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Wednesday, 10 September 2003
Page: 19664

Mr RANDALL (12:22 PM) —It really is my pleasure to speak on the Workplace Relations Amendment (Improved Remedies for Unprotected Action) Bill 2002 today—this is one of the great opportunities I have to do so. The honourable member for Corio during his speech illustrated why they are on the other side and we are here. The ideological dinosaurs of the Labor Party are still in the majority. No people there want to take the workplaces of this country forward. They want to go back and dwell on past glories, where they lined up union members and pinned their badges on before they went to work in the morning. This side of the House wants to give this country a productive, effective work force which adds to the jobs of this country. A flexible work force is being provided by such bills as this one today. It will increase recognition of Australia in the international community as a country which is actually doing something for workers.

The other side feigns great ideals and claims to be the champion of the workers, yet it will send workers out of the gate on strike at first notice. At any time they can, they will say, `Out of the gate—we're on strike.' What happens when you are on strike? You do not get paid. So the kids and the mums of these people who decide to go out of the gate do not get paid, and they have trouble feeding their families and having a lifestyle. At the same time, do the union bosses who send them out of the gate ever take a reduction in pay? No, they never do. So let us get that in context.

We are also talking about the disingenuous behaviour of the member for Rankin, who has said both inside and outside of this place that he will oppose any bill the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Tony Abbott, brings to this House. How is that! He has not even thought about the bills we are talking about. Any bill the workplace relations minister brings to this House he will oppose. The member for Rankin spent the first part of his speech denigrating the workplace relations minister. When he had hit him a few times, he then went back through history and tried to talk about the previous workplace relations minister, Peter Reith, and lined him up for personal abuse and criticism. That is the sort of debate we have on that side. On this side we are actually trying to do something for the workers of this country and give them jobs.

As I have said in this place many times, the biggest myth in this country is that the Labor Party are for the workers. They are not for the workers; they are for the elite of the industrial movement and the unions, and they are for the hereditary peers of the Labor Party. The fact is that some 78 per cent of Labor members in this House and the Senate have a history of employment and association with a union and the unions deliver their preselections to them, yet only 20 per cent of the work force in Australia now belongs to a union. This shows the totally unrepresentative nature of Labor and other parties in this parliament. It suggests that they are out of touch with the real needs and aspirations of working people in this country. I have got that off my chest to start off with; now I will speak to the nub of the bill.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. L.R.S. Price)—I would be most grateful if you did.

Mr RANDALL —This bill proposes to amend the Workplace Relations Act 1996 to strengthen section 127 of the act, under which orders may be made by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to stop unprotected industrial action or to prevent industrial action from occurring. Let us understand the terms we are talking about. Protected action is enshrined in law. Protected action occurs during a negotiation period for Australian Workplace Agreements et cetera, when the unions and the members of the unions can take action to basically give leverage and support to conditions and entitlements that they are going for. When that agreement and a set of conditions have been agreed to, they are required not to take industrial action—that is unlawful. If they take industrial action after the agreements are in place then that is unprotected or illegal action. That is what we are talking about today.

The bill will ensure that applications for orders to prevent unprotected industrial action are dealt with quickly. The bill provides that, as far as is practicable, the Australian Industrial Relations Commission will hear and determine an application under section 127 within 48 hours. It has powers to issue interim orders if the principal application cannot be determined within 48 hours. In dealing with section 127 applications, the bill also requires the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to consider whether the parties are bound by current certified agreements or AWAs and the undesirability of unprotected action.

This is a timely remedy, but it is not harsh one. In fact, it seems in some respects to be minor. But it is very meaningful in its intention—it brings into focus unprotected industrial action. Generally, the commission has been quite responsive to section 127 applications. However, often the commission is unable to resolve applications before industrial action commences or before the action causes a large amount of damage to an employer and the broader economy. So this bill will require the commissioners, as far as is practicable, to hear and determine applications under this section within a 48-hour period. That is not unreasonable. Shortly I will go to a specific case, referred to in the Cole royal commission, where this was totally flouted. This is why this legislation is needed—to prevent the circumvention of the issuing and determination of section 127 orders.

As I have said, the bill will also explicitly empower the commission to make interim orders for unprotected action, and the commission will hopefully be able to hear and determine these orders within a 48-hour period. The sad case with this sort of action is that the Labor Party have previously said that they do not see a need for this legislation because you can be out there and acting in good faith. That is a furphy. The union movement in this country—particularly, but not entirely, the CFMEU in Western Australia—have shown no indication of acting, nor the desire to act, in good faith. In fact, Joe McDonald, the secretary of the union, quite often makes it quite clear that they do not intend to act in good faith. What is his reason? Unbelievably, his justification is: `It is because we are an industrial militant union. We don't have to abide by the rule of law. We are outside the rule of law because we are a militant union.' What sort of justification is that? The minority of people like Joe McDonald and his cohorts such as Kevin Reynolds are why this legislation has been brought into the House.

To indicate why we need to enshrine this in federal law, it needs to be put in perspective between the jurisdictions of state and federal law. I will give you an example. Once there was a change of government in Western Australia, the Gallop Labor government brought in the union inspired enterprise bargaining agreements because they basically wanted to control any future agreements in the state. There have been only 12 certified EBAs in Western Australia in the period of time since the year 2000. To put that into context, voting with their feet by people in the work force is now such that there are 37,000 AWAs in Western Australia alone, because they do not want to be involved in the state sponsored, union sponsored EBAs. They want to be involved in the federal scene, where there is greater protection and greater certainty. That is what this legislation is about today. People have voted with their feet. They do not want to be in the EBAs, which the unions control; they want to be in the genuine, democratic AWAs sponsored by the federal government. That is why this legislation has been brought before this House.

Employees and employers are entitled to take industrial action, as we have said before, in the lead-up to their certified agreements or AWAs. But the rule of this is that the protected action is a special privilege negotiated in this context for legitimately sanctioned bargaining. But the trade-off is that, if you involve yourself in illegitimate forms of industrial action, you are not protected, and we are obliged to stop it. Let me again put this in context in terms of the sort of law we are talking about. In the previous few weeks I spoke to another similar bill, the Workplace Relations Amendment (Compliance with Court and Tribunal Orders) Bill 2003. What did the Labor Party, along with the one Green, do in this House? They tried to vote it down. In other words, they were not interested in seeing that the tribunals and courts of this country were able to further and more solidly enforce the laws handed down by the courts and tribunals. So much for good faith bargaining! If you were interested in good faith bargaining, you would actually take the direction of the tribunals or the courts. But in this case they are not interested.

As a Western Australian member, I want to illustrate one of the reasons through Western Australian examples. One of the famous examples that is on the record in Western Australia—and I refer to an article in the West Australian on 28 February 2001—is the fact that the CFMEU started poaching the AWU work force at the Woodman Point Wastewater Treatment Plant. What was their reason for causing strikes and stoppages on that plant? Let us put it into context. There is already an agreement in place on that site, so the CFMEU goes down there with Joe McDonald and his thugs, telling his members on the Woodman Point treatment plant that they will never ever get another job in the industry again unless they go on strike. What sort of bargaining arrangement is that? What sort of compliance with orders and agreements is that: unless they go out the gate, they will never ever work in the industry again? That is what the proposed new section 127 of the act seeks to further clarify and enforce so that the AIRC could actually act within 48 hours to stop this happening or, once it has happened, to address it.

Interestingly, the Cole royal commission had a fair section on this. I refer to volume 12 of the final report, State and Territory overview. In terms of deficiencies in the current regulatory system, Commissioner Cole refers to:

The process and time necessary to secure orders under s127 Workplace Relations Act 1996 (C'wth) particularly in the face of short term unlawful stoppages. This undermines confidence in the system and creates an additional point against which pressure can be brought to bear upon contractors and subcontractors to accede to `commercial solutions' for the purpose of expediency and in an endeavour to secure industrial peace. The costs associated with delays, and the potential liability for liquidated damages, are such that the costs of making short-term `commercial decisions' are less than contractual delay and overhead costs.

The Cole royal commission then speaks about the Worsley expansion project, which I will speak about in some detail in a moment. It says:

The Worsley Expansion Project case study highlights shortcomings in the regulatory system where there were persistent and ongoing stoppages of one or two days. By the time the matter is able to be brought before the AIRC the `dispute' has ended.

On page 302, Commissioner Cole further states:

Unlawful conduct or the threat of unlawful conduct occurs across all sectors of the industry, but predominantly within the building industry where the CFMEU's influence is greatest. The CFMEU pays scant regard to agreed dispute resolution procedures set out in certified agreements and industrial agreements to which it is a party.

He then lists a number of these abuses under these agreements. One which is continuing under the sanctioning and wink and nod of state Labor minister John Kobelke is that of Gerry Hanssen. In this case his Bluewater Apartments were attacked as well because his is a non-union site. On page 303, Commissioner Cole says:

In the civil works and heavy industrial and engineering sectors of the industry, unlawful industrial action is often associated with endeavours by the CFMEU to recruit new members from other unions.

That was in the case of the Woodman Point Wastewater Treatment Plant, which had nothing to do with industrial issues; it was about the poaching of union members by the CFMEU from the AWU. Commissioner Cole continues:

Again such action is part of the show of power. Such action is also associated with endeavours to renegotiate or reopen agreed terms and conditions in project and site agreements.

In this case, the Worsley expansion project again is listed. The report continues:

The lack of adherence to agreements not only undermines their utility, but adds to costs, which threatens economic viability and places in jeopardy future investment.

I will now illustrate the sad case of the Worsley alumina site in Western Australia near Collie. I know something about this because I actually worked there as a labourer. So much for the opposition talking about people who have never got their hands dirty. I have washed my hands in Solvol, a la Mick Young. I can tell you that, by working as a labourer, I know a bit about this site. This project was up and running and it was a very good site, but they endeavoured to expand this project in and around 1997. They reached agreement with all the unions involved. Time does not permit me to list them all. Suffice to say, along came the CFMEU and decided that they would walk away from this agreement, which they had all signed on to. They confirmed their willingness to give the required commitments. As it says on page 267 of volume 21 of the Cole royal commission report:

Subsequent to the Worsley Project Agreement being signed, a video was made ...

This is how easily verifiable it was. The report continues:

The Worsley Project Agreement and the Certified Agreements all contained a dispute settlement procedure which, in substance, provided for resolution to initially be attempted at the immediate work level, then through a series of graduated steps involving higher levels of management and union representatives and ultimately to the AIRC.

But, what happened? The report says:

From the outset, elements of the union parties to the Worsley Project Agreement sought to engage in unauthorised industrial action to reopen the Worsley Project Agreement with the view to renegotiating certain aspects.

The report says that the reasons for unauthorised industrial action are many but they include:

(c) in the case of the CFMEU, the orchestrating of problems by senior representatives;

(d) a disregard for the agreed dispute resolution procedures ...

... ... ...

(g) a culture of `free-for-all industrial relations' in this sector of the industry;

(h) a disregard within various levels of the union parties of adhering to the agreed dispute resolution procedure;

... ... ...

(m) a culture of endeavouring to renegotiate agreements rather than adhering to the agreement for the life of the Project ...

The report continues:

Given the short duration of most unauthorised stoppages, the remedies available under the Workplace Relations Act 1996 ... were often of little or no utility as by the time the dispute was before the AIRC the unauthorised stoppage had ceased. On those occasions when s127 orders under the Workplace Relations Act 1996 ... were in place unauthorised industrial action substantially ceased.

So section 127 does have teeth but it does not have the teeth that are required. There is so much more to it. I could speak for hours on this; I am sure the parliament would prefer that that did not happen. Finally, Commissioner Cole says that, having regard to the provisions of section 4.4.3 of the Worsley project agreement, the parties, which are listed in the report:

... held an unauthorised stop work meeting, failed to follow the dispute resolution procedure set out in the Worsley Project Agreement or the Certified Agreements ...

He continues:

... on the material before me, I am satisfied that those persons specified below ... engaged in unlawful conduct.

I could go on. In the moments left to me, I just need to say that this Worsley case illustrates the need for this legislation. It is legislation which will tidy up the fact that a union, such as the CFMEU in Western Australia, snubbed their nose at the rule of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission. We are requiring the commission to take note of this amendment to act within 48 hours or to put in place interim measures to see that people's jobs are protected and that the economic wellbeing of not only the workers but the state and the companies involved is protected. As a result, it is good legislation, it is legislation which a good minister has brought before this parliament and I totally endorse it in this House. (Time expired)