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Wednesday, 2 March 2016
Page: 1668


Senator LINES (Western Australia) (17:55): I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I want to start by talking about the real issue that staff are having in the Department of Immigration and Border Protection with their enterprise bargaining agreement. These are staff who are in the front line of Australia's so-called security systems. They have been amalgamated. Their whole job role has changed and they have now been attempting to bargain with the government for something like two years.

I met some of those delegates today in this place and they are very good people, as I am sure most people in this chamber would accept. They are honourable people. They take their job very seriously, yet the government and the management of that department is treating them with contempt by attempting to take away their conditions and rights and to put them into policy. These people are members of the CPSU, who over Christmas took industrial action. This is a department that takes its role very seriously. As I said, they are at the front line of Australia's secure borders policy, yet they had to take the absolutely unbelievable step of withdrawing their labour. This is not what we want. We want these people treated with respect.

If their management and, indeed, the government wanted a very clear signal that these employees do not like what is on the table, something like 91 per cent voted against the first agreement. That is a staggering number of people sending their employer and the Turnbull government a very clear message that they are not happy. I understand their agreement is out for the second time. I do not think there have been changes. What they want is to make sure that their rights are enshrined in an agreement that they can enforce if necessary. That is not to suggest that all managers are bad managers. That is simply not true, and I am sure that some of the managers in that department are very good managers. These are workers, and it is not an even playing field no matter how we like to dress that up, and sometimes managers overstep the mark.

If it cannot be worked out through the consultative process, then these workers need a redress, and that redress is through the independent umpire, which is something we hear the Turnbull government and particularly Minister Cash talk a lot about. Yet, here we have an example of Minister Cash and the department wanting to take those rights away and put them in policy where they can be changed at the whim of a new direction from government or from the executives of that department. Of course 91 per cent of the workforce said very clearly the first time, 'We are not going to cop that.' That agreement is out again, and those same conditions are there trying to strip working rights and enforceable rights away from people. The delegates that I met with here today are not radical people; they are ordinary people. They said to me very clearly that, not only are they going to vote it down, but they want it to be higher than 91 per cent. I think it is long overdue for the government to sit down with the CPSU and put those conditions back into enterprise agreements.

You only need to look at the history. People resort to using the independent umpire, the Fair Work Ombudsman, only when they are pushed—when management is being absolutely unreasonable. You start by having a conference; you sit down and you discuss the issues. Why would any fair government seek to take that away? It is not as if Border Protection and Immigration have a long history of militancy, taking things off and arguing. They do not even have a history of industrial action. Since the Abbott-Turnbull government was elected, this is all new to them.

So now we have a department which has completely turned against the government, has taken unprecedented industrial action and will do so again, and is now voting on its second agreement. They are simply staying to the government, 'Leave our safety nets in place. If we cannot and we are pushed, we want to have an opportunity to redress the balance to make sure that that playing field remains absolutely independent.' I do not think any fair-minded person would think that was unreasonable.

I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.