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Wednesday, 15 February 2017
Page: 945


Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (11:54): I rise today to speak against the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Amendment Bill 2017. As we have heard a number of times already this morning, this bill is being rushed through the parliament in record time, despite the fact that last year we spent many late nights in this place debating elements of this legislation at length. We even went to an extraordinary double dissolution election on this precise issue. So, despite the fact that the parliament debated this legislation for hours upon hours, thrashed it out and amended it, with the Senate having reached a point a compromise, we now hear that, because big business mates have got in the ears of Senator Hinch and Senator Xenophon, an extraordinarily fast-tracked amendment bill was rushed through the House yesterday. The debate was gagged in the House yesterday and the bill was sent straight to the Senate to be ticked off and rubber-stamped.

The truth of the matter is that this bill is all about doing the bidding of big business. That is what is going on here. Despite hours and days and weeks and months of negotiation to try to put some protections for workers into the ABCC legislation, we knew the government did not want to do that; we knew business did not want to do that. Despite getting promises from a number of people on the crossbench that those protections would be there, four months later the government have gone weak at the knees. They have rolled over. Someone—heaven knows who—has tickled the tummies of both Senator Xenophon and Senator Hinch. So, rather than sticking by what they said—that they would give Australian workers, business and workplaces the opportunity to understand what these new rules would mean and to renegotiate in a timely and reasonable manner—we now see that grace period being scrapped. Big business never wanted that grace period there in the beginning. Tony Abbott, who we know is still pulling the strings in the party room—

Senator Williams: Mr Abbott.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: The former Prime Minister, Mr Tony Abbott, is still pulling the strings in the Liberal party room. He never wanted a two-year waiting period, he never wanted the opportunity for workers to know what their rights would be and he never wanted unions and workplaces to organise so that they could at least get themselves in order. So, what do we see after the summer break? Backflip after backflip from the Xenophon political party and Senator Hinch.

One of the things that I think is most extraordinary about what we are debating here today is that in my home state of South Australia Senator Xenophon spent weeks and months running around South Australia telling workers he had their backs. He went up to Whyalla and told the steelworkers: 'Don't worry, mate. Don't worry, I will work it out; I will look after you. I will make sure you don't get screwed by the government's ideological attack on construction workers and steelworkers across the country. I will make sure that I have your back.' That is what Senator Xenophon carried on with around South Australia for months. He went to Whyalla and he spoke to construction workers in Adelaide. He spoke to the workers who are currently building the new hospital in Adelaide; sadly and tragically, there have been a number of deaths on that construction site. He went to those workers and said: 'It's okay, trust me. I will look after you.' Four months later, nothing has been delivered. Senator Xenophon says one thing in South Australia and does another thing here in Canberra.

The pressure of big business on both the Xenophon political party and Senator Hinch must have been immense over the summer break. Why would you want to bring this debate back to this chamber—after the hours, weeks and months worth of debate, to then, after the summer break, say, 'Let's bring it all back on again. Maybe we were wrong and we should not have stood up for workers in the way we had. Okay, we will bend over backwards for you.' The pressure from big business on the Xenophon political party and Senator Hinch must be enormous. I would like to know exactly what Nick Xenophon is getting out of this grubby deal. What is he getting? The only thing he is delivering is uncertainty, chaos and a massive risk to workers back home in South Australia.

Do you know, the thing that worries me the most about the ABCC legislation and the ideological attack on workers' rights from the Turnbull government is that it has a real effect on people's lives. In 2007, at the height of the ABCC laws and the commission working in overdrive—the first time around—at the height of the ABCC intimidating construction workers in their workplaces into not standing up and speaking for themselves, fatalities on construction sites were higher than they had been previously. In 2007, there were 53 deaths on construction sites—an immense spike in fatalities and deaths from 2005, when the ABCC started operating. In fact, there was a 37 per cent rise in fatalities.

The government wants to run its line that this bill is meant to be all about cracking down on criminal behaviour. I am sorry, but what is more criminal than having young Australian workers going to work one day and never coming home again? I will tell you what is criminal: the intimidation of young workers on sites into not being able to stand up for their own protection and not being able to say, 'Well, actually, I am not climbing up that thing because the safety harness is not up to scratch.' What is criminal is intimidating young workers out of being able to ensure that they are protected so that they can go to work without the fear of dying on the job, being hurt or being injured. The statistics do not lie. We know that safety records and safety standards have dropped as a result of the intimidation by the building and construction commission and through the intimidation of workers into not being able to protect themselves, day in, day out, in the workplace. Of course, this bill does nothing to deal with the issues of criminality, anyway. That is left to the police forces and the courts, as it should be. This bill is all about delivering for big business mates of the Turnbull government and whatever grubby deal that has been done that has made Senator Xenophon and Senator Hinch backflip so badly.

I heard Senator Xenophon at the Senate doors this morning, sounding very upset that South Australian workers were calling him out for his despicable backflip. There is no-one in this place who has as fragile a glass jaw as Senator Xenophon. He is thin skinned and spineless, because he promised South Australian workers that he would stand up for them. He promised to get protections. Four months later, he is backpedalling and backflipping, and there is not an explanation as to why. Why do we want to create chaos across the building and construction industry that is going to limit the protections of workers, limit the protections particularly of younger workers and apprentices and put their lives at risk? That is what is going on here.

There is a rally today on the streets of the state Parliament House in Adelaide. People are very upset about the fact that they have, effectively, been lied to or strung along by the Xenophon political party. They want to be able to express their democratic right that they are not happy with the behaviour and the backflipping of their state senator. They are rallying on the streets. The very same organisation that Senator Xenophon promised he would protect them from, the ABCC, has threatened those workers for daring to carry out their democratic right to have their voices heard today. Workers have been told they are going to have their pay docked by at least four hours for participating in the rally on the steps of Parliament House today—for daring to stand up and ask why it is that their elected member of parliament, who told them he would look after them, has now sold them down the river. They are being intimidated by the very same organisation, the ABCC, that Senator Xenophon said he would protect them from.

I know Senator Xenophon has not spoken yet. It would be good to hear from Senator Xenophon, when he does come in, as to why on earth we have to rush this legislation through and undo a compromise position that the Senate had got to. The Senate is the house of review. We are empowered to amend legislation and to try and fix it and make it better.

I did not agree—and the Greens did not agree—with a number of the amendments Senator Xenophon was meant to have achieved last year. Nonetheless, that is the way this place works. But now he is backflipping. He went to South Australia and said one thing there and then came to Canberra and did another. He cannot be trusted to stand up when the pressure is on. He is doing the bidding of big business, and he is delivering to the Turnbull government their ideological attack, once again, on Australian workers. It is pathetic, and we still have not heard a good explanation as to why. I look forward to hearing it directly from the horse's mouth.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Hanson-Young, and I would just remind you to address senators and MPs by their correct title.