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Thursday, 24 June 2004
Page: 31735

Dr EMERSON (9:19 AM) —The good news is that the Senate has prevented the passage of the vicious building and construction industry bill—the bill introduced into this parliament by the now Minister for Health and Ageing when he said: `We are going to get this building and construction industry bill through the parliament.' Minister, as always, you failed, because that legislation did not go through the parliament. That legislation was prevented by the Senate, and that is a major victory for the working men and women of Australia—and particularly the working men and women in the building and construction industry. The Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations referred to the ACCC. We had a debate in parliament just the other day when the minister and the government announced that there would be new provisions relating to the ACCC in the Trade Practices Act that would give businesses the opportunity to bargain collectively. Of course, this government denies the working men and women of this country the right to bargain collectively. If we come back into this place before the next election, which I doubt, why do you not put forward legislation to give the working men and women of this country the right to bargain collectively?

The scandal of all this is that today—a Saturday at the end of a long sitting period—is the first opportunity for the House of Representatives to debate the provisions in the Workplace Relations Amendment (Codifying Contempt Offences) Bill 2003. These draconian, McCarthyist provisions were introduced in the Senate, and we have about 20 minutes to debate them here today. That is exactly how this government wants it. That is exactly how the government treats the parliament and its committees. The original, unamended legislation would have meant that government appointed investigators—not investigators appointed by a statutory authority but investigators appointed by the departmental secretary, who is directly answerable to the minister and who is on performance pay which will be determined by the minister—directed by the head of the department would have been able to go to any Australian who was working in the building and construction industry, ask questions and demand answers, and those people could have been punished with six months jail if answers were not given.

If it were not for the amendments that were put into the parliament last night to prevent this, and the government had had its way, government investigators would have been able to ask questions like, `Are you or have you ever been a member of a trade union? Are you or have you ever been a member of the Australian Labor Party?' If they did not answer that, they would be sent to jail. They would not even receive a financial penalty; they could be punished with up to six months in jail if they did not answer those McCarthyist questions. There were no constraints on the sorts of questions that investigators could ask. Of course, it is not just restricted to the questions that the government appointed investigators can ask, but the information that can be required of such people working within the building and construction industry extends to phone accounts, phone records, bank accounts and any other document that the investigator wants. If a working man or woman in the construction industry failed or refused to provide those documents, that would be punishable by six months in jail with no financial penalty at all. That would apply not just to someone who has done something wrong; it applies to someone who may have done nothing wrong. There may be no suspicion of this person having done anything wrong, but they may just have information about the trade union of which they may or may not be a member and the activities of that trade union, including information about whether or not they are a member of the Australian Labor Party. That was disgraceful legislation and it is a tribute to the Senate and to the Labor senators that they had the resolve to stare down this government and make sure these draconian, open-ended, McCarthyist provisions were not passed.

Senator Marshall came up with a proposal yesterday evening which has to some extent curtailed the powers that the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and the Prime Minister of this country sought. The proposal was that the scope and method of investigation of government investigators must be approved by the Senate in the form of a regulation—that is, a disallowable instrument. That means that if the guidelines for the operation of these investigators are not approved by the Senate, then any evidence gained up until the time of disallowance is useless and cannot be used. (Extension of time granted) If they go outside those guidelines, once they are established by regulation, then any evidence gained cannot be used.

Last night, through the resolve of Labor senators, who would not buckle to the pressure of this government, at least some parliamentary scrutiny and accountability was achieved—scrutiny and accountability which this government hates, because it treats the parliament and its parliamentary committees with contempt. Through an amendment, we also ensured that there are provisions for financial penalties; otherwise, it would have been straight to jail. Go straight to jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Do not collect anything other than a jail sentence. So there are now financial penalties. However, the fact is this: as a result of the passage of this legislation, Australians working in the building and construction industry will have fewer rights than people who have information on terrorist activities. That is a disgrace. It is modern-day McCarthyism—and, of course, the minister wanted this debate stopped.

The debate on the ASIO powers in relation to terrorism spanned 12 months, and very significant protections were put in place as a result of the scrutiny of this parliament and parliamentary committees to ensure that people who may have had information relevant to terrorist activities at least had some basic civil liberties, some basic protections. That debate went for 12 months in this place—12 months—and yet the debate on this bill went for about seven hours last night in the Senate. It has never been debated in the House and yesterday the Leader of the House was saying there should be a very short debate and that Labor are filibustering because we are trying to provide some basic civil liberties for working men and women in the building and construction industry. There were 12 months of debate on the ASIO powers and seven hours debate on this.

There was another significant development yesterday. There was the appointment of a man named Jonathan Hamberger to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission. Who is Jonathan Hamberger? Jonathan Hamberger is the government appointed Employment Advocate who does not believe in the Industrial Relations Commission, who does not believe in collective bargaining. We know that Labor has committed to the abolition of AWAs and the abolition of the Employment Advocate. The Employment Advocate has read the writing on the wall. He said, `Oh, this is the last day of parliament. There is an election coming and Labor is going to win the election.' So off he goes to the minister and he says: `My God! Labor is going to win the election. Appoint me to a position for life.' What did the minister do? He said, `I will'—terrific. Yesterday, on what may well be the second-last day of parliament, the minister appointed the Employment Advocate to a position for life on the Industrial Relations Commission that the Employment Advocate would like to abandon, would like to demolish. He hates collective bargaining. He is a champion of individual contracts. He is a champion of AWAs—and they have put him in charge in the Industrial Relations Commission. The significance of this is that this government knows that it is on the ropes. This government knows that this may well be the last day of this parliament. It has appointed one of its mates, in the last desperate act of a desperate government, to a position for life because that particular person, Mr Hamberger, knew his number was up.

I thank the Labor senators in particular who worked so hard on getting a result and on constraining the powers of this McCarthyist government. I thank Senator Peter Cook, who spoke long and passionately last night about the activities of this government and its McCarthyist tendencies. I thank Senator Gavin Marshall for the terrific work he has done in coming up with a regulation that constrained the powers that you wanted to apply to the working men and women of this country.

The SPEAKER —Order! The use of the term `you' was the only thing I was taking action against there.

Dr EMERSON —I thank Senator Penny Wong, who sat through the entire debate, and Senator George Campbell, who chaired the inquiry. (Extension of time granted) Senator George Campbell ensured that at least some limitations were placed on this government. He chaired the inquiry to make sure that the building and construction industry bill never passed this chamber. It never passed through the parliament, and you lost again, Minister.

The SPEAKER —Order! I may not return, but the term `you lost again' is not something which I am anxious to have on the Hansard record.

Dr EMERSON —We will put you on the Hansard record in a moment, Mr Speaker. I thank Senator Michael Forshaw, Senator Kate Lundy, Senator Joseph Ludwig and Senator Kim Carr, and I also acknowledge the hard work and guidance of Senator John Faulkner and Senator Jacinta Collins, who worked long and hard on this. This may well be the last sitting day of this parliament, and it is therefore highly likely to be the last sitting day of the Howard government, and that is why we are here—we are here to farewell the Prime Minister. Farewell, Prime Minister! See you later. You have been here long enough.

The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Rankin will return to the amendments.

Dr EMERSON —If, indeed, this is the last sitting day of this parliament, on behalf of Labor I would like to pay tribute to those members on our side of the parliament who are leaving this place when the election is called—the member for Greenway, the member for Watson, the member for Kingsford-Smith and the member for Prospect, who are all great contributors to this parliament. They include our great Chief Opposition Whip, the member for Kingsford-Smith, who has had a long and distinguished record in this parliament and, before that, in the New South Wales parliament. The member for Watson was a distinguished Speaker of this House. (Time expired)

The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Rankin has extended the standing orders beyond what can be tolerated.