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Monday, 2 May 2016
Page: 4050


Ms CHESTERS (Bendigo) (19:27): It is rare to be able to speak twice in your first term in the address-in-reply debate. The last time I spoke during the address-in-reply debate was actually my first speech, and that was the result of an election. We all came back into this place and, when it was our turn, we spoke during the address-in-reply debate. It is very rare to speak twice in a term to the address-in-reply debate: it is very rare because what the government did, in asking the Governor-General to recall and open the parliament again, is rare. The last time it happened in federal parliament was when Queen Elizabeth was in town and it was a special occasion. It may never happen again. It is definitely rare that within one term of parliament we have had two openings of the same parliament.

You would think that it would have to be a pretty serious reason as to why we would need to reopen our parliament; it would have to be something pretty serious or something that urgently needed to be dealt with. The rationale that we were given by the Governor-General, because he was asked by the Prime Minister to reopen the parliament for the second session, was:

The cause for which I have recalled the parliament is to enable it and, in particular, the Senate to give full and timely consideration to two important parcels of industrial legislation—the bills to provide for the re-establishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, and the bill to improve the governance and transparency of registered organisations.

That was the justification that was given for why we reopened this parliament and why we were all recalled. Yet, the second reason—the registered organisations bill—does not appear to be on the government's agenda anymore. It is not listed for debate. It was listed for debate and then taken off. It has been completely dropped. This government has decided that it is no longer important to talk about registered organisations. It has dropped the matter entirely. It is no longer on the government's Notice Paper, yet it was relevant enough for the Governor-General to be asked to reopen parliament for this issue—another example of how this government is playing politics and using this parliament to pursue its own agenda. It is too clever and too tricky by half. Sometimes it feels like you are at a National Union of Students debating conference rather than the Australian parliament, because of the way this side is trying to use procedure to push its agenda through.

It is not the first time that we have seen this government try to play games to push its agenda. Since coming to power, it has put forward multiple pieces of legislation that are not about ensuring safer workplaces and that are not about ensuring that we protect your rights at work. In fact, as I will say later in my speech, what is going on in our workplaces is the worst that it has been for decades. Wages are down, workplace health and safety incidents are up, people cannot find full-time work and workers are being exploited. All of this is going on on this government's watch.

Rather than tackling those serious issues in our workplaces, this government has instead gone after a movement—a Labor movement—because of this government's blind hatred for the movement, whether it be the trade unions and the workers or whether it be the Labor Party. If you step through what this government has done and how it has used our justice system, how it has misused this parliament, how it has used question time to ask questions, and how it has portrayed people here in this place and in the media, it is all about one thing and one thing only—to try and destroy its opponents. It is a cynical attempt by this government to set up a narrative and a case to destroy its opponents.

Mr Nikolic: No, the royal commission did that. It was the royal commission that did that.

Ms CHESTERS: Those on the other side are a bunch of bad sports. Somebody just interjected about the royal commission—an $80 million witch-hunt that had no recommendations that would be enacted with ABCC legislation or with the registered organisations legislation. That expensive witch-hunt and waste of time was a show trial, which pulled up previous Labor leaders, which pulled up current Labor leaders, and which did not recommend one criminal charge, because it did not have the capacity to do so. I acknowledge that there have been people in the union movement who have done the wrong thing—one or two bad people. Those people have faced the Fair Work Act and they have faced criminal charges.

Mr Nikolic interjecting

Ms CHESTERS: This is also a Liberal Party that will deny the fact that they have a few bad eggs in their movement. They are everywhere. Just as you throw at us the issues with Craig Thomson, we throw at you the issues with the Victorian Liberal Party and the fact that this week one of their own is pleading guilty to embezzling $1.5 million of Liberal Party funds.

There are bad people in every movement. They should face the full force of the law. But what this government has tried to do, through this parliament, through a royal commission and through the court system, is blame an entire movement. What we are seeing now, in quite possibly the last days of this government—

Mr Nikolic: Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I refer you to page 518 of the Practice, where it is not in order to be reflecting in that way on the judiciary. I would invite the member to be very careful about the way that she reflects on our courts and the members of our judiciary, which is clearly inconsistent with the standing orders.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Goodenough ): The member for Bendigo will please continue.

Ms CHESTERS: As I was saying in my statement about the way in which this government has tried to portray the 'evil' deeds of the union movement, it is just wrong in the way in which it has manipulated the system. The royal commission was a show trial. It was there to name and to shame individuals within—

Mr Nikolic: Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I again refer the member to page 518 of Practice and standing order 100(c), where she is clearly—

Ms Owens: Mr Speaker—

Mr Nikolic: I would invite the member for Parramatta to be seated while I am speaking. It is out of order to be standing while I am speaking.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Yes. The member for Parramatta will please resume her seat.

Mr Nikolic: It is inconsistent with standing 100(c) to reflect and be critical on the character of our judiciary. In saying it is a show trial, the member is imputing motives against the royal commissioner and the judiciary of this country. That reflects poorly on her and poorly on her party. I invite her to withdraw those comments immediately.

Ms CHESTERS: I will continue my statement, Mr Deputy Speaker.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: To assist the House, would you mind withdrawing that comment?

Ms CHESTERS: I will not withdraw, because I do not accept that ruling.

Mr Nikolic: Mr Deputy Speaker, in that case she is defying the chair.

Ms Owens: Mr Speaker, you ruled on the first point of order and then you allowed the member for Bass to make it again. I suggest that once you had ruled on your first point of order, the speaker with the call should have been allowed to continue without interruption on the same point again.

Mr Nikolic: Mr Deputy Speaker, in relation to the point of order, it is open under the standing orders for a member to call a point of order at any time. A previous ruling does not stop me from raising a point of order. I would invite the honourable member not to reflect in the way she has on the judiciary or the royal commissioner, imputing the most improper motives to a senior and respected member of the judiciary of this country.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The question has been raised as to whether the royal commissioner is a member of the judiciary, but it is improper to impugn—

Ms CHESTERS: I did not impugn the commissioner at all; I was talking about the process. I will continue my remarks.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Yes, please continue.

Ms CHESTERS: I will move to the Fair Work Building and Construction Commission and what is going on with the Fair Work Building and Construction Commission. We have seen time and time again in this place and the other place members of this government use the fair work building commission to name and shame individuals involved in the union movement. In fact, this government has used 195 questions without notice in question time to ask about the conduct and the behaviour of the fair work building commission.

We have to question how independent the fair work building commissioner is, with this statement by the Federal Court slamming the fair work building watchdog for abuse of power. On 7 April 2016 an article that appeared in the paper said that fair work was 'unjustifiably vexatious'. These are not my words; this is what was reported in a local paper—the director of fair work has unjustifiably vexatiously used his power. This is what the paper was saying. This was a report on what the Federal Court said, slamming the fair work watchdog. It went on to say in this particular case that the justice presiding over the matter 'on Thursday morning ruled the director of Fair Work was being "unjustifiably vexatious"'. These are pretty strong words that were used to describe the fair work building commission.

How does it come about that the Federal Court is saying this? I think we have to step through what is actually happening in some of our workplaces. In my electorate there is a worksite where construction work had gone on. It was a project that was partly funded by the previous government through Stronger Regions, which back then was known as the Regional Development Fund that was funded through the state government. There were issues in that case. The first thing that happened was, unfortunately and quite tragically, a worker fell into the orchestra pit and almost lost his life. Then we had a case where some subcontractors in that workplace went into receivership because they were not being paid by the principal contractor. Those people were sent letters of demand—somebody threatening to sue somebody else. That is what happened on this workplace.

This project was not without complications. A worker almost lost his life. Workers were not paid and subcontractors were not paid. Clearly there were issues, yet the fair work building commissioner did not go after those issues. Instead, he pulled up the organiser for the CFMEU and said, 'You didn't show your permit when you were asked.' Are these the most pressing issues on that worksite? The answer is no. It is not the first case and it is not the last case. As the Federal Court said a few weeks ago:

There is an established pattern of the FWBC pursuing the union at every opportunity, dragging union officials through courts …

This is what was reported in the media about what the fair work building commission has become.

How close is this government to the fair work building commission? This is now out in the public jurisdiction. You step through what happened in these workplaces—workers almost lost their lives and workers were being exploited and not being paid. Rather than investigating that—small businesses being threatened to be sued for speaking out about the fact that they had not been paid—they tried to slap the union official and it goes up in the local paper. It is a name and shame game.

The other example in relation to this is the Bendigo Hospital redevelopment project and Lendlease. I acknowledge Lendlease because they have now paid those workers. Some $600,000 in wages were owed to those workers. The Prime Minister sat down with Lendlease and said, 'We need to stop the lawlessness going on in Lendlease workplaces,' yet the Prime Minister was not asking Lendlease to pay the workers who had not been paid—migrant Chinese workers who lived in Melbourne and were driving up to Bendigo. They lost thousands and thousands of dollars because their company went into receivership. It took the CFMEU and a protest to get Lendlease to go: 'Okay, we have got a problem. We need to fix this.' Yet this government would say that it is not the contractor that is the problem; it is the union for being the whistleblower and exposing what is going on.

Unions are speaking out day in and day out about what is happening in our workplaces and this government has turned a blind eye to it. Whether it be the exploitation of temporary workers—and we found out again today that this government has said nothing to support the people who were working for 7-Eleven who were not paid properly—guest workers and migrant workers in this country, or whether it be temporary workers working in the cleaning industry, this government again is turning its back on them. This government cut the wages of the cleaners working in Parliament House. This government is failing Australian workers. Australian workers are being sacked and replaced for being Australian. We see it happening in our shipping industry. We see it happening in our construction industry. We see it happening in our health industry.

The number of 457 visas under this government has increased. People are being signed up for jobs and being paid less than Australian workers. That is what is happening under this government's watch. Yet the reason why this parliament had to be reopened was not that workers were being treated badly; it was that the people who try to help them are apparently the people who are behaving badly.

The crisis going on in Australian workplaces is all to do with the fact that we do not have a regime or support system strong enough for those workers, and this government is now trying to convince the Australian people that it is all the fault of a few union officials. That could not be further from the truth. It has recalled parliament, brought us back here. It has used every trick in the book in parliament to try to get the legislation through. It uses friends in the media to try and push forward cases about individuals, cases which have now been thrown out of court, as I tried to demonstrate earlier. Where is the apology for all those union officials who have been named and shamed in this place and in the other place only to be proven innocent? Where is the apology for those union officials? This government claims to be the great advocate of truth and justice, yet it has not apologised. It has not once said, 'Sorry, we got that wrong.' There have been almost 200 questions in question time naming and shaming not just an organisation but individuals.

This is the reason why this parliament had to be recalled, yet those opposite will not talk about what is going on in our workplaces. Temporary workers, people who have come here, are being exploited, but the government has failed to act. It said it would set up a committee. It has not done anything. This is a government that wants to cut the pay of low-paid workers. It is going after penalty rates. It wants to do is set up tougher rules for registered organisations because they are the organisations speaking out about the impact that cutting penalty rates will have.

This is a government that wants to go to an election on a real con, on a sham. It wants to go after its opposition. This is a government that has no respect for our democracy. It has no respect for this institution. It has no respect at all for the rule of law, even though it invokes it all the time. It has used the last three years to try to create a narrative to get to the point where they can try and con the Australian people that the biggest problem, the most urgent problem, we have to deal with and the reason we need to go to a double dissolution is a few union officials. That could not be further from the truth. If only the government went after the people who are ripping off temporary workers with the same vigour. If only the government went after the employers who are not ensuring safe workplaces with the same vigour. Instead, it has have brought us back here today, and here I am for the second time in my first parliament doing an address-in-reply after the Governor-General has reopened parliament. It is not because of an urgent matter but because of a lie. (Time expired)