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Monday, 9 February 2015
Page: 48

Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (12:52): Just imagine if the government said to every small business in this country, 'You are not allowed to enter into a contract with a supplier unless you have discussed with that supplier the impact of that contract on how you run your business,' if this government said, 'We are going to say to every milk bar you cannot enter into a contract with a local bread supplier unless you have discussed with the bread supplier the impact of that contract on how you run your milk bar,' or if they said, 'We are not going to let you enter into any contract unless you have discussed the impact on your business and you front up to the ACCC and prove that you have done it with a stat dec or by jumping in the witness box to explain to a third-party regulator that you have discussed this matter,' you would have every small business in this country and probably every like-minded person lining up to condemn the government—not only condemn the government; they may in fact quote some of the government's words back to them. They may say to the government, 'It is not your role to come in and tell us how to conduct our businesses.' They may say to the government, 'You've told us that deregulation is your agenda and you are getting rid of laws that tell us how to run our business so you should not be going ahead with this.' That is exactly what this government is doing with respect to workplace relations with this bill, the Fair Work Amendment (Bargaining Processes) Bill 2014.

This government is saying you cannot strike an agreement in your workplace between an employer and employees unless you have talked about the things that we, the government, want you to talk about and you can front up and prove it to a third-party umpire. This bill shows the utter hypocrisy of the Liberals when it comes to questions of looking after people's rights at work, because every other day the government comes in here and says 'We have to repeal every law that tells people how they run their businesses,' yet when it comes to laws that might give workers some rights, they cannot come in here quick enough to make sure the government has a seat at every negotiating table in every workplace negotiation around this country and that the government is there ticking off on what people can and cannot say in their workplaces. Not only does it expose the utter hypocrisy of the Liberal Party when it comes to so-called small government; it also exposes their willingness to extend the reach of government right down into every discussion in every workplace in this country, if that is what their masters ask them to do.

All you have to do is have a look at what this bill does not talk about. The government is quite happy about saying, 'We are going to tell you what you are allowed to discuss in your workplace.' Does it say you have to have a discussion about safety, about how to make sure people's rights are protected and that everyone who turns up to work at the start of the day knows they are going to be able to go home to their family safe and uninjured? Does it say you have to discuss that? No. Does it say every workplace has to discuss how it is going to close the gender pay gap between men and women, which we know exists in this country and which report after report tells us about? No. They are not interested in that. Does it say you have to discuss how to look after child care in your workplace? No. Does it say you have to discuss work-life balance? No. It does not say that. We know work-life balance is one of the pressing issues and what former Prime Minister John Howard called a barbecue stopper, and we know that in this country we do a very bad job at matching up the hours people want to work with the hours that they actually work. Does it say you have to discuss how you are going to give training to young people to help address youth unemployment? No. It does not say you have to discuss that. The Liberals do not care about any of those things. What it does say is that before you can approve an agreement, you have to make sure that people have not asked for too much money. It says you cannot approve the right for people to take action in support of an agreement if you think they are asking for too much money. Well, thank you, Liberal Party, for looking after people's rights at work!

You will notice that it is only one-sided. What we have seen when this government is in the position of employer is that they are quite happy to turn up to public servants and say: 'We want you to work an extra half an hour for free. We want you to work extra hours for nothing.' Why is it that if an employee asks for a pay rise the commission is able to judge whether or not it is too excessive, but there is nothing in this bill to stop an employer asking someone to work more for free? That speaks volumes of the agenda of this government: there is nothing manifestly excessive about asking people to work extra hours for free, but there is, apparently, if you are working in the resources sector in a mining boom, asking for a share of the spoils. Let us just look at that for a moment.

This government have done nothing during the course of a once-in-a-generation—if not once-in-a-lifetime—mining boom to say, 'We are going to take a share of the spoils that are currently going largely to overseas owned companies.' Therefore, the profits are going overseas. They have done nothing to say, 'How do we take a share of that and work it to the benefit of the Australian people?' There is nothing to say, 'We are going to stop people making excessive profits by diverting some of it back to the public good.' No—if you are in the resources sector or in the mining sector, under this government you can make as much excessive profit as you like. It just means that if you are a worker in that sector you cannot front up and ask for a share of it. You cannot, in a once-in-a-generation mining boom, put your hand out and say, 'We can see you wealthy mining companies are getting most of this and we want a share.' No, that would be unlawful under this bill. You will not be entitled to bargain in that way under this bill.

This is another very clear expression of the government's agenda that the resources boom is only to go to those who own companies, not the people who work in the sector. If you ask for a share of the boom, you are asking for too much. Excessive profits elsewhere? Sure. But excessive—so-called—wages? No, that is not on. That is not on.

Not only that but, when you look at the minister's second reading speech, you can see the fallacy that this bill is built on. The minister in his second reading speech referred to so-called activity in Western Australia, and he said this:

For example, we have recently seen reports of protected action ballot orders made and protected industrial action threatened in pursuit of claims that would increase the salary package of marine engineers in Port Hedland by around 38 per cent over four years. The reports indicated the claim, which includes an additional month of annual leave, is on top of existing salary packages of between $280,000 and $390,000, where employees work six months of the year.

So the minister said, 'You should pass this bill because we've seen reports of protected action ballot orders made where there've been claims of 38 per cent over four years.'

Well, that is wrong. That is wrong, and the minister should have known it was wrong because he was relying on reports that were simply not true. As the Institute of Marine and Power Engineers has made absolutely crystal clear, the dispute that was being referred to—and he was referring to marine engineers, remember—was resolved with pay claims of zero per cent, two per cent, two per cent and two per cent over four years. That was the agreement that was reached. The claims that were made in the reports were wrong from the beginning, and a complaint has been made to the Press Council about it.

What does the minister do? Does the minister say, 'Well, I've seen this report; I'm going to inquire as to whether it's true before I get up in parliament and tell people they need to pass a bill to restrict people's rights at work because of a report that I've read'? No, he does not. He gets up here and makes claims about 38 per cent pay rises which are simply not right. A complaint has been made to the Press Council about this report, and we will see what the adjudication of that is.

But the minister—and I will be pursuing this during the consideration in detail stage if we get the opportunity—needs to come back in here and correct the record on that, because he is saying to the parliament, 'Pass this bill on the basis of reports of 38 per cent,' when there is a very real question mark over that, and the unions and the employees there will tell you that that is simply not right. I suspect that, when the minister does a bit of digging and looks at that, the minister will also realise that he was relying on a report that did not accord with the facts in that dispute at that moment. When the minister comes in and admits that, a plank underpinning this whole bill falls down. That, in the second reading speech, is the best that he could come up with as to why we need this bill, and there is a very big question mark over the reliance on that.

So I say this to the government: don't expect us to ever take you seriously when you talk about deregulation and getting government out of the operation of people's businesses, when you come in here with a bill like this. You come in here with a bill that says: 'We are going to sit there at every negotiating table and tell you what you can and can't talk about. We're not going to do anything about superprofits being made that don't come back and benefit the Australian people, but 83 per cent of the profits in that mining and resources sector find their way overseas. We're not going to do anything about that, but, if you're a worker who says, "I want a share of the good times as well," we're going to come down on you like a ton of bricks, and we're going to make sure that there's effectively a government official sitting at every negotiating table.' When you do that, don't expect us to ever take you seriously about deregulation. And you say you are concerned about manifestly excessive claims, but there is nothing in here stopping a government or an employer, or the government as an employer, coming and saying to public servants, 'We'd like you to work for free.' That is not excessive! There is no bar against that. Don't expect us to ever take you seriously when you say that you care about deregulation or you care about fairness.

I know that you keep going back to the Productivity Commission and to others to try and get the answer that you want, to suggest that somehow it is the industrial relations laws of this country that are standing in the way of productivity gains. But you ignore the very, very clear analysis that shows, when you look back over recent Australian economic history, that the period of the lowest—in fact, almost zero per cent—productivity growth, the cycle of zero per cent productivity growth that happened in recent Australian economic history, was the period of Work Choices. The period that we had Work Choices in was the period of zero or close to zero per cent productivity growth over the productivity cycle. And I know you keep going back, and now we need another review because you did not get the answer that you liked last time, because the facts do not speak to it. I know you will keep trying, but that is the reality.

If you were serious about improving productivity in this country, you would look at all the things that—in my instance, in my electorate—help make a city productive. Things like people being able to get around by good public transport so that they do not spend an hour stuck in traffic improve productivity. People being able to fit their working hours to their lives and to the hours that they want to work helps improve productivity. People then, when they are at work, are there for the hours that they need to be, and then they get to go home, look after the kids and look after their other responsibilities on their own time at the time that they need to do that as well. You would build an NBN to help us improve productivity. You would plan our cities better so that people are not being continually plonked on the outskirts of our city, where housing might be cheaper, but you end up paying just as much in petrol coming into the city as you save on your mortgage. You would plan our cities better if you were really interested in improving productivity.

The government has no vision for our cities. The government has no vision our country—for doing the things that would improve productivity. All they are capable of doing is coming back here without evidence, time after time, and saying, 'We need to remove some of the basic protections that people have at work.' I am all for improving productivity, but this bill will do nothing for that. This bill is just another attempt to remove people's rights at work, and that is why it will not be supported.