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Thursday, 9 February 2012
Page: 579

Mr KATTER (Kennedy) (12:13): The last time a bill like the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Amendment (Transition to Fair Work) Bill 2011 was introduced into the House a very good friend of mine was working on scaffolding and there was a problem. He lost his leg and he very nearly lost his life. Right before that legislation was introduced by the Liberal Party, I knew someone who had suffered in the industry and very nearly died. I was very honoured to see him in hospital. He was dying at that stage and only a few people were allowed in to see him—but he recovered.

Before the bill before us was introduced I attended a stop-work rally. A couple of very good candidates for our new party are very strong union representatives. They insisted that we go along to the stop-work meeting at the tunnels in Brisbane where a series of accidents had occurred. They demanded that I get up and give a speech. There were about 1,000 people at the meeting. I did not know that there was a person teetering between life and death—a man called Sam Beveridge. I did not know who he was. I just knew that there had been a series of accidents and the boys were entitled to go out on the grass about them because the situation was just getting worse, not better. There needed to be a public statement made. I lent whatever value I had in being there. Our state leader was also there. What I did not know was that this person, Sam Beveridge, was a very good friend of mine. I think he ran for mayor of Charters Towers, my home town. Both Frankie and Sam had been brought up with my own daughters and they are some of my best friends in the town and area. Frank is very fine young man. I did not know it was his brother, so it came home to me with a terrible vengeance that whilst I was out there just looking after John Doe, it was not John Doe—it was a person. In fact, both the boys had been very friendly with our family throughout their lives and Frank—Sam's brother—has been one of my closest people in the city of Charters Towers. Sam subsequently died.

There are a lot of people on the Left but almost all the people on my right on the opposition benches do not have a remote understanding of how the real world works. When I was a union rep, briefly, in Mount Isa we had two health issues and one safety issue. I took them up with the foreman on the site and he did nothing about them, so I went racing off to my union—I will not mention which union it was—although the boys told me not to. But, being real smart at that age—I was in my late teens or early 20s—I knew everything about everything. I watched in horror as the union organiser came down, went up in the control room where it is all air conditioned—we were covered in lead dust from daylight to dark where I was working with my shovel over my shoulder—and pointed out to my bosses that I was the bloke making the complaints.

I am ashamed to admit this, but I think I should: I pulled out on that because I was on huge money and was not going to give up my job. So we just had to go on in an unhealthy situation. I do not want to be very specific about it but there was wire netting. We had pretty bad dengue problems up in these areas and there were massive numbers of mosquitoes. Someone had got drunk and fallen through the wire netting and it needed to be fixed. On the work site, a shaker kept getting stuck so one of us had to jump on a flue and hit it with a sledge hammer and then let it move—you hoped—but often it did not. Then a bloke on the other side would hit it with a sledge hammer until, eventually we would break it free and it would start moving. But when it started moving it came back at you at about 60 miles an hour. Of course, if you stayed long enough on the flue leading up to it your leather boots would start to burn because it was extremely hot as well. It was an extremely dangerous situation and the damn shaker needed to be fixed. But, I am ashamed to say, I was intimidated.

The reason this bill was introduced was to intimidate union officials so that they would go to water, like I did. We do not want our union officials being intimidated. They tell me—I do not remember it clearly—that there were terrible problems and excessive behaviour by some of the unions involved. Some of these people came across from the Painters and Dockers Union where there were serious problems, and I would be the first to admit that. I was well aware of that. If those problems were there, they are ancient history and they are most certainly not there today. But even if they were, you do not start taking away basic freedoms. In Australia today, particularly in the states of Queensland and New South Wales, property rights are just a joke. I mean, you do not own your house; the Crown owns your house.

Long, long ago, in 1215 at a place called Runnymede, we stood the Crown up and said, 'Listen, Mr Crown, you are not grabbing us off the street any longer and dragging us to one of your dungeons. You will only take us through due process of law that you, Mr State, will not control.' What does this bill do? Exactly that. We can grab you, take you away and put you in a room. You have no rights, you have got to do that, and when you are in that room you will tell us what we want to know and if you do not we will leave you in that room indefinitely—it is called a jail.

In this place it amazes me that nobody seems to read any books. They do not seem to have any knowledge of history. They do not understand that the most basic concepts upon which our society is built. I said to an Attorney-General in the Labor government—no, I will not say that because I am not too sure whether he was Justice Minister or Attorney-General or assistant Attorney-General or what the hell his position was—'Don't you understand this is habeas corpus? It's what we fought and died for, the Magna Carta, and our forebears have been fighting and dying for it ever since. Don't you understand that?' He just did not understand it. I said, 'Mate, your superiors understand it and you are in desperate trouble.' This man was a numbskull. The judge in court said, 'I simply can't believe this case, that the minister could have allowed such a towering injustice to occur; that the man was taken without any evidence whatsoever and thrown in jail for five years of his life without any evidence.' In fact, there was evidence and it proved that he was not in the place, absolutely, where the crime was committed. But the minister would not review the case, so the judge pounded him. The Prime Minister, who makes these decisions, subsequently sacked him. How is it that a person can become a minister in a government and not know about these most elemental freedoms?

If the opposition votes against this bill today then it will demonstrate to every single person—all 22 million, or whatever it is, of us in Australia—that it does not understand the most basic precepts of freedom. Habeas corpus in its translation from Latin says 'have the person'. You cannot have the person without due, proper and fair process of law, and that dates back all the way to 1215. I strongly recommend that everyone in the House go and see Russell Crowe's movie Robin Hood. It was more about the property rights side of things, but it had it dead right. Effectively, the message was: 'Mr King, Mr Crown, you do not have a discretionary power to tell me what to do. You do not have a discretionary power. You are subject to the law, Mr Crown. That is my land, not your land.' There was a wonderful scene in it in with the great Australian actor and father of the Rabbitohs, Russell Crowe—he could get away with it, of course. King John says to him, 'What? Do you think I have the wherewithal to give every Englishman a castle?' and Russell Crowe—as I say, he could get away with it—replies, 'Every Englishman's home is his castle.'

Well, it ain't so in Queensland or in New South Wales. We are not allowed to remove a flying fox from our backyard in Queensland. We are not allowed to kill a deadly snake in our living room in Queensland. We are not allowed to have a pocketknife in Queensland; they have banned all pocketknives in Queensland. No, we have discretionary government. It was called tyranny once upon a time, but I will use the term 'discretionary government'. This is at the very heart of that. The Crown's minions can be given the power just to pluck you off the street, put you in a room and, if you do not tell them what they want to know, leave you in that room forever, just about.

I do not want to be promoting either myself or my colleague—it is very rare for him to be my colleague—from the party which sits at the opposite political pole to me. But there has to be something badly wrong when the Greens climb into bed with Katter's Australian Party. There has to be something very badly wrong.

It is all right for the government to promote themselves and say how wonderful they are by moving this and by saying how terrible the other mob were. But I still have worries about this. Obviously, I have discussed it with union officials, but the coercive powers are still there for three years. If you wanted to phase them out, why would you not phase them out in 15 months? I view the three years with very great suspicion, because 15 months is plenty to phase them out. If they are to continue for three years, the polls suggest there may well be a change of government in that time. So it could well be that the government of Australia—the cabinet ministers—sat down with the captains of industry and said: 'Don't worry about it, blokes. We are not going well, mate. We won't be there, so you can change it all back again.' It is just a stop-the-sunshine clause. But if it were to be removed entirely, it would make it infinitely more difficult, particularly with the numbers in the Senate, for the people on my right to take away our basic freedoms, as they did with their IR legislation.

I spoke about habeas corpus—that you cannot 'have the body'. Another term is 'Star Chamber'. It is about discretionary power. The king decided that he would just give discretionary power to a judge and judicial set-up—it became known as the Star Chamber—but there were no rules; they could just decide whatever they liked. They were just attack dogs, in many cases, for the Crown. So the term 'Star Chamber' is a word that we curse and vilify, as we do the Inquisition and various other forms of tyranny which have jumped up to attack us over the course of history. The concept of a Star Chamber was that it could just make a decision whether you liked it or not. In this case, they have the discretion to apply coercion if the person is not going to rat on his mates or his fellow workmen. It gives me no great pride to stand in here and say that I dingoed it back when I was working at Mount Isa Mines. I was not actually a union rep at that time, so I can defend myself to some degree, I suppose, but I still feel pretty ashamed to have to admit that.

But what I am trying to get across is that it is scary out there. If you complain about the way things are happening at work, you get sacked. I do not think the people on my right here have ever worked in a job in the real world, because if they had they would know that if you complain about safety and security—

Opposition members interjecting

Mr KATTER: Then how do you explain to me that, if a person in the building industry decides that there is a serious problem of workplace health and safety and he complains about it—

Opposition members interjecting

Mr KATTER: No, your legislation said that he has to rat out his mates.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr S Georganas ): Order! All remarks will be made through the chair.

Mr KATTER: We are going to move amendments to try to make this legislation go as it should go if it is going to be fair dinkum. We will be moving to remove the coercive powers now and restore the right to silence—a right which every other country in the world respects. We are going to respect habeas corpus and the right to silence, which are two basic building blocks of society throughout the rest of the world, with— (Time expired)