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Tuesday, 10 March 2009
Page: 1075

Senator JOYCE (Leader of the Nationals in the Senate) (5:03 PM) —It is interesting to come in here today to speak on the Fair Work Bill 2008 and for the first thing I hear to be Senator Cameron talking about neoliberals. The first question I want to ask is: on the day the Labor Party decided to deregulate the single wheat desk, what were they on that day—neoliberals or hypocrites?

Senator Cameron interjecting—

Senator JOYCE —That is the question. The fact seems to have escaped the Labor Party that it was they who came charging in to deregulate the single desk. It was the Labor Party that decided that the market had to reign supreme. It was the Labor Party that dragged small farmers kicking and screaming to the lowest common denominator, to be held hostage by those who have complete and utter market power over them. But this is a point that the Labor Party seem to have conveniently forgotten and Mr Rudd seems to have conveniently left out in his little totem in the Monthly.

Senator Cameron interjecting—

Senator JOYCE —So you seem to change and morph as events require. But every time you talk about neoliberals or deregulation I will just say to you: what was your position on the day that you, the Labor Party, rushed in—and it was one of the first things you did—to deregulate the single desk? What was your position towards those farmers on that day? How do you balance the paradoxical positions you held on that issue?

Senator Cameron interjecting—

Senator JOYCE —You know you are vulnerable on that and you are complete and utter hypocrites to come in here and belt on about neoliberals when on that day you led the charge. You led the charge to put those farmers down. This is the position that you people have—

Senator Cameron interjecting—

Senator JOYCE —You can interject all you like, Senator Cameron. You can run with the fox and you can hunt with the hounds, but in the end people know exactly what you are: you are fraudulent.

This is the position that the Labor Party is now trying to espouse before the Australian people: oh, the hurt of it all! And all this rubbish about the HR Nicholls Society—it sounds like they must be in every workplace. I have never met them. I would not know them if they stood up in my cornflakes. Who on earth are the HR Nicholls Society?

Senator Cameron interjecting—

Senator JOYCE —Who are they?

Senator Cameron interjecting—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Parry)—Order! Senator Cameron, I have tolerated a little bit of interjection. If you would let Senator Joyce be heard in silence, thank you.

Senator JOYCE —Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. I know why they interject; they are on extremely shaky ground. This whole dissertation about the HR Nicholls Society—the HR Nicholls Society being under the bed and sneaking around corridors—is a load of rubbish.

Let us get down to what this legislation is about. The Greens said right from the word go that they are going to vote for this. For the Greens to come in here and talk about what is wrong with the legislation is completely and utterly pointless because they have no bargaining position. The Greens are going to vote for the legislation. The Greens will not hold the line. When push comes to shove the Greens are going to do what they always do—fall into line with the Labor Party. It has been a bit peculiar lately because they have gone out and announced their support before they even got into the chamber. At least in the past we had to wait a little while.

The crossbenchers will also agree with the legislation. It is the case that the Greens said yes at the start and the crossbenchers will say yes at the end. They will all say yes and whatever legislation the Labor Party proposes will go through. That is the reality of it. We are going through the process here. We will be certainly holding the line on the issues, but the reality is that this Labor Party policy will go through with the support of the crossbenchers and the Greens. All their romantic dissertations about amendments are pointless because they would not have the ticker to hold the line if it came to voting against the bill. Because the Labor Party know that, they will show glib empathy, nod and smile, and whimsically look around. You know that at the end of the day they will say: ‘We’ve got them packed away. They’re going to support us, so don’t worry about it.’

There are a couple of things in here that I really do think are obnoxious in the year of our Lord 2009. The first one is the so-called right of entry of union officials to people’s private property. There is this crazy idea that, if the filing cabinet for my employees is in my living room, some union official can wander through my living room because he has apparently a superior right to a policeman. He does not need a subpoena to get access to these records; he can just make up his own mind. Surely we have left those days behind. Surely a person’s private property should be respected with dignity. You cannot have a union official come wandering into your place. How did he get that right? If he wants to be a policeman, let him be a policeman. Do not give a union official superior rights to officers of the Crown. They say: ‘We’ll hold them to account. We’ll be out there checking that they don’t look at what they’re not supposed to look at.’ How are you going to check what information they read and what information they collect? How are you going to monitor that? You are not.

I think this is completely obnoxious. The Australian people should know that the Labor Party are dovetailing into this legislation all these nasty little pieces and then running out with the word ‘mandate’—‘We’ve got a mandate to let someone wander through your living room or kitchen or come into your private dwelling; we’ve got a mandate for this person’s rights to be superior to other people’s; we’ve a mandate.’ We see once more the gun-to-the-head approach. They have dovetailed and embedded in this legislation lots of nasty little bits of work. It is the job of this chamber to knock out those nasty little bits of work. If we do not knock out those nasty little bits of work then we hand the union movement back what they really want, and that is access to a cash flow. This is all about making sure that cash keeps flowing to the Australian Labor Party.

The mysterious shop stewards are supposed to look after the workers. They are not really looking after the workers; they are looking after the Australian Labor Party and making sure that they have complete access to the $¾ billion in union fees that are paid throughout this nation each year. We know about this because in every election the Labor Party are cashed up to their eyeballs. They are cashed up to their eyeballs not because they have sold a product in the marketplace that people have wanted to buy but because they have demanded the marketplace buy something or else they will send in their buffoons to stand over the top of them. We are going back to this position. We are going back to a cash flow by demand as designed by the Labor Party. The Labor Party believe they have a mandate, but I do not think the Australian people believe the mandate went that far. The decision to repeal a piece of legislation is your right—and, as I said, it will go through—but you do not have carte blanche to associate any issue with this legislation.

The Labor Party believe that small business should be exempt from unfair dismissal laws. They say so. The National Party and the Liberal Party believe that small business should be exempt from unfair dismissal laws. Let us get that clear upfront. Let us not have a philosophical debate about whether you believe there are certain sections in the community that should be exempt from unfair dismissal laws. There obviously are. All agree that it should be small business. The argument has come to be—and I think this needs to be further fleshed out—what a small business is. The Labor Party’s position in this legislation is that a small business is one with a headcount of 15 workers. If you have 15 or fewer people at your work site, you are a small business. If you have more than 15, you are not a small business. The Australian Bureau of Statistics believes that it is 20 or fewer. So automatically within the government we have two different definitions of what a small business is. I am led to believe by a very reputable source—Kevin Andrews—that the ILO says a small business has 50 employees. So now we are starting to get a difference in the definition of what a small business is.

We have a problem with 15 because a person who has been put out of work will not get employed if he turns up to a workplace in the middle of a recession and is employee No. 16. That is what will happen. This will discriminate against people who are put out of work, unfortunately because of a recession, getting employed again. In the middle of a recession there is only one thing we have to try to do and that is to get people back into jobs. If we get people back into jobs, we are doing our job. That means we have to remove the impediments that keep people out of work. Naturally enough, small businesses, who are the biggest employers in this nation, will shy away from employing that 16th person if they take on board with the employment of that person a whole range of other liabilities that they did not have—that is, they are now covered by the requirements of the unfair dismissal laws.

So we have to seriously look at moving this number in a direction that deals with the fact that 15 will mean that every workplace in our nation that has fewer than 15 employees will be one that is unlikely to take on that extra employee. We have to find out what the potential employee cost of that is. People know we are in a recession. They know it is going to be tough. They understand that the rules of the game have changed somewhat. We have to make sure that, in bringing this bill before the Senate, we do not create impediments that are going to exacerbate the financial crisis that is inevitably turning up—and it is called a recession.

The Labor Party in their infinite wisdom have also brought forward other pieces of legislation which will definitely make the current recession worse. One of those is the emissions trading scheme. This is something that will definitely put people out of work. In the campaign in Queensland there has been overwhelming sentiment from people not wanting to lose their jobs over a gesture. The gesture is that you are going to change the environment. But you are not actually going to change the environment; all you are going to change is the cash flow into certain working families so they cannot make their house payments. Ultimately their house gets repossessed and someone comes along and changes the locks on the house. People, especially in the Australian Workers Union, do not like the idea of losing their job for a political gesture that has no real effect on climate.

The reason I bring the ETS up in the debate on this legislation is because the previous speaker, Senator Cameron, brought in the ETS. In refuting his point, he of all people should be leading the charge to make sure we knock the ETS out. If we do not knock the ETS out we are going to knock his workers out of a job. I find it peculiar in the extreme that it is the Labor Party that has been completely fraudulent in their representation today of their protection of workers’ rights. Yet in the same breath they are putting forward an emissions trading scheme—a tax on endeavour, enterprise, the mining industry, the agricultural industry, the aviation industry and the tourism industry—that will put workers out of work. We will take that to the election—every day we will remind your working families about your legislation that specifically took them out of work.

It will be interesting to see whether the AWU has the ticker to stand up to the Labor Party for their people. At this point in time they have not. They have morphed towards another inquiry, then run away from it. This is another case of the juxtaposition—the parody—of Labor positions. They rail against neoliberalism yet they deregulate the single desk and put small farmers at the behest of the big players in the marketplace, and the small farmers are getting done over. It was the Labor Party that did this, yet they step away from that parody, they step away from that paradoxical and deceitful position that they have. It is the Labor Party that says, ‘We are out protecting workers; we are looking after workers with this Fair Work Bill,’ and at the same time puts forward an emissions trading scheme to drive workers, especially in the mining towns of Mackay and Gladstone, out of work—specifically out of work by reason not of the global financial crisis, not because of global warming, but because of Labor Party policy. That is what will drive them out of their jobs.

This piece of legislation as it goes forward will have amendments galore. I can see them coming at 100 miles an hour. It is going to be interesting to see how the Labor Party work—whether they are going to be conciliatory with the crossbenches and with the Greens in how they deal with certain aspects such as the right of entry, whether they are going to be conciliatory in making sure that the level of ‘small business’ is moved to a more appropriate number so that we have exemptions for small business and not just for the smalls of small businesses; or whether they are just going to play the game and play off the Greens and crossbenches knowing that at the end of the day the Greens and the crossbenches are going to vote for them anyhow. Let us see what amendments the crossbenches and the Greens actually get. Let us see which ones they agree to. That will be an interesting test. I will be honest: I can see this legislation going through regardless of what the National Party and the Liberal Party say, so locking in a position is really irrelevant.

The National Party will definitely be fighting to make sure that there is a better reflection of what small business should be; the number 15 is too low. We have to move that number up. We definitely believe that and we will be fighting for that. The National Party definitely believe that the right of entry by union officials into my private property, across my carpet to open my filing cabinet to go rummaging through your private details so that they can fill in their database is wrong. I strongly believe that. I think it is completely odious that this position has been brought forward. Let us see if the Labor Party are really conciliatory in making sure that does not happen. I wager that they will not be. I wager that they are going to stick to that. They want to build up their database on the private details of Australian citizens. They want to rummage through and they want to make sure they can stand over those people who dare to not join a union. They will stand over those people who cannot warrant why someone should be taking $400, $500 or $600 a year out of their bank account, away from their family, for a service they never get. It is amazing. It is always one of the complaints we get: the shop stewards—the service you never get—only turn up when he or she want their money.

That is where the Labor Party are off to with this legislation. If you look to the subtext, it is about them realigning themselves with their cash flow. Their biggest fear under the previous government was not for the workers; it was for the cash flow, for the flow of money from compulsory union membership back to the Labor Party. It has been a very successful stream of money. I hope that the coalition take a stand on some of those issues to make sure that we reaffirm our position that there is nothing wrong with unions—unions do a very good and purposeful job in our society—but we should not be compelled to join one.

We should not be compelled to allow someone within a union access to our private details. There should not be the belief that you can be somehow moralised over and stood over to legislate the right for someone to obtain certain details which, if I knew a union official was going to get them, I would never give to my employer. I would never, ever give them to my employer. I have no problem with someone turning up with a subpoena if they are an officer of the court but not if they are a union official. Call me old-fashioned, but I think that is how most other Australians would see it as well. If unions want the information, they can send you a letter in the mail and you can send it back to them. But do not come demanding the right of entry and demanding access to records that are none of your business. This is one of the most odious parts of this legislation.

The definition of a small business should include those that have more than just 15 employees. That is just a head count. Surely you could make it 15 full-time equivalents. I think it should go beyond that. It should go to something that reflects where everything else is currently. The ABS definition is 20 and the International Labour Organisation definition is 50. I think that a small business properly relies on numbers somewhere in between those two. I know what the government will say: ‘This is what you had before.’ Times have changed. We are heading to a recession. The last thing we want to do is give people, via this legislation, the motivation not to employ Australians. Our job in this parliament is to keep people at work, in a job.