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Wednesday, 15 February 2017
Page: 926


Senator HINCH (Victoria) (10:27): When I returned to my Melbourne office last Friday morning, there was a CFMEU tent pitched outside with a banner saying, 'Hinch sells out workers—shame!' They also started bombarding Twitter and my personal Facebook page with posters and billboards. They even photoshopped a photo of me taken here in the Senate to make it look like I was giving a Hitler salute. The caption said, 'Derryn Hinch votes yes for more visa workers.' On Twitter and Facebook, union heavies like Dave Noonan and John Setka claimed I was in favour of increasing the number of 457 visas. As I said on social media, they will stop at nothing. This is such a despicable, lying, orchestrated CFMEU campaign.

Senator Watt, in relation to the building code amendments last year, I voted with the Labor Party to make it compulsory for companies to advertise nationally for Australian workers—plus imposing other conditions—before applying for 457 visas. This is unlike Labor, who, under Mr Shorten when he was industrial relations minister, brought 457 imports in to work at KFC. The Labor amendment, which I supported and which was carried says:

(2A) Without limiting subsection (1), the Building Code must include provisions ensuring that no person is employed to undertake building work unless:

(a) the position is first advertised in Australia; and

(b) the advertising was targeted in such a way that a significant proportion of suitably qualified and experienced Australian citizens and Australian permanent residents (within the meaning of the Migration Act 1958 ) would be likely to be informed about the position; and—

and this is important—

(c) any skills or experience requirements set out in the advertising were appropriate to the position; and

(d) the employer demonstrates that no Australian citizen or Australian permanent resident is suitable for the job.

Now, at Monday's public hearing into the ABCC legislation, I asked the union's national secretary, Mr Noonan, if they had run a similar orchestrated hate campaign about 457s against Bill Shorten when he was industrial relations minister and, as I said, issued more 457s than any of his successors. I do support 457 visas, but only where specific skills are needed and only when an Australian worker is not available to fill that job. It is a disgrace and it is a scandal when foreign workers are being brought in for one supposed reason and they end up working in fast food shops, or restaurants or, yes, on building sites. And to run a campaign saying that I am some sort of champion of 457s at Aussie battlers' expense is disgraceful.

But do not let the facts get in the way of a good story. That also explains the various reactions to my decision over the break that brought this legislation back into this place today. I explained the reasons why I changed my mind about reducing the two-year delay in implementing the new ABCC legislation to nine months. I explained it in The Australian, in the Financial Review, in The Guardian, on Crikey and on PM Live. And remember, the government's original position, which I did not vote for, was for the new compliance rules to kick in from April 2014, when the changes to the building code were first mooted. I do not like retrospective legislation and that is why I held out against that position and again held out when the government negotiated out to nine months with some other crossbenchers.

In the last week of sittings last year, I had a meeting with the Prime Minister. He took out a piece of paper and wrote the date, 'November 29 2018' on that piece of paper and pushed it across the table. And with the word 'compromise' in my head, which people do not do often here, I signed it—a two-year delay. According to the commentariat, I was in the pocket of the CFMEU: I had been bribed, they had paid for my election campaign, et cetera or I was just an inexperienced dill who had been conned by the union.

Now, I will be honest, I thought subcontractors would be happy. Some building code amendments negotiated by me and Senator Xenophon—who, I may add, is also being subjected to union thuggery and robocalls as we speak—were to protect whistleblowers and the 'subbies', who are at the end of the payment chain when builders go broke and they get stranded. Instead, during the break, I talked to a lot of people and they were not happy. Senator Cameron mocks me for talking to a tradesman in the post office. Well, I will talk to people anywhere, any time and I listen. I listen, Senator Cameron. I am not just cemented into the union dogma that you have been for decades. And from those conversations, I realised the bill that I had cast a deciding vote on—a bill I genuinely believed would help workers—was actually hurting workers. Subcontractors and several small and mid-level builders told me, in person, on the phone and by email, that they probably would go broke if they were forced to wait for two years for the new code to kick in. Some even hated the nine-month clause.

So I changed my mind. I listened, I got some new facts and I approached the PM. There was no dead-of-night deal, as Mr Noonan claimed for the media. There was no deal at all. I did not horse trade and I did not hold out for any favour in return. I asked for none and got none. I believed then, and I still believe, that if you are involved in legislation and if you are involved in hurting people you are trying to help then man up, own up and do something about it. That is what I did.

Senator Cameron, a former union leader, scoffs at me for talking to somebody in the post office. Well, let me finish with something a man told me in the office lift, Senator Cameron. He had just seen the CFMEU tent and the 'Shame, Hinch, shame' poster. He shook my hand and said: 'You must be doing something right if you've made an enemy out of that mob.'