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Tuesday, 27 November 2012
Page: 9921


Senator CASH (Western Australia) (20:27): Before the interruption, which was brought on of course because the Labor Party got together with the Greens to guillotine debate for the rest of the week, I was referring to the positions of the vice-presidents of Fair Work Australia or, as has been put by several people, the jobs for their union mates. Since the announcement of these two additional positions there has been widespread community concern, including from within Fair Work Australia. Indeed, the Australian Financial Review reported recently:

In an email obtained by the Weekend Financial Review, Senior deputy president Les Kaufman wrote to Fair Work president Iain Ross on Wednesday questioning the need for two positions, which reintroduces a level of seniority at the tribunal that was removed under the Fair Work Act in 2009.

He said the appointments would "further erode the standing" of the tribunal and "gives rise to the perception it is being stacked.

That was Senior Deputy President Les Kaufman of the Fair Work panel.

In addition, many of the submissions to the relevant Senate committee also expressed deep reservations about the inclusion of these two positions, including one submission that stated as follows:

This was not recommended by the Panel. It is unclear why these amendments are necessary or required.

The coalition has concerns that there has been an overwhelming number of people who have been appointed to Fair Work Australia with a trade union pedigree. You only have to look at the last round of appointments by the Labor government to see that of Mr Bernie Riordan, who is a former Electrical Trades Union official and who, lo and behold the day prior to his appointment, mysteriously had civil proceedings against him settled. That is right: the day before his appointment he mysteriously had civil proceedings that had been taken out against him sent away. The coalition, in relation to this particular provision of the act, trusts that the resourcing of these positions will not come at the expense of Fair Work Australia's newly established branch to oversee the financial accountability and transparency of trade union bosses. We will be opposing the provisions of this bill that create these two additional positions.

I turn to the fair work panel's recommendation:

… The Panel recommends that the FW Act—

Fair Work Act—

be amended to change the name of Fair Work Australia to a title which more aptly denotes its functions. It is recommended that the new title contain the word 'Commission' and that it no longer contain the words 'Fair Work'.

That was a recommendation from the government's own hand-picked fair work review panel, so what does the government do with this particular recommendation? They reject it outright. The coalition was somewhat surprised that the legislation seeks to change Fair Work Australia's name to 'Fair Work Commission', which is in clear contradiction of the recommendations made by the expert panel. Time and time again, day after day, when it comes to border protection we are criticised by those on the other side for not accepting every single recommendation that was set out in the Houston panel's report. The Houston panel's expert findings are now the Labor Party's bible when it comes to border protection. But when it comes to the report of their own hand-picked fair work review panel, they pick and choose, cherry-picking the recommendations, and we all know why, because once again when you are held accountable by union bosses—when you are the Labor government and you are held accountable to union bosses—you need to be very careful which recommendations of the fair work review panel that you do implement. The coalition notes in addition that there is wide stakeholder support for the name being changed to 'Australian Workplace Relations Commission' and Senator Eric Abetz will be moving an amendment in relation to this.

In relation to other recommendations from the fair work review panel that have surprisingly not been taken up by the government because they would have very serious consequences for the behaviour of union bosses in Australia, I refer to the Barclay v Bendigo TAFE case. The High Court's unanimous judgement in the Barclay v Bendigo TAFE case found that union bosses should not be an untouchable class in the workplace. This decision provides much-needed comfort to the employers who have had to put up with unacceptable behaviour from some union bosses, often on a daily basis. However, it is highly disappointing and emblematic that the Labor government intervened in the High Court case on the side of the union boss, Mr Barclay, arguing that it actually was the intention of the Fair Work Act to make union bosses untouchable even if they did the wrong thing. That was the submission that the Labor government put to the High Court, that it was the intention of the Fair Work Act to actually make union bosses untouchable if they did the wrong thing! The High Court issued a damning statement in relation to Minister Shorten and stated that Mr Shorten had acted as a union boss first and as a minister of the Crown second after foolishly intervening on the side of the Australian Education Union in the Barclay v Bendigo TAFE case.

In relation to the Grocon issue in Victoria, up until a few months ago I do not think there were too many Australians, other than those that lived in Melbourne, that actually knew that Myer was developing a new emporium. However, thanks to the absolutely despicable behaviour of the CFMEU in relation to this, the whole of Australia now knows about it. The Grocon dispute witnessed the deployment of hundreds of police, at great expense to taxpayers, just so people could get to work. The violent attacks on police and police horses in Melbourne are to be condemned in the strongest possible terms. This is something that, unsurprisingly, Minister Shorten was unable to do and has been unable to do to date, apart from a very non-specific statement that he gave saying 'I condemn illegal activity'. When asked if the CFMEU was engaging in illegal activity, he lamely said that this was 'for the courts to decide'. But we all know who Minister Shorten is accountable to. When you are accountable to union bosses, as Minister Shorten is, quite frankly that is about the extent of the explanation that you are going to give. Make no mistake, the scenes that were witnessed by Australians in Melbourne were a direct result of the CFMEU being emboldened by the abolition, by the Labor government, of the Australian Building and Construction Commission. We on this side of the chamber have been very clear in relation to our commitment on the Australian Building and Construction Commission. If we are given the opportunity to again govern, one of the first acts of a coalition government will be to restore the ABCC with all of its former powers. We on this side are very clear that families should not have to live with the worry of their breadwinner being attacked and victimised by union thugs when they go to work.

In relation to the JJ Richards case, the decision in this case is very significant in that it showed that the Fair Work Act did not faithfully embody what Labor promised before the 2007 election. The then opposition leader, Kevin Rudd, pledged hand on heart that the Fair Work Act would not allow the return of 'strike first, talk later'. Yet the decision in the JJ Richards case shows that is exactly what the Fair Work Act does.

The Federal Court's judgement confirmed that the argument advanced on behalf of JJ Richards was understandable and reasonable but for the specific wording in the Fair Work Act which entitles unions to obtain protected action ballots in circumstances where most reasonable people would argue they should not be allowed. In relation to the findings of the Federal Court, Labor are yet to tell the Australian people whether this was simply a drafting error or whether the Labor government, once again, deliberately misled them. I have to say that, given Mr Shorten's refusal to include a response to the JJ Richards recommendation in the review in the first tranche, it is now becoming clear that JJ Richards was just one in the same series of broken promises to the Australian people, along with the carbon tax.

In concluding my comments, whilst the coalition have some serious concerns with this bill, which coalition senators have outlined in their speeches, we will not be opposing it, albeit we will move amendments in the committee stage. We would suggest the government give consideration to those amendments because they will enable the government to do what the Fair Work Act review panel has done in its recommendations. We support the majority of the recommendations from the fair work review but note— (Time expired)