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Tuesday, 13 March 2012
Page: 2665


Mr BRIGGS (Mayo) (17:27): I strongly oppose the Road Safety Remuneration Bill. It is a veiled attempt by the Labor Party to give more power to its union mates; it is an attempt cloaked in a pretend effort to improve safety for Australians on the roads. It is typical of the modern Labor Party and how low and contemptible they have become that they would use the deaths of people on roads, the wives and husbands and families of people who have died on roads, as part of a political campaign to increase the power and reach of trade unions in this country, with all the benefits that has for the Australian Labor Party. It is one of the worst pieces of legislation we are likely to see from the Labor Party in this parliament, which is saying something.

We heard the Parliamentary Secretary for Infrastructure and Transport and member for Ballarat using all those catchcry Labor words such as 'safe' and 'fair', suggesting that if you are opposed to this legislation then you are for cancer. It is the typical Labor way—you cannot oppose anything that they put 'safe' or 'fair' in front of because when they do that they are automatically morally superior to anyone else in this place who argues that legislation is bad and is not going to achieve anything it has set out to do. There is not once skerrick of proof in the bill or the supporting evidence or the submissions to any of the inquiries that paying someone more will increase the safety of people on the roads.

How do we know that this is a power grab for the trade union movement? Because the legislation has been given to the minister for trade union mates. It started with the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. If it was a genuine attempt at road safety, you would say that would be a reasonable ministry to be looking after this bill

But then, very shortly after, just before the bill appeared in the House, it was handed to the new minister for union power and mates. The new minister for union power and mates will use lots of words and talk about how he is the worker's friend, how this is all about ensuring that the worker is protected and how Australian roads are being made safer for the public. But, as so often with the modern Australian Labor Party, this bill is really about protecting the vested interests they stand for in this place. They do not stand for the Australian worker; they stand for vested interests. They are about ensuring that they continue to get political benefit out of the workers who pay their union fees.

How do we know that? We need look no further than the member for Dobell and what he did with a corporate credit card from the trade union movement. The HSU represents workers who push trolleys around hospitals. Those workers pay their levies to ensure they have some industrial protection. Instead, expenses of over $100,000 were incurred in very questionable ways—details of which have yet to be revealed by an investigation which seems to be taking as long as the Second World War. This is the modern Labor Party and what they stand for. They are all about vested interests. Here is the member for Throsby—another one who stands for vested interests.

Mr Stephen Jones: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker: I understand that leniency is often given in debates on legislation, but how can this, by any stretch, be relevant to the legislation before the House?

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Grierson ): I will continue to listen closely to the member for Mayo's contribution.

Mr BRIGGS: The member for Throsby is certainly irrelevant. There is no doubt about that. This bill is irrelevant to the safety of Australians on the roads. This bill is not about the safety of Australians on the roads; this bill is about dragging independent contractors—small business people, entrepreneurs—into the employment net so that these people opposite can drag them into union membership and increase the amount they can get out of contributions. It is a revolving slush fund. That is what this bill is about.

There is no evidence at all, anywhere, that this bill is about increasing the safety of Australians on the roads. All we have heard from those opposite is rhetoric—that this is about safety and fairness. One question this legislation raises is: why do we need a separate set of employment arrangements outside of the Fair Work Act? If the Fair Work Act is so good and is working so well, why do we need another law? We have heard for years, ever since the Howard government pursued very sound reforms to address the thuggery and intimidation which went on for so long in the building industry, that we did not need two laws—we only needed one set of industrial laws in this country. But now, somehow, we need two sets of laws. We need another set of laws for the transport industry to address safety. If the Fair Work Act is such a failure, why not just amend it?

There is a perverse aspect of this bill and its relationship with the Fair Work Act. If a truck company is appropriately paying its workers under the relevant award but this new body finds the truck company should be paying more, that implies that the Fair Work provisions have led to the workers being underpaid—by the Labor Party's own law. By the Labor Party's own standard, this is a farce. It is a farce because this bill is not about safety; it is about union power. It is about giving Mr Sheldon and his mates at the TWU access to more people. With more people on the books, you have more people to pay contributions and more people to pay for the union credit cards—and we have seen what they pay for.

The way the lowest paid workers in our society have been represented and treated is a disgrace. Those opposite are about vested interests. They are not about higher wages. They are not about a high road for Australian workers. They are about looking after their mates and looking after the vested interests. They cloak it in spin. They cloak it in the spin of safety and they cloak it in the spin of fairness.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I think the member for Mayo should confine himself to the legislation.

Mr BRIGGS: I certainly am speaking about the legislation, Madam Deputy Speaker. To bring people who have lost loved ones on the roads into the galleries of this parliament and use them in a political campaign is low-rent at best. There is not a word about safety in this document. There is not a word about the link between high pay and safer roads. We know—and the coalition has pursued this for many years—that, to increase safety on roads, you need to increase infrastructure funding to improve the Australian road network. That is an ongoing task and it is something I agree with members opposite about. It is an ongoing task, particularly in rural areas where large transport firms operate more regularly. In fact there have been, sadly, many terrible road deaths in my own electorate on the freeway which connects Melbourne with Adelaide—not all of them have involved heavy transport, but many of them have. It is an ongoing battle. It is an ongoing issue which needs to be given a lot of attention—and, I must say, state governments across the country have given it a lot of attention. There remain many roads, however, which need to be improved and there are additional measures we can look at to improve road safety. Shifting more freight off roads and onto rail is a good idea. It is something we should be pursuing and giving consideration to.

But this bill is not about that. This bill is about attacking entrepreneurs in our society—those who seek to become small businesses and not employees. We know the Labor Party have never liked independent contractors. They voted against the legislation in the mid-2000s which defined independent contractors and gave them their own set of laws. This bill is about is dragging those people into the employment net so they are accessible for union membership. We saw Mr Sheldon and his mates last year in the Qantas dispute; we saw their behaviour in relation to a great Australian company. They went on TV day after day bringing industrial mayhem down on that company, trying to drag it down. They will run around and sign these people up, not to increase their safety—no, no, no—but to increase the numbers and the power within the Australian Labor Party. That is what this bill is actually all about. We know of no better example of that—no further proof is needed—than the transfer of this bill from the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport to the 'minister for big union mates'. That is what happened the week before this bill was introduced into the parliament. That is exactly what has been sought—

Mr Bowen: Madam Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. In addition to your admonition of the honourable member before, which he has ignored, he is also required to refer to honourable members by their correct title.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Grierson ): That is correct. Thank you. I am sure the member for Mayo will continue to adhere to the standing orders.

Mr BRIGGS: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I appreciate that the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship has had a difficult couple of weeks and that he has been kept in the portfolio—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Mayo will continue with the debate.

Mr BRIGGS: This legislation, in addition to being just another attempt at—

Mr Bowen interjecting

Mr BRIGGS: You are indeed on the frontbench, minister. You are in a portfolio that we all know you love so much. You are very happy with what you are doing in that portfolio. Madam Deputy Speaker, I have been diverted and I apologise for taking the interjection. This bill will continue to add to the red tape burden that this government is so readily engaged in across so many areas. It is an attempt by the government to undermine its own Fair Work Act, as I have already discussed, and it is adding another area of regulation to the employment relationship, which presumably the Fair Work Act was about fixing. We heard much from the Prime Minister, when she was the Minister for Workplace Relations, about how it was such great legislation and about how it was a return to fairness—that word again—in the country. Of course, it is so good that the government needs a separate jurisdiction to deal with the issue before us.

We also know that not everyone supports this legislation. Many in the road transport industry are raising genuine concerns about it. They are similar concerns to what I have raised, which is that this legislation is not about safety, it is about union power. We also know that Anna Bligh and the Labor government in Queensland do not support it. How do we know that? They put in a submission to the House of Representatives inquiry into this legislation a few weeks ago, just prior to the Queensland election being called. The Queensland Labor government does not support it. The road industry does not support it. Who does support it? Aha! The TWU. And that, of course, is what this is all about. This legislation is not about the sad circumstances that thousands of families across Australia are subjected to with the loss of their loved ones. It would be an awful experience to lose a loved one in any sort of accident. But to use these people as part of a political campaign says it all, I think, about where the modern Labor Party is at. This bill should be opposed because it is not about safety; it is not about fairness. It is about this government's vested interests. It is about what always drives this government. The government is not about higher wages in the future. It is not about creating circumstances for people to get on with their own economic freedom and to create the chances they want to take. The government is about looking after the vested interests of its chosen few, its A-class workers, its shareholders. This is exactly what this bill is about.

This legislation is a payment for the years and years of union support with funding, donations and numbers at ALP conferences; it is to ensure that the government continues to get that support. To use people's misery and deaths to do so is a disgrace, and it is the reason that this bill should be opposed. It will not help those people. It will not ensure that Australians are safer on the roads. All it will do is empower the government's union mates even further. It is a terrible piece of legislation. I urge the government to withdraw it. I urge the parliament to oppose it.