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Wednesday, 13 August 2003
Page: 18369

Mr RANDALL (12:25 PM) —As a result of hearing that 30-minute dissertation from the shadow spokesman, the member for Rankin, I would like to say that it is no wonder that I was only too delighted to be one of the first speakers on the Workplace Relations Amendment (Compliance with Court and Tribunal Orders) Bill 2003. It is a crystal clear argument before this House today: do we want to support the rights of the Industrial Relations Commission and the courts to enforce their rulings or do we want to continue the current practice of refusal and snubbing of the commission and court orders by militant unions and employees in this country? That is what is really before us. Are we going to support the courts and the commission of this country or are we going to do what the opposition have just said they are going to do: try and vote down this legislation because they are required to do so as the captives of the people who put them here?

Let us put that in context. The fact is that we know that 78 per cent of the Labor people in this House and in the Senate collectively are former members of union organisations or former officers of a union. We even have several ACTU bosses in this House. Putting that in context, about 78 per cent have a past working history with the unions, and yet only 20 per cent of people in this country belong to a union. That shows how unrepresentative the opposition is in this House and in the Senate of the real needs and aspirations of Australians. It is totally out of whack in terms of what the Australian people want to see being represented.

In terms of the shadow minister, the member for Rankin, his speech really did demonstrate that he did not have his heart in it. He spent 30 minutes directing an ideological diatribe and personal abuse towards the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Tony Abbott. It was a personal attack on the minister because the member for Rankin has decided, as the member for Werriwa has decided, that he is going to try and muscle up to try and make some sort of difference. It just will not cut ice with the Australian public. They do not like that sort of muscling up and hairy-chested behaviour; they want decent negotiation and decent debate in this House. As a result, the shadow spokesman was right off the mark on the issues. To indicate also the context of this legislation, as a member of this House from Western Australia, I will shortly refer to a lot of Western Australian examples. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

The fact is that, due to the government's change in industrial laws in Western Australia, 37,000 people have shifted to federal Australian workplace agreements. How many have shifted to enterprise bargaining arrangements under the state regime? The answer is 12. So we have 37,000 versus 12. People have voted with their feet because they can see what Labor has done to their workplace and to their workplace relations. They have voted with their feet and they have come to the federal jurisdiction because they see safety, certainty and integrity in this government's legislation in the area of workplace relations.

The Workplace Relations Amendment (Compliance with Court and Tribunal Orders) Bill 2003 is the continuation of a commitment by this government before the last election that they would continue to enforce the rule of law as it particularly relates to industrial relations. This bill will provide for sanctions against officials of registered organisations who do not comply with orders of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission and the Federal Court. It is very simple: it needs to be toughened up, because at the moment there are many who, as I say, wilfully snub the orders of the commission and the courts, to the extent that you have some union officials bragging about having 127 orders in their top drawer which they have just left there and ignored. I repeat that, because it is worth noting: 127 orders have been given to this union official, and he says he put them in the top drawer and ignored them. Is it any wonder there needs to be legislation like this to deal with that sort of insolence and arrogance towards the Australian industrial relations framework?

One of the reasons we need a decent industrial relations framework in this country is that it produces greater productivity and certainty for workers. One of the greatest myths in this country is that the Labor Party is for the workers. The Labor Party is not for the workers. The Labor Party has become the party for the union elites and the hereditary peers of the Labor Party in this place. It has nothing to do with the workers of this country. In fact, under previous Labor regimes, workers' conditions and wages went backwards. Under this government, wages and conditions for workers have actually been enhanced. That is the difference between those on this side and those on that side over there.

But what have we got? We have an industrial relations spokesman from that side who has again repeated in this House that he will oppose any legislation the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations brings to this House. This is typical of the Crean-led opposition. They will oppose, on ideological grounds, anything that this side does that is decent or good. What sort of opposition is that? It is just an obstructive opposition. They are not only doing it in workplace relations. We have seen now that they are piling up bills in health care—the pharmaceutical benefits bills et cetera—where we are trying to put this country on a decent financial footing, and there is opposition from the Labor Party and their minor faction called the Greens all the way along.

As a result, we are getting to the point where, yes, there are quite a number of double dissolution triggers being piled up due to the intransigence of the Australian Labor Party in this House. As one of the most marginal seat holders in this House, can I say that I would be happy to go to a double dissolution election with John Howard on these issues at any time that he calls it, because I know the feeling of my electorate towards the Australian Labor Party's attitude towards the government in this country at the moment. They see them as totally opportunistic and obstructionist. As a result, they will pay for it at the next election.

I must outline very carefully what this bill will do, before citing some examples. The bill that we are speaking to today inserts provisions into the registration and accountability of organisations schedule of the Workplace Relations Act 1996 to, firstly, specify general duties of officers and employees of registered employer and employee organisations in relation to orders and directions of the Federal Court or the commission; secondly, enable the minister to obtain civil penalties for breaches; and, thirdly, provide for the disqualification from holding office in registered organisations of persons on whom certain prescribed pecuniary penalty orders have been imposed. It actually puts some teeth into the enforcement of this legislation so that we do not have that union official just throwing his 127 compliance orders into his top drawer and ignoring them.

What is the net result when that sort of thing happens, besides the loss of productivity? When somebody decides to wilfully deny the rule of law in this country, it actually costs workers their jobs and their time. I will cite a few examples in a moment. The integrity of the workplace must be enhanced by this legislation and the rulings that are brought down by independent institutions such as the Australian Industrial Relations Court and the Federal Court. I can assure you, given some of the rulings by the Federal Court in this country, it is certainly not a court favourable to many of the decisions of this government. But, because they are an independent body and a generally unbiased body, we can expect them to interpret the law as it should be. That is all we are asking in this case—that the law be actually enforced.

What are some of the reasons we need to enact this legislation? The fact is that, if those who receive rulings in their favour to instruct union officials or the organisation to desist from certain actions—the employers, for example—decide to take them on in the courts, it is a very expensive exercise. We know that registered organisations such as unions in this country are very well cashed up as a result of fees from their workers. They are very well cashed up and so they can obtain the best legal advice. That is against an individual company or organisation that is trying to take them on in the courts. Secondly, as has been identified ad infinitum in the Cole royal commission, anybody who decides to take some sort of action against a militant union will find the retribution so great that quite often they are put out of business. The retribution that an individual employer can face can put them out of business and see all those workers—so much for the care of the workers!—out of work. Thirdly, if the individual employer takes on the role of the enforcement of this legislation or the court rulings, the financial recompense comes back to the federal government in any case. So why wouldn't the minister, on behalf of these organisations, then make sure that, for all those reasons, they were given the opportunity to be properly represented and take on this role and provide civil penalties and greater sanctions for those who are disobeying these laws?

I wish to point out some things in the Cole royal commission. I refer to volume 12 of the Cole royal commission as it relates to Western Australia. Commissioner Cole said on page 297:

In Western Australia there is a culture of fear, intimidation, coercion and industrial unrest which permeates those sites where the CFMEU has or seeks to have a presence. In the Perth CBD and its environs the CFMEU dictates to all head contractors with whom it has an EBA the operation of those sites. This control manifests itself in a variety of ways including through cranage, access to and from sites via traffic control, labour, and the extraction of payments for casual tickets and specialised training as the price for the CFMEU suffering non-union labour working on such sites. The CFMEU effectively controls all union EBA sites in Perth in the building industry. The control of the CFMEU in the building sector of the industry is entrenched. Most major contractors have been subject to the imposition of inappropriate payments for casual tickets and specialised training as part of the price of doing business.

It goes on ad infinitum. I will say in defence of the unions—speaking as somebody who has been a teachers union representative—that there is a very good place in this country for collective bargaining for decent unions. In a moment I will give you an example of how the Australian Workers Union has suffered from the harassment and militancy of the CFMEU in Western Australia and has complained bitterly and loudly about it. Where unions represent their workers rather than their own interests, it is a very good thing. We are talking about just a small portion of unions in this country who describe themselves as militant. Joe McDonald, who is the secretary of the CFMEU in Western Australia is quite proud to say, `We do all this because we are a militant union and that is what militant unions do.' The Cole royal commission goes into vast detail about some of the things that the CFMEU have done in Western Australia.

The shadow spokesman spoke about contravention. I want to outline a few items of contravention from the Cole royal commission. For example, in volume 21, on page 165, the Cole royal commission report refers to Baulderstone Hornibrook contracting for the Woodside Tower in the central district of Perth. It goes into great detail, but on page 188 the findings are that this case study illustrates:

(a) disregard of and breach of the provisions of the Workplace Relations Act 1996 (C'wth) concerning payments to workers in relation to periods of industrial action;

... ... ...

(e) application of, and surrender to, industrial pressure;

... ... ...

(g) threatening and intimidatory conduct;

... ... ...

(j) disregard of the rule of law;

And on page 189:

(u) the ignoring by a union of a direction of an industrial tribunal;

This is clearly outlined in a public royal commission. There is a further case, on page 201 of the report, about what happened when Universal Constructions won the award to build the City Budget Hotel in Perth. As soon as they won the contract, what happened? Along came Kevin Reynolds, the secretary of the CFMEU in Western Australia, and he said:

Now that you're working in the city block, you will work to our rules, and we will show you what it's all about, we will show you how the union operates.

One of the conclusions, on page 216, says that this case study illustrates:

(c) disregard by a union and its officers and organisers of the right of entry provisions of the Workplace Relations Act 1996 (C'wth), while simultaneously purporting to utilise those provisions in order to obtain site access for ... safety ...

The royal commission report goes into great detail about how the CFMEU uses bogus safety issues to flout the rulings of the industrial court. This is the sort of thing we are talking about. The previous speaker, the member for Rankin, said, `What is contravention?' He was talking about a few minor aspects. We are talking about serious aspects here. I am now going to read an article from the West Australian newspaper of 27 February 2001 about the case of the Woodman Point waste water treatment plant project. The article says:

The Australian Workers' Union has accused the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union of bully-boy tactics after it allegedly forced a strike at a big construction project yesterday.

This is not the government being punitive, as the previous speaker said—saying that Minister Abbott was making an attack on the union—this is the AWU complaining about the CFMEU's intimidatory tactics on a site. We need to put teeth into the courts of this country to stop this sort of behaviour, because of what it does to the workers. The article goes on:

AWU organiser Glen Anderton told The West Australian that the members of his union were told to stop work for 24 hours by CFMEU assistant secretary Joe McDonald or they would be banned from working on other jobs.

Mr Anderton said most of the 200 workers at the Woodman Point waste water treatment plant project were AWU members and their union rights had been trampled on by the CFMEU.

He said the incident was a payback for the AWU because the CFMEU were not party to an agreement signed with project manager The Woodman Alliance ...

“Fifteen of them just walked in, they stormed past security,” he said. “This job has been running for over 12 months and we have had no industrial trouble at all. Everything has been sorted out on the job.

“My members have not only lost a day's play but their bonus for the week as well, over $200 a head all-up. All my blokes are going to lose that because of these irresponsible clowns. They had no vote. They weren't given the opportunity to vote.

“He (Mr Macdonald) said, `I'm going over to these other sites on the project, when I come back, if you're still here, you'll all be blacklisted'.

“So they walked off the job, they don't want to be blacklisted.”

The Premier and the local labour relations minister got involved. Mr McDonald denied that he had made any threats. Talk about honesty in government. There was an attack made by the previous speaker, the member for Rankin. This is the sort of honesty that we are addressing in this legislation.

McDonald denied that any ban threats had been made. He said the site was visited at the request of CFMEU members concerned about safety.

There was only one CFMEU member on there and he was a crane driver, and they tried to actually get rid of him and put one of their own blokes in there to take his place.

“As far as I'm concerned—

McDonald said—

Anderton is a disgrace to the trade union movement ...

“This is a site where the AWU did a greenfields agreement which locks us out.”

Then he complains about safety on the job and says:

“He (Anderton) has just written a (trade journal) article saying that he is really pleased with the relationship he has with the boss.”

So what? McDonald goes on:

“Well, I don't have any relationships with any bosses. The workers are the people that concern me.”

So much for his concern for the workers. He just made sure they all lost 200 bucks a day.

Woodman Alliance project director Robert Jones denied it was an unsafe site.

“We have probably one of the best safety records in WA on this project,” he said.

“With the number of man-hours worked and the fact that we have only had one lost-time injury compared with an industry average of about 20 far surpasses any project I have worked on.”

This is an illustration of why we need this further compliance legislation to put teeth into the legislation to enforce sanctions and fines and to see that the minister has the ability to do that. The intimidation revealed in the report of the Cole royal commission demonstrates that the industry will not do it itself, because of the fear of intimidation and the costs, so we need this legislation to support the minister and the industry in general. (Time expired)