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Thursday, 22 March 2012
Page: 3990

Mr BRIGGS (Mayo) (12:40): I also rise to speak on the Fair Work Amendment (Textile, Clothing and Footwear Industry) Bill 2012. It is a bill which is basically a long note to the parliament to admit failure, because this bill says that the much heralded so-called Fair Work Act has failed. It has completely failed this group of workers, presumably, because if the so-called Fair Work Act is so good and works so well why are we back here adding additional protections for another group of workers? I think the Prime Minister is on the record as saying:

I believe the Fair Work system is right.

…   …   …

We worked hard to get the balance right and I believe the Fair Work Act is right.

If the Fair Work Act was drafted well by the current Prime Minister and by members opposite, what are we doing today before this House adding additional protections? Why are we here?

We are here because they failed. They failed completely. They have misled the country. We are seeing it day in and day out. We are seeing strikes shut down coalmining in Queensland. We see strikes shut down wharves. We see strikes shut down airlines. We are seeing small businesses dragged through the good old days of 'go-away money' with adverse action claims and unfair dismissal claims. And now we are seeing this group of workers apparently being ripped off under the very system that members opposite claim is protecting the country so well and protecting the working people so well.

We know that to be true because those members opposite are not about protecting workers; they are about protecting their mates. They are about protecting their vested interests. They are about ensuring that their privileged position in the bargaining process continues, that they are legislated in, because they know most workers want to be out, and the stats tell you that story every day of the week. We know why workers are walking away from the trade union bosses in droves. Why wouldn't they, when people who are members of unions such as the HSU see their money, from their hard work, used up against the wall for the personal benefit of certain members—

Mr Mitchell: Mr Deputy Speaker, on a point of order—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. DGH Adams ): Order!

Mr BRIGGS: and certain senior members of the union leadership.


Mr BRIGGS: You should be ashamed, Rob. You should be ashamed of the treatment of these workers.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! I ask the honourable member for Mayo to resume his seat. I think I understand the honourable member for McEwen's point of order, so I ask him to resume his seat. I ask the member for Mayo to come back to the bill and to address the matters before the parliament. Thank you.

Mr BRIGGS: I will indeed continue to talk about the failure of the Fair Work Act and the reason that we are here. The reason we are here is the workers at the bottom end who genuinely need the protection of a union movement that is focused on protecting their rights and obligations under the system, because if people are being ripped off they should have recourse, they should have legal protection and they should have people who are willing to represent them. And there are many good unionists out there who work very hard to ensure that people have their rights pursued in an appropriate way.

In fact, the coalition, when in government, had specific provisions in this area because this area is obviously one which has had, in the past, difficulties. Therefore we believed that, like the building industry, this needed industry-specific legislation. I note the difference in approach by this government, which says you do not need industry-specific legislation for one group of workers when it comes to the building industry but you do when it comes to this industry and you do when it comes to their TWU mates. You need it in two industries, but not in the building industry. I ask you, Mr Deputy Speaker, why is it that Labor members, the proud union officials that they are, have not spoken up about the disgraceful misuse of HSU credit cards? The Health Services Union represents the lowest-paid workers in our society. I ask you that question.

Mr Mitchell: Mr Deputy Speaker, direct relevance is one point of order, but I certainly think that the imputation that he is making against members of this House—and I would suggest that you listen very carefully to the accusation that he is making—is wrong. Of course, he is cowardly in doing so in here because he would not have the guts to do it outside.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The honourable member's point of order is taken. I ask the honourable member for Mayo to come back to the bill before the House and to address his remarks that way.

Mr BRIGGS: We know that the member for McEwen has been so strong in his outrage about the treatment of those poor workers and their hard-earned money by people whose behaviour is undoubtedly the most questionable in the history of the trade union movement—and there is a fair bit more to come on this one. Ultimately, what we see with this legislation is an admission of failure by a government that does not know what it is doing. The commander at the table, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer, knows it. He has been brought in to try and add some heavyweight gravitas to the ministry. I do not think the commander at the table actually comes from a union official background. I think he was a Labor mayor. So I am not sure that he will be 'bucketed up' with those who should be defending the HSU workers. In any event, what we see here is a bill that will ultimately put this industry at risk. That is the problem with this bill, and it is not just us but people in the industry who are saying that.

I draw the attention of the House to some concerns that have been expressed by people who work in this industry, who run these small businesses and who are trying to make their way. I will quote, with the indulgence of the House, from a letter by one of these people:

I am an emerging Australian Fashion Designer starting a label from home.

And good on her for being an entrepreneur. She continues:

I would like to draw to your attention the Fair Work Act and the Textile, Clothing, Footwear and Associated Industries 2010 (the TCFAI Award), Modern Award regime which defines me as an outworker, despite my 4 year degree in fashion from Ultimo TAFE. The current TCFAI Modern Award definition has a "catch all" definition where anyone working from home in the fashion industry is an OUTWORKER … yes, I can be considered an OUTWORKER if I sell to a boutique or a department store, because of the deeming provisions of the award.

This legislation is about ensuring that entrepreneurs do not exist, that independent contractors do not exist. They are all workers. They are all employees as defined by the law so they can, of course, be targeted by and brought into the union movement. That is what this legislation is about. We saw the same with the TWU bill that was debated in the House last week. This legislation is being brought in under the guise of safety and protection but it is really about getting rid of the definition of 'independent contractor', because the Labor Party has always hated it. They have always hated the independent contractor. They voted against the specific legislation in 2005. They have moved bill after bill in this place to continue to get rid of the definition of independent contractor in this place and in our country. We know that because this bill, putting aside that it is admitting that there is failure in the Fair Work Act, is designed to do exactly that.

I will continue with the letter from this hardworking entrepreneur, who is working from home trying to make her way in this industry. She says—

Mr Mitchell: Name them.

Mr BRIGGS: I will name them. If you want me to name them, I will name them when you name all those workers who have to pay Craig Thomson's bills. I will name them then. In the letter she says she is aware that the final form of the legislation deems all outworkers to be employees, 'including the National Employment Standards, superannuation and unfair dismissal laws'. She says:

As a start-up business, in the beginning it will be challenging to pay myself, never mind employ a 'maker/outworker' on a regular basis, and pay all these entitlements. Again this is unworkable and in trading in such an environment, I face prosecution in breach of the TCFAI Modern Award 2010. The risks are too great.

She continues:

I would like you and your government to consider this letter and make the necessary changes to allow me and other graduating & emerging Australian Fashion Designers making samples and small orders (with business turning over less than $100,000 per year) to apply for exemption to this onerous and impractical regime, as part of the Modern Awards Review 2012.

This is the problem. It all sounds great in theory to add additional protections, drag all these people in, get rid of the independent contractor label and make them all employees, but in doing so you will destroy the industry. You will destroy opportunities for these people to make their own way and to create their own opportunities in our economy. These people—the entrepreneurs and the small business people, people who are wanting to employ other Australians—should be encouraged to make the best of their opportunities. But the Labor Party will not hear of it, because that runs against how they want society to be, which is that you are all employees, you are all members of the union, even though people are walking away from it. Why wouldn't they walk away when they see the behaviour of senior union officials in this country, when they see the utter and absolute abuse of their money by senior leaders in this country? This bill should be opposed—

Mr Stephen Jones: Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I distinctly heard you on a number of occasions attempt to draw the member for Mayo back to the legislation which we are debating. The point of order is relevance. He is debating legislation from somewhere else, I am sure, but not the matters that are before the House. So I would ask you, if you could, to draw the member back to the legislation before the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The honourable member for Mayo will come back to the bill and address the matters before the House.

Mr BRIGGS: I have been. Indeed, I am very surprised that the member for Throsby has now entered the chamber, not knowing what has gone on in here for the last 15 minutes of a genuine contribution to this bill. We say to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, to the House and to the Australian people: this bill is just another admission of failure by a government who likes to talk a lot but who has not delivered anywhere near its rhetoric. The Prime Minister said: 'I believe the fair work system is right. We worked hard to get the balance right and I believe the Fair Work Act is right.' If we had a fair work system operating as the Prime Minister said, we would not be debating this bill in this place today. We would be debating more substantial legislation dealing with genuine problems, such as Labor's deficit and Labor's mistreatment of our economy. This is a bad bill. It will add to the record of this government. They pretend to represent workers when all they do is represent the filthy trade union officials who are ripping off workers in our economy.