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Thursday, 12 February 2015
Page: 625


Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (13:55): I am continuing my speech on the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2014. Yesterday, when I began my speech, I detailed General Abetz's military style operation with attacks on three fronts and how this would be welcome news for the coalition's constituency, the big end of town. The loss of Work Choices and the ABCC would still cause the coalition pain. The coalition know it would still cause the big end of town pain and they know their coalition government has a lot of ground to make up.

Let us remember a bit about the ABCC. It was one of the most biased of the so-called independent agencies any Australian government has ever established. We knew it was bad under the Howard government, but the Abbott government wants it to be even more extreme. During the reign of the previous ABCC, deaths of construction workers increased. Now the current government wants the new ABCC to have wider powers and for there to be reduced union representation and fewer safety measures on the job. Under Abbott's ABCC, a union could be fined more for stopping over a workplace death than an employer would be if they—

Senator Ronaldson: Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. That was the second time in a minute. First there was a reference to Minister Abetz, and now to the Prime Minister. The senator should know what the protocols of this place are. I ask that she observe them.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Dastyari ): Senator Rhiannon, I remind you of the protocols of this place, to address people by their proper titles and to speak through the chair.

Senator RHIANNON: Under the current government's ABCC, a union could be fined more for stopping over a workplace death than an employer would be if they were ever convicted. It is interesting that it was at that point that the interjection came. So a unionist could be jailed but not the employer—and the Prime Minister tells us that he leads a good government and Senator Abetz makes out that he cares for people.

Interrogations under the ABCC would be conducted in secret. If you are interrogated, you cannot tell anyone about it, not even your partner or family, your fellow workers or your union representatives. If you will not attend the interrogation, you can be jailed for six months. There is nothing equal, in any aspect of the industrial relations work of this government, between unions and corporations.

Senator Abetz, in prosecuting his war, adopts his take-no-prisoners approach, even to the natural allies of the conservatives: many businesses. It was in January last year that the senator let fly in his Sydney Institute address, complaining about what he called 'weak-kneed employers' caving in to unreasonable union demands. Talk about arrogant and revealing!—arrogant as here is a senior Abbott government minister telling companies he knows their business better than they do with regard to what should be paid to their workers; and revealing as the minister highlights the government's intent to drive down wages and conditions that workers have a right to. What Minister Abetz and so many of his conservative colleagues cannot handle is that many employers recognise that their workforce has the right to join a union and that this is part of running a productive business.

MATES in Construction, now a nationwide organisation backed by the CFMEU and some key construction companies, is a suicide prevention program aimed at the Australian construction industry. A report on suicide in the Queensland commercial construction industry found that suicide rates in the industry were higher than the Australian average for men; alarmingly, youth suicide rates within the industry could be nearly 2.4 times higher compared with other young Australian men. In Western Australia, Multiplex, Mirvac and John Holland projects are at MATES accredited sites. That is a positive program—again, the sort of thing that Senator Abetz just ignores all the time—where unions and construction companies are working together.

When I was in state parliament, MPs were invited to work with a small business, and I found it enjoyable and informative. Something similar at a federal level would be useful, where MPs and senators could join a business workforce for a day. I think Senator Abetz would learn a lot from a day at a construction site like Barangaroo.

Senator Abetz: I've been there!

Senator RHIANNON: But did you work? But, as I guess that would not be his first choice, what about a day's work at a chicken factory? This would provide an opportunity for the minister to understand the nature—

The PRESIDENT: Order! It being 2 pm, we will proceed to questions without notice.