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Monday, 26 February 2018
Page: 1998

Mr PERRETT (MoretonOpposition Whip) (18:47): I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that:

(a) both the Building Code 2013 (2013 Code) and the Code for the Tendering and Performance of Building Work 2016 (2016 Code) require code covered entities to protect freedom of association on building and construction worksites;

(b) the 2016 Code includes requirements in respect of building association logos, mottos or indicia; and

(c) the Australian Building and Construction Commission's fact sheet Freedom of Association—Logos, Mottos and Indicia specifies that 'logos, mottos and indicia' that would breach the 2016 Code include 'the iconic symbol of the five white stars and white cross on the Eureka Stockade flag';

(2) recognises that:

(a) the Eureka Stockade flag was:

(i) first used in 1854 at Ballarat; and

(ii) a symbol of resistance of the gold miners during the rebellion;

(b) beneath the Eureka Stockade flag, the leader of the Ballarat Reform League, Peter Lalor, said 'We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties';

(c) the people at the Eureka Stockade defending the original flag came from nearly forty nations from around the world; and

(d) the Eureka Stockade flag design has gained wider acceptance in Australian culture as a symbol of democracy, protest and the notion of the Australian 'fair go';

(3) further notes that:

(a) freedom of speech and freedom of association are valued by all fair-minded Australians;

(b) the Eureka Stockade flag has been a symbol associated with building and construction unions for over 40 years;

(c) restricting an individual's right to wear union logos or preventing a construction site from displaying a union flag implies that workers cannot join a union; and

(d) it is an attack on:

(i) an individual's freedom of association to prevent them from wearing the Eureka Stockade flag on their clothing; and

(ii) freedom of association to prevent a construction site from displaying the Eureka Stockade flag; and

(4) calls on the Government to immediately act to protect the rights of workers in the construction industry by making clear that displaying the iconic symbol of democracy, the Eureka Stockade flag, is not a breach of the 2016 Code.

This motion before the House notes that the Australian Building and Construction Commission has specified in a fact sheet published by the federal government that displaying the Eureka Stockade flag on clothing, property or equipment would breach the Code for the Tendering and Performance of Building Work 2016. This is an attack on Australian workers. This is an attack on the right of freedom of association. This is an attack on our very democracy itself.

The importance of the Eureka flag does not emanate from the fabric it is made of or even the design—the stars of the Southern Cross joined in defiance by a solid white cross. The importance of the Eureka flag emanates from the struggle of those who first flew the flag in Ballarat back in 1854, the miners who died under the flag during that battle and all who have flown the flag in protest against unequal laws and unequal rights in the many years since. Born out of adversity, it is a flag that belongs to all Australians.

The Eureka flag was first hoisted on Bakery Hill on 29 November 1854. The Eureka rebellion was the culmination of a revolt by goldminers in Ballarat against British colonial authority. The miners objected to what they thought was unfair taxation through the imposition of inflated licence fees. Twenty-two rebels died in that battle, and six police and troopers. The miners actually lost the battle but eventually won the war; 164 years later, the flag remains a symbol of nationalism and democratic struggles. In our representative system of government, power is vested in the people. The word democracy literally means 'the rule of the people'. What sort of country is this if Australians are banned from displaying a symbol that represents democracy itself?

The Australian labour movement has a proud history. Beginning back in the early 19th century, workers who were less skilled and working in rural areas began to organise and demand better conditions. Not long after the Eureka rebellion, a series of great strikes rolled across the country: the 1890 maritime strike, the 1891 and 1894 shearers' strikes and the 1892 miners' strikes. All of these strikes were broken by the use of police or military force, and in fact it was the heavy-handedness of authorities that facilitated the formation of the Labor Party and the search for a political solution.

This is not the first time that union symbols have been banned by employers. In 1912 the Brisbane members of the Australian Tramway Employees Association defiantly attached their union badges to their watch chains—sort of like the stickers that many people are wearing today, I guess. In a bid to discourage a swelling union membership, the Brisbane Tramways Company banned its employees from displaying union badges. It didn't go so well for them. Tram drivers who persisted in wearing their badges were stood down. In response, a strike committee was set up and 43 unions across Queensland called a general strike. Shops and hotels closed down. Bread deliveries halted. Newspaper printing was restricted. Train services were suspended at night. The commissioner of police refused to allow the unionists to march in Brisbane streets, something Joh repeated later. Police and special constables from outside Brisbane used force to quell the unrest. The Premier even requested that the Army intervene.

Eventually the strike dissolved, but the Australian Tramway Employees Association took the case to the arbitration commission and was granted the right for its union members to wear their badges to work. The Brisbane Tramways Company fought tooth and nail against this action by the union, arguing the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission did not have jurisdiction as it was not an industrial dispute. The question was sent to the High Court, and the High Court held in favour of the workers. So in 1912 the tramways employees and their union had to fight for the right to wear their union badges, and they won. Those workers keenly felt that sense of unfairness, that sense of authority overreaching, that sense of fighting for the common good. That is what the Eureka flag stood for in 1854 and it is what it stands for today.

Just like the tramways badge case, it is the right of the modern construction employees to be free to join a trade union. Being able to display a symbol associated with the CFMEU, AMWU, ETU, AWU or whatever union is the essence of freedom of association. The Eureka flag has proudly flown in Australia for more than 160 years. I call on the Turnbull government to rein in their building and construction watchdog. It is off the leash and rabid. I call on the Turnbull government not to take away the right of Australian workers to display the Eureka flag on their work sites. I call on the Turnbull government to preserve the right of freedom of association for all Australians. It would be un-Australian not to. I ask for tolerance to be able to show the symbol that we're talking about here. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Is the motion seconded?

Mr Champion: I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.