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Wednesday, 16 August 2017
Page: 5880

Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (17:57): Well, where do you start on this? An argument that we don't support oversight is just another overreach by a government that has been overreaching every minute of this week. To argue that the government won't support the amendments because it turns off the Fair Work Ombudsman's powers for enforcement is an absolute nonsense, and it would not tie the hands of the ombudsman. These are just assertions that are being made up on the run by this minister. I know the minister has read every one of them and I note she's consulted on this issue, but it's clear that this is being made up on the run. This bill was not to deal with industrial action. There has been not one argument put by the department and not one argument put by the minister in the public arena that this was required to deal with industrial action. The name of the bill is 'Protecting Vulnerable Workers Bill,' and the government has stood up and argued this is about protecting vulnerable workers. If you really want to protect vulnerable workers, then these amendments are amendments that focus the bill on the vulnerable workers issue.

I'll put to you, Minister, that if you're concerned about unfair dismissal and bullying not being covered by this, we would be happy to make additions to our amendment to cover unfair dismissal and bullying. Why wouldn't we? We would do that. That's the argument you've raised. And we want to deal with that argument, so we would put to the crossbench that we add unfair dismissal and bullying. That would mean we would support the oversight. We would not turn off the powers. But we would limit the powers to what this bill was proposed to do, and that is to protect vulnerable workers, not to be another battering ram of ideological oppression from this minister and this government against workers' unions in this country.

If anyone on the crossbench supports this, that's exactly what you'll be doing. The minister didn't send the department down to the inquiry to say, 'Well, this isn't just about protecting vulnerable workers; actually, we want this to deal with industrial action.' That was never put, and it's only now, at the last minute, that the minister is raising this issue. We knew what the minister was really about, and that's why these amendments were drafted in the way they were: to ensure that we actually protect vulnerable workers and don't create another impediment to unions operating freely and fairly in this country. The Reserve Bank has said that workers should get out and make wage claims because of the problem of stagnating wages for the economy. This will be another barrier to workers getting out and making proper, effective claims and having decent enterprise bargaining in this country.

The minister has given up right now what she's all about: she has an ideological obsession with unions. The government has an ideological obsession with the trade union movement. This is not about protecting vulnerable workers. And I put it to you, Senator Xenophon, that, if we add unfair dismissal and bullying, it covers the arguments the minister has put up but restricts the minister from doing what former Minister Abetz did, which was to use a government organisation to attack the trade union movement. So that's where we're at with this. The minister has just opened up this Pandora's box as to what this really is about. It's not about protecting vulnerable workers. It's another attack on the trade union movement.