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Wednesday, 15 February 2017
Page: 922

Senator WATT (Queensland) (10:15): I rise to speak against this Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Amendment Bill 2017. I am very proud of the fact that Labor maintains its opposition to this bill, as we did to the original legislation that was passed only in November last year. It is very surprising that the government would need to bring back amendments to this legislation so soon after passing it. You would think that it would at least give it a little time to operate, to see how it was working. But, of course, some very interesting deals were done over the summer break.

The practical effect of this legislation is that if it is passed—and, obviously, that really does rely on the hands of the crossbenchers—it will prevent building companies from entering into enterprise bargaining agreements with unions and their workforce if those enterprise bargaining agreements contain particular clauses. I will go to that shortly. It will prevent building companies from tendering for Commonwealth building contracts if their enterprise bargaining agreements contain certain clauses, even if those clauses are reached as a result of a negotiation with construction unions and their own workforce.

It is pretty funny to see a government, the Liberal Party and the National Party, that is supposedly all about the free market—which is all about leaving employers and their workforces and unions to work things out for themselves rather than having the heavy hand of government come in and tell them what they can and cannot do—on this occasion abandon those free market principles and want to interfere directly in the negotiations that employers undertake with unions and their workforces. That will have a very intrusive effect on the kinds of things that employers, employees and unions can negotiate and, of course, only in one sector of the economy, being the construction workforce.

I do not really expect anything different of the LNP, as they are known in Queensland, or the Liberal Party and National Party down here. We know that their track record over many years is that they are not actually supporters of working people or their interests. We are seeing that flow through in terms of very poor wages growth in the economy at the moment. Average working people are struggling more than ever under the policies of this government. So, as I said, I do not really expect to see anything different from the LNP. We know that they hate unions and we know that they want to keep average working people's wages down.

But given all of the carry-on that we in Queensland have been seeing, particularly from the One Nation party over the last few months, I really did expect to see something different from them. In Queensland, day after day we have to put up with Senator Hanson and Senator Roberts travelling all around the countryside pretending to be the friends of battling people, struggling people, struggling families, blue-collar workers and pension recipients—all of those kinds of people. I have been saying for some time now that that is nothing more than a fraud. If you actually look at what One Nation does—

Senator Roberts interjecting

Senator WATT: Senator Roberts is over there chuckling; chuckling about the fact that he sells out working people, along with his colleague Senator Hanson. If you have a look at their track record, that is what they do every single time they come into this parliament. Today is no different.

Let's look at some of the things that are going to be prevented as a result of this legislation. If Senator Hanson and Senator Roberts and the rest of their One Nation colleagues vote for this legislation it will mean that if building companies want to get work from the Commonwealth they will not be able to have enterprise bargaining agreements that include some very important provisions that you would expect a party like One Nation, which says it is the friend of battlers and blue-collar workers, to support. But no.

These are some of the things that the One Nation party are getting ready to support. If this legislation goes through, enterprise bargaining agreements will no longer be able to include agreements reached by employers, unions and their workforce to insist on footwear and protective safety equipment being Australian made. Am I the only one who has been listening to Senator Roberts? He continues to chuckle over there. Am I the only one who has been hearing Senator Roberts and Senator Hanson running around the countryside talking about the importance of sticking up for Australian-made products and jobs for Australians?

What they are getting ready to do is vote for legislation that is going to stop building companies, unions and workforces agreeing to insist on Australian-made protective equipment and footwear. How is that assisting Australian workers? How many jobs are going to disappear as a result of this legislation going through and building companies and their workforces no longer being able to reach agreement to have Australian-made equipment?

But it is not just that. If this legislation goes through, building companies and their workforces and unions will not be able to insist on clauses in enterprise bargaining agreements that require training for asbestos safety. How many dozens, hundreds, thousands of Australian workers have died over the last few decades as a result of terrible practices around the use of asbestos? I would have thought that a party that stands up for the battlers, that stands up for blue-collar workers who have to handle this kind of dangerous product, would actually be voting to insist on training around asbestos safety. But, no, what One Nation is planning to do today, what Senator Hanson and Senator Roberts are planning to do today is say that enterprise bargaining agreements can no longer have clauses that require asbestos training to happen. How is that going to help battlers? How is it going to help workers? Again, Senator Roberts is sitting there chuckling about the fact that asbestos training, which saves people's lives, is going to be taken out of enterprise bargaining agreements if companies want to get Commonwealth contracts.

There are other ones if this legislation goes through. Currently companies are able to have—oh, the chuckler has a point of order.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Whish-Wilson ): Senator Roberts, a point of order?

Senator Roberts: A point of order: the speaker at the moment, Senator Watt, does not know what is going on in my mind, yet he is telling the people of Australia.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: That is not a point of order, Senator Roberts.

Senator WATT: One point I will agree with you on, Senator Roberts, is that I do not know exactly what is going on your mind, and that is a state I really want to remain in.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: A point of order, Senator Seselja?

Senator Seselja: Senator Watt knows that the proper way to debate in the chamber is to address his comments through the chair. I would ask him to direct them through the chair.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you for the reminder. I remind senators to address their comments through the chair.

Senator WATT: Let us get back to what One Nation is going to be voting for. Currently, building companies are able with their workforce to enter into enterprise bargaining agreements that place restrictions on the use of casuals and people who are hired on a daily basis. If this legislation goes through they will not be able to have such enterprise bargaining agreements anymore. So what One Nation is preparing to do in supporting this legislation is clear the way for building companies to be able to get rid of permanent workforces, get rid of full-time or long-term employment that puts bread on the table for construction families and allow employers to bring in more casuals, more labour hire and more daily hire. How is that going to assist the battlers that One Nation says it stands up for? How is that going to assist the blue-collar workers it says it cares about?

This legislation will remove the inclusion in enterprise bargaining agreements of clauses around ratios of apprentices. Currently, many enterprise bargaining agreements around the country that, as a result of agreement between employers, unions and workforces, require that a certain proportion of the workforce be apprentices. That is good for the country, it is good for young people and it is good for our future workforce, but One Nation is getting ready to take away that right. No longer will building companies be required to have a certain proportion of their workforce be apprentices. One Nation is out there talking about how it wants to fix youth unemployment, how it wants to give young people a chance. What do you know? It is coming in here and is going to vote directly against young people. It is selling young people down the drain, just as it is getting ready to do with the Newstart cuts that the government want to bring in and that it is preparing to support also.

Finally, for over 20 years we have been hearing from Senator Hanson about how she does not like foreigners and how it is all about Australians and local workers rather than overseas workers. Get this: if this legislation goes through, the ability of building companies, unions and their workforces to enter into agreements that place restrictions on the use of overseas temporary visa workers is going to be removed. Right now there are many enterprise bargaining agreements in the construction sector across the country in which employers, unions and workforce have reached an agreement that if you want to hire temporary overseas workers you have to comply with Australian laws. One Nation is getting ready to make it impossible for companies to reach such agreements. I know of one particular agreement in the construction sector in my home state of Queensland which contains a clause that says that if a construction company is going to make people redundant local workers cannot be made redundant before temporary overseas workers. It seems like a reasonable thing to me. It seems like the kind of thing the battlers would want. It seems like the kind of thing that One Nation is out there beating up foreigners about every single day of the week! It is coming here today to remove those clauses from enterprise bargaining agreements. If One Nation supports this legislation, construction employers will be able to employ temporary overseas workers willy-nilly, without any restrictions being placed on them. They will be able to lay off local workers before laying off temporary overseas workers.

Senator Roberts and Senator Hanson, how is that helping the battlers that you say you represent? It is not. You are complete frauds. Every time you come in here, you vote against the interests of the people you say you represent. Before long, they are going to start knowing about it. The reason they are going to know about it is that people like me are going to come in here and hold you to account repeatedly. Every day of the week in Queensland, we have to suffer by listening to you saying that you stand up for battlers, that you stand up for average working people. We all know that you do not. We all know that you are an offshoot of the LNP. We all know that you are up to your necks in preference deals with the LNP in Queensland. So it is no surprise that you are all going back to your LNP roots and voting for policies that harm battlers—policies that sell out battlers and working people—and that are just about getting more money for the big end of town.

There is one party in this parliament that is not going to cop that, and that is the Labor Party. We have always stood up for battlers. We have always stood up for working people. Our record shows that, with the number of policies that we have introduced over the years that have delivered time and time again to battlers. We are still doing it now, despite not only the opposition of the government, the LNP—who we do not expect anything better from—but also the opposition of One Nation, who say one thing and do another.

To give you one example, the city of Townsville is struggling in the post-mining boom. They have got unemployment of 11.2 per cent. They have got youth unemployment of 17.6 per cent. If One Nation get their way and this legislation goes through, there is nothing in it for unemployed people in Townsville. They will be exposed to the risk of being laid off from construction sites before temporary overseas workers are laid off. They will be exposed to the risk of being replaced by casuals, being replaced by daily hire workers, rather than being made permanent employees. There is nothing in this legislation for young unemployed people. One Nation are getting ready to remove the requirement for employers to employ a certain proportion of apprentices. To those 17.6 per cent of young unemployed people in Townsville: 'Sorry—One Nation are not here to help you. They're going to sell you down the drain.' You had better get used to it. They have been doing it ever since they got elected. They are getting ready to do it on pension cuts, on family tax benefit cuts and on Newstart cuts. Now they are doing it with workplace conditions. As I say, I do not expect anything better from the LNP, but I do expect something better from a party that say they are for battlers. But as we all know, last time round Senator Hanson exposed herself as a fraud. She said she would do one thing and did another. They are getting ready to do it again. One Nation Mark II is nothing more than a political fraud.