would remove enable the Exclusive Brethren to prohibit union representatives from workplaces which they control. Under Work Choices legislation there are 31 such workplaces in Australia from which unions are prohibited, and that is regardless of what the people in those workplaces may think. They may want to request a union representative to assist them in ensuring workplace justice in an Exclusive Brethren site, but they are prohibited by law under the existing arrangements from being able to get union representatives to look at the workplace and ensure that workers are being treated properly.

This includes the potential for sect beliefs, which ride right over the top of the norms in Australia and in Australian workplaces, to be brought to bear. For example—and there will be disputation about this perhaps—it is a tenet of the Exclusive Brethren that women in workplaces should not have say over men and they are not treated equally with men in workplaces. As for many of the other tenets of this sect, you will know from debate in this place, Madam Temporary Chair, that youngsters in the Exclusive Brethren group or sect are prohibited from university education. Therefore Exclusive Brethren people do not come with university degrees, and people who are working in workplaces with university degrees will be from outside the sect. This applies, for example, to many if not most of the teachers in Exclusive Brethren schools, but they are always under the control of the sect itself and of people with lesser qualifications even though that goes against the norm in any other workplace across Australia.

The very compelling reason for supporting this amendment is that there are no workplaces in Australia where any worker should be deprived of her or his rights. There should be no workplace in Australia which is excluded from the reach of discrimination laws in this country and there should be no workplace in Australia excluded—by request of workers indeed—from union representatives coming in to check and see that workers are being treated in the way they would be in an equivalent workplace elsewhere in the country.

There may be arguments that such circumstances should exist in Australia in 2009 and, if so, those arguments will reach right back to the earlier part of the 19th century when this sect originated—although one has to say that such measures as the exclusion of Exclusive Brethren personnel from getting a tertiary education, a university education, are of much more recent origin. It is very unfair to hundreds of workers in Australia that they are in this situation of being prohibited from having the experts from unions coming to their workplaces—even if they requested it—to see that they are being treated fairly. So it is an important amendment. It brings Australia out of some century ago mindset into the 21st century and I hope that there will be support across the board for this amendment.

Progress reported.