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Wednesday, 15 February 2017
Page: 930

Senator McKIM (Tasmania) (10:47): Of course, the Greens will not be supporting this bill, the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Amendment Bill 2017, and there are many reasons we will not be supporting it. The prime reason, however, is that it takes a shockingly bad piece of legislation—which removes rights from a group of ordinary Australian workers simply because they happen to work in the construction sector—and makes that bad piece of legislation even worse—makes it even more draconian.

Over the summer we have learnt a couple of things. Firstly, as if we needed any more confirmation, we have learnt that big business actually runs the agenda of many people in this place. We have seen over the summer that the big corporates have reached their shadowy hands into this Senate to ensure that people like Senator Hinch and Senator Xenophon change their position based on the flimsiest and most spurious of arguments. We have also learnt that those two senators, Senators Hinch and Xenophon, will actually wilt under the slightest pressure exerted by the Liberals and big corporates in this country. We have heard a lot about 'the human headline', but I have to say that it is the human backflip that we are dealing with here today.

This bill and sordid negotiations that have happened behind closed doors over the summer and in the early sitting days of this year tell you, unfortunately, that, if parliament legislates and strikes what it collectively believes to be an appropriate balance but if big business does not like that balance, then big business is going to come and get you. It is going to come and get you while you are lying on the beach drinking your daiquiris or whatever you do over the summer. Ultimately, it is big corporates that have reached their shadowy hands out to Senator Hinch and to Senator Xenophon and his colleagues and have got them to change their position. Clearly, neither Senator Hinch nor Senator Xenophon can be trusted on issues around standing up for the rights of ordinary Australian workers.

We should not be surprised that the Liberal Party and One Nation will do everything they can to erode the rights of so many ordinary Australians. The Liberals do not make any bones about it—they are basically the agents of the big corporates in this place because, of course, they get massive donations from those big corporates and they are expected to deliver for them when they are in this place. One Nation, of course, are the ultimate political hypocrites because they pretend to stand up for the Aussie battlers. But who can forget late last year when they came in and voted for a tax cut to the top 20 per cent of earners in this country and abandoned the other 80 per cent of workers. Again, it is nothing we should be surprised about from the Liberals; but it is also an example of the extreme hypocrisy of One Nation.

I expected better from Senator Hinch and I expected better from Senator Xenophon. They made their deals last year; they arrived at their positions last year; and here we are again with some of the biggest backflips it has been my misfortune to see in about 15 years of political life in this country. It is extremely worrying that when legislation passes this parliament it is simply regarded as up for grabs by big and powerful lobbyists who will reach their shadowy hands out to convince weak, compliant Senators like Senator Xenophon and Senator Hinch to change their positions. Unfortunately, the collective backflip of Senator Xenophon and Senator Hinch sends a message that, while the Senate may be a house of review, there are certain senators who do not take that obligation seriously and are prepared to trade away whatever they have previously negotiated. When someone comes along and tickles their tummy, they will simply roll over and deliver what they have been asked to do.

After this performance, I will not be trusting Senator Xenophon or Senator Hinch to negotiate on behalf of the people that we are here to represent. I won't be trusting them to deliver protections for ordinary Australian workers who happen to work in the construction industry. I certainly won't trust them when they say they have negotiated a position with the government, because I now know what everyone in the country should now know—and particularly in the context of Senator Xenophon, the people of South Australia should know, and in the context of Senator Hinch, the people of Victoria should know—that when Senators Xenophon and Hinch tell you they have negotiated a position and it is going to be made into law, they will be quite happy to vote against it the following week if someone in the big corporate world in Australia reaches out, taps them on the shoulder and tells them to get rid of whatever deal they negotiated. They are clearly more concerned about currying favour with big corporates and big business than with standing up to protect people's rights at work. Obviously, they will trade off rights at work if big business asks them to do it.

Unfortunately, this is going to set an incredibly poor precedent in this place, because we have legislation coming up about many important issues. We have legislation coming up about paid parental leave, child care and cutting the tax rate for big business. The people in this place, this chamber, will be making a decision on these incredibly important issues and unfortunately some of them now by their own admission and their own actions are prepared to vote one way one day and say, 'Look, it's all right; we've given the government something they want, but we have got this for you over on the side,' but then they will take way that side deal the very next day. So we do not know what Senator Hinch and Senator Xenophon are getting for the grubby deals that they have done with the Liberals.

Senator Hinch: Nothing.

Senator McKIM: I will take that interjection. 'Nothing', said Senator Hinch—nothing. I do not presume that Senator Xenophon will have got nothing, because he is a wheeler and dealer, but for Senator Hinch to roll over and get nothing for selling out construction workers in this country says a lot more about him than it does about anyone else in this chamber. If Senator Xenophon, his colleagues and Senator Hinch vote for this bill and it passes the Senate, they need to know that their credibility as defenders of workers rights in this country is completely shot—it is gone forever—because we now know that they are prepared to trade and do side deals and that those side deals will be up for appeal effectively the very next day, if they have the chance. The Greens opposed the original legislation, the ABCC bill, in this Senate and we will be opposing this amendment legislation in the Senate today.

I have to say that there ought to be something in political life for standing up for your principles. I also have to say that one of the reasons that we are all collectively on the nose in Australia is that far too many of us do something or say something before an election and then fail to follow through and show consistency with the issues we campaigned on, once we have been elected to this place. There is also something to be said for standing up for your principles, even if you have to have a few difficult conversations from time to time. I have no doubt big business were knocking the doors down on Senator Hinch's office and Senator Xenophon's office. Well, there comes a time in public life, there comes a time in politics, when you have to stand up for your principles and stand up for what you believe in, and this is one of those times. The Greens are going to stand up for our principles. We are going to stand up for what we believe in because, in doing so, we are standing up for ordinary Australians who work in the construction sector.

Make no mistake, this legislation is not only going to be bad for ordinary Australian workers who work in the construction industry; it is going to be bad, as many speakers have pointed out already in this debate, for productivity in this country—and productivity, I would have thought, is something the Liberals could get behind. But evidence and history has shown in previous iterations of the ABCC that, unfortunately, the workplace safety record got worse and productivity went down. That is a lose-lose situation. Australian workers, whether they work in the construction sector or the forestry sector, whether they are public servants or any other type of worker, have a right to have a legitimate expectation that when they go to work in the morning everything that can be done will be done to ensure that they can go home at night to their families or to their accommodation and still be fit and still be healthy and not have their health and physical capacity impacted unduly by the work that they do. Unfortunately, we are going to see—I predict quite confidently now—that the same things will happen this time as happened last time, and that is a decrease in productivity and an increase in workplace injuries.

Let's be clear about the changes to the grace period that are contained in this legislation. Remember, this came from an amendment moved by Senator Hinch, which provided for a grace period of two years before the code came into force. That was intended to give everyone time to negotiate or renegotiate new agreements. It is worth pointing out that there was no division in the Senate—no division—when that was put. It was passed on the voices and therefore we are entitled to assume that it was passed with the support of every single person in this place. Now we are debating a bill that is being rushed through the parliament—a gaged debate in the House of Representatives—and a triflingly short one-week inquiry that gives effect to the human backflip from Senator Hinch. The Greens will not be supporting this legislation. We will not be supporting it for a range of reasons; but, ultimately, we are not going to support it because we are going to stand up for our principles here. We are going to stay consistent to what we have always said about the ABCC, and that is that it is unnecessary, it is draconian and it is an attack on the rights of ordinary Australian workers who work in the construction sector and, more broadly, it is clearly designed to pull down a union, the CFMEU, acknowledged as one of the largest and most powerful unions in this country. For a union to be attacked in such a way when their only crime in this context is standing up for the people who are their members and the people who work in the construction sector is actually an attack driven by political ideology, not by a desire to make life any better for people at work and their families.

We stand firmly where we have always stood on this issue: firmly behind the rights of working Australians, firmly behind the rights workers in the construction sector. And we stand against the sorts of grubby political backflips that we have seen manifesting over the summer and in this place last week and this week, delivered in a synchronised diving exercise by Senator Hinch and Senator Xenophon. When you see the synchronised diving at the Olympics, you wonder at the miraculous way that they can stay so in line all the way from the platform down into the pool. We are seeing the political equivalent of that here today, where they have left the platform at the same time, they have gone up and done the big, fully extended backflip on the way down and they have hit the pool in here today at exactly the same time. Senator Xenophon and Senator Hinch are the synchronised backflippers of Australian politics.