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Wednesday, 15 February 2017
Page: 1074

Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (19:59): Minister, this shows why this bill should not be passed by the Senate. It is so loose and so unclear in the drafting. It has been poorly drafted on your instructions—I do not blame the drafter for the issue. That is only one example of why this bill should not pass the Senate. On that basis, I move the opposition amendment (1) on sheet 8070:

(1) Schedule 1, page 3 (after line 23), at the end of the Schedule, add:

6 At the end of section 34


(4) Provisions of the Building Code that are inconsistent with the operation of Part 2-4 of the Fair Work Act 2009 have no effect to the extent of the inconsistency.

This basically says that building and construction workers should be treated the same as every other worker in Australia. I will put it to you: not only every worker in Australia but workers who negotiate collective agreements all over the world are bound by the acts of parliament in their various countries. I am unaware of anything like this bill, which is designed for the code to absolutely diminish the bargaining rights of building and construction workers in this country.

No-one should have any illusion what this is about. This is about diminishing the capacity of building and construction workers—the chippies, the brickies, the boiler makers, the air conditioning mechanics, the lift mechanics and the crane drivers, ordinary workers out there—to try to get a decent living with decent conditions and respect on the job. This is part of the tradition of this government. This government's tradition is Work Choices. It is about diminishing workers' rights and workers' conditions in this country, and collective bargaining is absolutely anathema to this government and to your senior partner, One Nation. This is a real problem. This bill is designed to diminish ordinary workers' capacity to have a union go in and negotiate across a range of issues. That is available to workers around the country. Having a different set of laws for workers in the building and construction industry does not have any validity. There is no intellectual strength to why you are doing this; it is an absolute nonsense. Through this amendment, we are seeking to say, basically, that there are laws in this country that regulate bargaining, that those laws apply in all industries across the country and that building and construction workers are being treated differently.

We are also saying that this bill breaches workers' international rights and the international obligations of the government and this country, which have been freely given at the ILO. This bill places restrictions on ordinary workers designed to diminish their take-home pay, their conditions and their protections. I know what the response will be from the government: that it is about this alleged thuggery, that it is about all these bad things. The way coalition members describe the building and construction industry is far from the reality that ordinary workers in the industry experience. What the majority of ordinary workers experience is that a union goes in, negotiates a decent agreement and provides them with good wages, good conditions and rights at work. This is what you are trying to diminish. You are using the bad behaviour of a minority in the industry, you are reflecting the behaviour of a minority across the whole industry and you are then putting through legislation that massively diminishes the capacity of building and construction workers to access their rights to collectively bargain, consistent with Australian law and our international obligations. This amendment is designed to protect workers in the building and construction industry, to protect them from the ideological attack that is being mounted by this government and that has been mounted by previous coalition governments from the days of former Prime Minister John Howard and Work Choices.

In our view, this is a bill that should not be supported. The drafting of the bill is deficient. The minister has been unable to explain many elements of the bill in an effective manner. The minister has been unable to explain what the implications are for the industry. The minister has given answers here tonight that are at complete odds with the clauses in the code. It is a confusing, confused bill. The minister cannot understand the clauses herself. If the minister cannot understand the clauses and if the minister cannot read elements of the bill, what chance do employers and employees have of going out into the field and negotiating agreements that are supposedly consistent with this code?

The other issue is that it is not the industrial commission that will be determining code compliance; it will be the worst public servant in the country, Mr Nigel Hadgkiss. Mr Hadgkiss has surrounded himself with cronies and sycophants, and is simply there as a political weapon of the coalition. He is a publicly funded union-busting operative. He is one of the highest paid public servants in the country, but he has no idea about how his organisation operates. All he wants to do is apply this code in a manner that disadvantages Australian building workers. Let me say clearly that if this happens and workers are diminished in their capacity to bargain then small businesses all around the country will feel the pain when building and construction workers do not have the disposable cash to go out there and keep their economies and their communities running.

So this is a bad bill. This is a bill that should be rejected. The performance of the minister tonight clearly demonstrates her lack of understanding of the bill. It has been ideologically driven and it is about attacking workers' rights to collectively bargain.