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Wednesday, 17 August 2005
Page: 137

Mr TUCKEY (7:07 PM) —It is interesting to hear the words of the member for Shortland. When I picked up a newspaper the other day—I think it was the West Australian—I read that a major export program under construction in the north-west of the state was stopped for the day when 600 workers went on strike because somebody implied that a box of gaskets might have had some asbestos in them. The gaskets might have had some asbestos in them, but surely it is purely industrial action when 600 people, some of whom would not have got within a bull’s roar of that box of gaskets, all knock off for the day. The member for Shortland says that the Occupational Health and Safety (Commonwealth Employment) Amendment Bill 2005 is some sort of ideological witch-hunt of the trade union movement, but of course that claim is refuted by the minister’s second reading speech, in which he said:

The government is committed to improving health and safety outcomes in Commonwealth workplaces, and this bill follows amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety (Commonwealth Employment) Act 1991 in 2004, which introduced a strong new compliance regime.

That is the role of government and it is registered in black and white in Hansard. Of course, this raises the question of who should be responsible for looking after employees under that regime. The member for Shortland tells us that she once had a job on behalf of the trade union movement in this area. She seemed to be very vague about what she did when she had that job. She did not spend 10 minutes of her time giving us a rundown on the sorts of issues she had to deal with and on her knowledge of the act and how it should be applied in the workplace. She dropped a few crocodile tears about the fact that, in this government’s view, it might be better if other people were the preferred supervisory agent. That is what this legislation is about. It gives employees—the people who, as the member for Shortland said, need to be protected—the right to say, ‘We don’t particularly want somebody who’s got no skills in this area and who’s not a representative of the department that is responsible for policing these requirements.’ (Quorum formed)

I thank my colleagues for giving their attention to what will be a brilliant speech. The Chief Opposition Whip should have worked out a revised schedule, because his own shadow minister had 30 minutes to speak but only spoke for 15 minutes—because he could not think of anything else to say from a rational point of view. I was going to keep my contribution as brief as possible and give his side a bit of a go. But the reality now is that I will take my time. If he wants to call a couple more quorums, that is his business, but it will just delay the time at which the next speaker on his side will have an opportunity to speak in this place. So that is the point we should understand in all of this.

It is interesting that the member for Shortland wants to call us ideologues. We have a pretty broad agenda on this side of the House. The ideology seems to come from the other side of the House: if it is not in the interests of trade union bureaucrats then it is wrong. Nothing else matters. It does not matter that family people would rather deal directly with their employer. It does not matter that, as I mentioned a minute ago, 600 people went off work in the Pilbara the other day because of a box of gaskets which were possibly made of asbestos and were maybe touched by about three people. If that is not industrial action, I will go ‘Hee’.

We are told by the member for Shortland that longer hours are unsafe—I wish she would do something about them in this place—and that safe workplaces are good. I have already read from the minister’s second reading speech where that fact is confirmed. But I ask the question again: what does that have to do with somebody in the trade union movement who does not know anything about industrial safety law but who just uses it as an opportunity to get in and try to sign up a few members? The workplace is quite able to understand whether it is at risk. The member for Shortland said: ‘And those workers do not even try to do this themselves. We’ve got to teach them a lesson. We’ve got to get Tom Domican or someone in there just to get people to understand what it is all about.’ I am amazed.

This legislation simply says that there is no special right for union representatives to walk through the front door of a probably safe workplace when they feel like it. It recognises the fact that, within the Commonwealth government and, for that matter, the state governments, large numbers of people are employed to police this sort of activity. And they get around the place. I was sitting in a factoryette the other day waiting for the delivery of an item that was being put together outside in a large warehouse with two people working in it, and two girls with clipboards came in. I thought, ‘Here are a couple of government inspectors.’ They said: ‘We’re from OH&S WA’—or whatever—‘Can we look around the place?’ They had a look around the place, and they came back to the girl at reception and said, ‘We can smell cigarette smoke here.’ That was apparently all they could find, but at least they were government inspectors and they had a legal right. But this legislation says that you do not get a legal right by being a trade union heavy. It says that, if you have a good reason, you might be invited by someone who has a genuine concern. And what is wrong with that? We do consider ourselves to be living in a free country.

The member for Shortland says, ‘You’ve got to do this to make the workplace safer.’ We agree with that, but Sharan Burrow does not. She says, ‘The quicker we can have someone killed this week, the better the case we’ll have to put.’ She says, ‘It would be pretty handy if someone got killed this week.’ Can you believe that the second school teacher to lead the ACTU would be pleased if someone got severely injured this week so that she could make a political point and protect her job? What are we talking about, when people are so fixated on their own survival that they would propose the death or injury of a fellow Australian and, when questioned about it, stick their chest out and say: ‘I stand by what I said. It’s all in the interest of the cause’?

We know all about causes. They had those sorts of things in Russia and murdered millions of their own people. And we are supposed to have some pathological hatred of unions? I have been in a union—until they discovered I was there and asked me not to come back. We do not have a pathological hatred of unions, but we see they have a place.

Mr Cadman —So the union sacked you?

Mr TUCKEY —Yes, the Transport Workers Union brought me in as an owner-driver. The bloke went back very happy about that—he’d got my fee—and then they found out in Perth who was in the team. But that is all right. What I am saying is that I understand unions. I have worked with unions, I have worked with the people and I have seen them come in and try to heavy someone who says: ‘I’m working as a barmaid in Carnarvon. I hope to be a typist in Port Hedland. How many unions do I have to join to have a trip up the north-west coast?’ OH&S is the last bastion for trade union bureaucrats. Unions have been rejected by the general work force. They think they can invest their money better. But now they are going to be heavied by people coming in and saying, ‘I’ve come to save you.’ It is ridiculous. This legislation is not an attack on unions. It is a protective measure for people who do not want their company, and I cannot see that there is anything wrong with that.

It goes further. I am a great advocate for single mothers and others. I think it is more important in this day and age, and I am sure the minister would admit that I raised it with him only a little while ago. We would like to see single mothers in the work force. They would benefit from being in the work force, but they have family responsibilities—and it might not only be single mothers—and I constantly put a case to find opportunities to let them work from home. They send you emails, so you know they are computer literate. But, when I put this up, the first thing that people say to me is: ‘What about the OH&S problems in their homes? You’ve got to go and inspect them. You’ve got to get the union in there.’ Unions hate home employment because it is too hard to organise. If that is the truth, if a home is so unsafe, no person should be able to carve the family meat without a steel glove on. It might help my wife, I have to admit. She has a bit of a problem with knives.

Dr Emerson —I can understand that.

Mr TUCKEY —She is more inclined to cut herself than anyone else I know. I do not know why. If someone is happy in their own home environment and an employer says to them, ‘I can help you stay at home to work,’ why do people say, ‘Don’t you dare do that because OH&S will say that their house is totally unsafe’? I find that a bit ridiculous. But, again, it is only because the trade union bureaucracy is terrified that people who work from home might be a bit hard to find, a bit hard to sign up and a bit hard to get the union dues out of.

This is the point. There is no reason whatsoever to give any segment of the community a right of entry to a workplace under the guise that they are going in to save the workers. That is a role for a government inspector. The next thing is that we will be saying that the trade unions are allowed to come into your house because a burglar got in yesterday. We have a police force for that, and there are plenty of inspectors—I do not know how many—for workplaces. The state governments and others have ample processes for ensuring that from time to time there are checks on workplaces to see that they are meeting the laws as written by the parliaments of Australia. There is no reason in the world for there to be a special role for trade unions, particularly considering most of them have no idea what the particular legislation is. In Western Australia, I saw an inspector talking to an employer, and he had a book which was probably 50 millimetres thick. I bet the average trade union official is across all that—the only book he would have with him is a receipt book.

These are ridiculous arguments to put forward, but they come, of course, from the party that sits opposite and, if they are not already of the trade union movement, they know that their existence depends on that 50 per cent vote in every preselection. Where else do you have that sort of domination in politics? It used to be 60 per cent, and a previous Leader of the Opposition reduced it to 50 per cent. That is pretty tough: you just have to find one other person to vote with you. Excuse me: it is just ridiculous.

With regard to the opposition of the members opposite to this legislation, as I have said, their shadow minister could find only 15 minutes to talk about it. That is how serious their opposition is. This is a proposal that underwrites OH&S throughout the work force but gives the work force the right to say who might come and do inspections—if they think that should be another public servant, good luck to them. Why should it be a self-appointed person who has a job and an ulterior motive?

I do not think I can add any more to my comments, but I was astounded at the effort of the member for Shortland, who just seemed to want to say that this legislation is a product of pathological hatred and ideology. There is no ideology on this side; there is just a practical sense of responsibility to represent the people of Australia. The ideology that has been delivered to us and will be again in another couple of minutes is about why there is something special in this day and age about an organisation and a culture which is rejected by 75 per cent of Australians—and, let me say, half the remaining percentage are only there because it is a case of no ticket, no start. They have to pay the fees to get a living, and I hope we are able to deal with that matter too.

If unions are so good—and they could take a bit of a lesson from their superannuation funds, which seem to be popular because apparently they give a good service, and I am very comfortable about that—and want business, they ought to get out and do the things workers truly want. Workers want them to give them services and representation in this modern world. They do not want the unions to oppose working from home, if that is convenient to people. They do not want them coming around and harassing them when they are trying to complete a report or something for the government—which, of course, will judge their future prospects in promotion. They do not want these people hanging around. But we know why they come around; it is to try either to cause trouble or to get more business for themselves.

Of course, as the member for Shortland said, safe workplaces are good. Nobody is contesting that. The Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations referred to that in the first couple of paragraphs of his second reading speech, but the reality is that this is about saying that nobody has an automatic right to enter someone else’s workplace. Who was it—Kingham or whoever they eventually put in jail—who went and belted up women in a workplace? How much damage does that do, when people like that—

Dr Emerson —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The statement that was made by the member for O’Connor is completely offensive and completely wrong. He has just maligned Martin Kingham, who is guilty of none of those allegations, and he should not use the parliament to do so.

Mr TUCKEY —The reference was to Mr Kingham, although he does not reside in this place, but if it was not Mr Kingham it was Mr Johnson or another. If I have picked the wrong name, that will be a bit of a change for this side of the House, but it does not alter the fact that, when it comes to industrial health and safety, if you are a woman sitting at a computer and a bloke comes and picks it up in front of you and smashes it at your feet, that is not exactly the sort of contribution to industrial health and safety I would support, any more than I support Sharan Burrow saying, ‘Could you please kill someone this week, Mr Employer?’ I have concluded my remarks. (Time expired)

Dr Emerson —I point out that that comment, too, is completely false, erroneous and malicious, and it should not be made in this parliament. Sharan Burrow never made such a statement. The member for O’Connor has repeated a statement he made earlier in his speech, which is completely wrong and completely offensive.

The SPEAKER —The member for Rankin raises a point about whether the member has said something erroneous. That of itself does not require a withdrawal. The member does have other ways and means in the House to correct that, if he believes the member for O’Connor has got it wrong.