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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 2165


Senator MARSHALL (Victoria) (18:04): Well, what a rambling nonsensical contribution from Senator Fisher! The nightmare of the hokey-pokey continues with us. If Senator Fisher had danced out that contribution it would have made more sense—because it was just terrible. When Senator Fisher gets up and wants to defame and slander people across the board as 'the sometimes thuggish union officials', she ought to look to her own behaviour, because she is the last person in this chamber who should accuse anyone else of being 'sometimes thuggish'. I suppose that really highlights her contribution on this matter in its totality.

The government does not support this motion. It is simply another cynical attempt to try to delay the workings of this government. Senator Fisher rambled around the world, talking about bills, about agreements written in lemon juice, and about how people do not understand the building industry. If Senator Fisher actually ever went on a building construction site I would be very, very surprised. Maybe she should. It might actually be a good lesson for her.

Senator Fisher talked about how this government whacks out revised guidelines and then she compared the guidelines to the Bible. It was just a completely nonsensical contribution. I know people may have been completely lost listening to Senator Fisher, so let us be clear. Senator Fisher is asking the Senate to refer some administrative guidelines to a committee for inquiry. The guidelines have been changed many, many times and have never been referred to the committee. Is she really suggesting that every time the government changes something by regulation, by guidelines or by any other manner that is not legislation that it should be referred to a committee?

I think she would probably like that but if she is going to be consistent, why wasn't it done when the Howard government changed the guidelines? This is certainly not the first time the guidelines have changed. The original guidelines were issued in February 1998 and revised in December 2003. Who was in power in 2003? The Howard government. Do I recall—I was in the Senate at that time—Senator Fisher, who probably was not in the Senate, or any of her colleagues on the coalition saying, 'These guidelines have been revised. Let's refer them off to a Senate committee'? No, we did not because it is the normal process and procedure for these guidelines to be issued by the minister and then they come into effect.

The guidelines were further revised in 2005. I think from memory it was still the Howard government in power and, again, I was here. I did not hear anyone in the coalition suggesting that that revision of the guidelines ought to go to a Senate committee for inquiry. They have been adjusted a number of times since: in 2009 and now in 2012. When they were revised in 2009, again, I did not hear—this was under a Labor government—the coalition at the time calling for these matters to be referred to a Senate committee. The fact is: this is the normal process and one set up by the legislation.

Who initiated this legislation? It was the Howard government. What we are doing is using the Howard government's legislation to administer their act the same way they did, the same way we did and the same way we are doing now. It is a ridiculous proposition for Senator Fisher to suggest anything other than the normal processes that are in place in this place.

It was really about giving Senator Fisher a platform to try and talk about the building construction industry as if she knows anything about it. She, like Senator Abetz, sees a red under every bed, a trade union official lurking around every corner. They have no interest in fact, no interest in reality, and she dared us to accept that one of the new objectives of a fair, cooperative and productive workplace was a bad thing—that is what she is putting to this Senate. We do not think it is a bad thing; we think it is a great thing. That is what we want to see happen. We know when there are good relationships in workplaces they lead to good outcomes for employers, good outcomes for employees and good outcomes for the economy because productivity increases.

We completely reject this. The guidelines have simply been revised and simplified to reflect the obligations set out in the government's Fair Work Act. The guidelines:

… support the creation of quality jobs and the growth of the sector by ensuring Government procurement is consistent with these instruments and easier for business.

The Guidelines also clarify the responsibilities of employers in the sector, including in relation to sham contracting and the engagement of non citizens/non residents.

"Employers found to have engaged in the practice of sham contracting will be considered to have committed a fundamental breach of the guidelines. Furthermore, employers must ensure that those engaged in the performance of construction work are lawfully entitled to work under Australian law.

I do not know why Senator Fisher has a problem with any of those things. The guidelines are not a document that can be compared with the Bible—I am holding them up now; they are 18 pages long. Senator Fisher should have gone to the trouble of having read them instead of talking about the bill, talking about enterprise bargaining and anything but the concerns that we may have.

Let me just assure the Senate—and I will not keep the Senate any longer on this—this is normal procedure. It happened under the Howard government. It has happened previously under a Labor government. It will continue to happen. It happens under the legislation that was legislated by the Howard government. There is no conspiracy theory. There is not a red hiding under every bed. There is not a union official lurking around every corner. This is a natural development of bringing the guidelines in line with the obligations of the Fair Work Act, ensuring that the government procurement guidelines are incorporated into these guidelines and that we do all that we can to rid the industry of sham contracting. The government for very logical and practical reasons rejects the referral to the committee.