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Thursday, 15 May 2014
Page: 3942


Mr IRONS (Swan) (16:47): The 2007 federal election, at which I was elected for the first time, had a big focus on industrial relations. If you listen to the Labor Party, it was the union campaign against Work Choices that won it for them. In the year of Kevin 07, a major part of the debate at that election was about industrial relations.

Deputy Speaker, you might not recall my maiden speech, because you were not here in the chamber at the time, but I did reveal at that particular time that I had a family history of union membership. I must admit, I had been a member of a union at one stage in my life. I had no choice. I was forced into it by the gas and fuel department in Victoria; as workers in that department, we had no choice; we had to be members of the union. As I said, I had a family history of union membership. My uncle was the secretary of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union in Melbourne It is a prime example of a good, operating union that worked in the interests of the union leaders and certainly not their workers. That is for sure, as we saw from the bottom-of-the-harbour royal commission many years ago. But these are some of the things you have to bear as family—you cannot choose your family, can you?

Industrial relations certainly did not win the election for Labor in the west, as the Liberals won two seats off Labor; one of them being my own seat of Swan and the other being the seat of Cowan. There are many reasons that the people of Western Australia have for a long period of time been concerned about the Labor Party's industrial relations policies in our state. Even this year, the WA Labor Party continues to give them these reasons and so we saw the Liberal Party once again come to the fore in the recent WA Senate election and dismal result of the Labor Party in Western Australia.

There are two things that help us understand why this is the case. The first is the history of union militancy in the state. It was interesting that the minister mentioned in his speech the recent case featuring CFMEU national president Joe McDonald and cited it as a need for these reforms. He forgot to leave Joe's old mate, Kevin Reynolds, out of the picture, but he should be included. Joe McDonald and Kevin Reynolds were like Siamese twins and they spent many years terrorising good, honest employers and businesses via the industrial relations platform in Western Australia. The minister told the House about a recent incident where the CFMEU was fined $193,600 after ignoring the request of an industrial relations consultant to leave a site owned by CITIC Pacific's Sino Iron Ore in Western Australia. Mr Pyne said that when Mr McDonald was asked by a consultant to leave the site, because he did not have a right-of-entry permit, Mr McDonald replied:

I haven’t had one for seven years and that hasn’t f***ing stopped me.

That is typical of the attitude of unions in Western Australia.

Seven years ago, it was Mr McDonald, a unionist known in Western Australia for his militancy, who famously declared, 'We are coming back. As the polls predicted, it's a Rudd victory.' It was also Mr Kevin Reynolds, at a function I attended, who said that Kevin Rudd would sell his grandmother to win the election. Kevin Reynolds gave us a true picture of Mr Rudd at that particular time before the 2007 election.

Ms Butler: As if Tony Abbott would have said anything different!

Mr IRONS: It is true, Kevin Rudd would have sold his grandmother to win the election. But do not worry, in Western Australia we have got a good antenna for crap; we saw it and we stopped him at the border. Anyway, at the time Mr Rudd said that he was not coming back and made a whole series of commitments on industrial relations to prevent the sort of militancy that Mr McDonald and the unions in Western Australia have become notorious for.

But as we heard in the minister's speech, these undertakings were never honoured and never implemented. As the quote suggests, Mr McDonald, Mr Reynolds and their friends have been able to run amok for the last seven years in Western Australia. So it is now up to the coalition to implement these commitments made by the Labor Party in 2007 and get some control back over our industrial relations policy, returning it to the sensible centre.

That is what this bill, the Fair Work Amendment Bill 2014, seeks to achieve. In essence, it seeks to implement the commitments made by the Labor Party in 2007 that they never honoured. The second aspect we have to consider, when considering the view of the people Western Australia on this matter, is the fact that the Labor Party and the unions are the same thing. To be a member of the Labor Party, you have to be a member of a union. So, when the people of Western Australia's see union militancy, they know that these unionists are members of the Labor Party and will ultimately do deals to parachute themselves into parliament.

The recent Senate election has shone a big light on these practices. Before the WA Senate election, I called the Labor Party out on this in the Federation Chamber, where I spoke about the reports of intricate deals between Labor unions in WA to decide who got the Labor Senate seats in that election. And I was not the only one to warn of this. According to TheWest Australian on 24 April, Senator Mark Bishop early last year produced a report entitled The Senate in WA—a worrying prospect. But, apparently, despite compiling this 10-page report, Senator Bishop never gave it to the Labor executive, so perhaps his warning did not get through either.

The result of these deals seems to have been the selection of United Voice's Senator Sue Lines, who, according to an article by Paul Murray in The West Australian on 16 March 2013, had not lived in WA for eight years, and of the shoppies' Senator-elect Joe Bullock, who was reported as saying Labor members were 'mad'. It is interesting that the new electoral laws proposed by the joint standing committee have made some points about potentially restricting candidates who do not reside in the state they are standing for election in. The key result of the Western Australian Senate election in April was that Labor's vote collapsed to its lowest rate on record, 21 per cent—

Ms Bird: What bill are we debating!

Mr IRONS: with the return of only one out of six senators, Mr Bullock. I will have more to say on the WA Senate election result at a later date, when a fuller opportunity arises in the House. But I raise it to make the point that the people of Western Australia are sick of the industrial militancy of unions in Western Australia and the fact that unions control the candidates of the Western Australian Labor Party, who then of course do nothing to rein in the industrial militancy. It is a model that the WA people are sick of, and I suggest that members opposite go and read some of those writings of Senator Mark Bishop on this subject. WA's economy is held back and disrupted by the unions and the Labor Party.

Having set the scene with the views of the people of Western Australia on this subject, I now turn to the provisions in the bill.

Ms Bird: Yay!

Mr IRONS: I hear some cheering from the opposition. They do not like having the spotlight put on them, do they! Let us first consider the right-of-entry provisions that have got Mr McDonald into trouble so many times. We have heard a lot about promise-keeping this week, and let us remember that before the 2007 election—an election featuring debate about industrial relations—both Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard promised that there would be no changes to union right-of-entry laws under a Labor government. These were commitments that eerily parallel the one made in the 2010 election campaign by Ms Gillard about the central issue of carbon taxation. Of course, the central assertions of Mr Rudd and Ms Gillard in 2007 did not come to fruition. The Fair Work Act was introduced by Ms Gillard and in fact greatly expanded the right-of-entry rules for discussion—expansions which have been exploited by the union bosses in WA. This exploitation has been further exacerbated by rival unions visiting the same sites multiple times as they compete for members.

It was the previous government's own Fair Work Act review panel, commissioned by the now opposition leader in 2012, that detailed how a number of Western Australia projects had become the target of right-of-entry abuse by unions. In particular, the panel noted the situation at the Pluto LNG project, which received over 200 right-of-entry visits in three months, and at BHP's Worsley Alumina plant, which received 676 right-of-entry visits in just one year—676. That is more than one a day. That is two a day, including weekends. Haven't they got anything else to do—just right of entry?

Ms Butler interjecting

Mr IRONS: We hear the opposition again standing up and protecting the militant unions in Western Australia.

Ms Butler: Because right of entry saves lives.

Mr IRONS: This bill will remove the capacity for union officials to harass and disrupt businesses, by restricting eligibility for right of entry for discussion. As the minister stated:

A union will only be entitled to enter a workplace for discussion purposes if:

1. they are covered by an enterprise agreement, or

2. they have been invited by a member or employee they are entitled to represent.

The amendments in this bill allow for the Fair Work Commission to take into account the combined impact of visits by all unions to the workplace—a provision aimed at tackling the interruptions caused by excessive visits by multiple unions to a single workplace as they attempt to attract members.

More recent amendments to the Fair Work Act in 2013 by the previous government further increased the burden on employers by requiring them to pay the cost of transport and accommodation of union officials to remote sites, including to offshore projects. The bill will repeal this unnecessary burden and reinstate the previous approach, where union employees were responsible for travel and accommodation costs. That is particularly relevant in a big state like Western Australia, where travel to the north and to a lot of construction sites has an enormous cost. It is unfair that employers should have to pay for people to come to the site who are coming there not to assist the employer but to disrupt them.

Greenfields agreements can be vital to the commencement of major projects, and this bill will ensure that good-faith bargaining requirements are extended to the negotiation of greenfields agreements. The extension of good-faith bargaining requirements will curtail the ability of unions to demand inflated wages and end the effective veto power on agreements that unions have enjoyed since the introduction of the Fair Work Act in 2009. The previous government's fair work review panel noted that, under the current laws, union actions 'potentially threaten future investment in major projects in Australia'. Since 2009, the decline in standards of bargaining conduct and the disruptive tactics employed by unions have delayed the development of major resource projects. These actions deprive the Australian economy of investment and much-needed job creation. Amendments to the greenfields provisions will send a strong message to overseas investors that Australia is once again open for business.

This bill will also remedy the strike first, talk later loophole that emerged under the Fair Work Act—a loophole that Labor never sought to address, despite Kevin Rudd promising prior to the 2007 election that employees 'will not be able to strike unless there has been genuine good faith bargaining'. Working hours lost under the last six years of Labor government peaked in 2012 at 273,200 days, highlighting the militant approach to the bargaining process employed by unions which was shamefully ignored by Labor.

The effects of unnecessary industrial action are widespread. The recent teachers' strike in Western Australia, a pre-election stunt attended by the opposition leader, did nothing to advance the cause of teachers within the state. Instead, it closed 102 schools for the day, depriving thousands of students—a number of whom reside in my electorate—of an entire day of learning. The presence of the opposition leader at this strike only further demonstrated Labor's acceptance of militant unionism and unnecessary industrial action, despite their negative impact on productivity, the community and the economy. By closing the loophole, the coalition government is taking steps to ensure that a balanced, harmonious and respectful approach is taken to enterprise bargaining.

Further measures in this bill we are discussing will work to provide clarity and certainty to employees around the use of individual flexibility arrangements and implement a number of the recommendations made by the Fair Work review panel that were overlooked by the previous government and the Leader of the Opposition, who was the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations at the time.

I am about to wrap up—and I am sure the new member for Griffith will be happy about that—but, first, I just want to go back to when I was working as an apprentice electrician and met a union shop steward on a building site in Bayswater, Victoria. He came in and asked to see my ticket. I did not have a ticket because apprentices do not have to have a ticket, but he insisted. He wanted to shut the site down. He was red-haired and Scottish, which is highly unusual for a shop steward in Victoria—or anywhere in Australia! He abused me for about 10 minutes because I was not a member of the union. He went to walk off after threatening to close the site down and I informed him that I was an apprentice. That took the wind out of his sails. He was very deflated because he was not able to shut the site down for having someone on the site without a union card. These were the types of tactics we saw back in the 1970s and they are still happening on sites in Western Australia. If you speak to any subcontractors or builders in Western Australia they will tell you that these threatening tactics of the unions are still operating. They are lawless. They are unfair to the people who actually provide the jobs for workers in Western Australia.

This bill will allow employees fair and equitable representation by a union without disadvantaging the employers who create jobs and strengthen our economy. Employers will be able to run their businesses without excessive and unnecessary union interruption. I commend the bill to the House.