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Thursday, 19 March 2015
Page: 1979

Senator McKENZIE (Victoria) (16:04): I, too, rise to make a brief contribution to the tabling of the Finance and Public Administration References Committee's interim report on violence against women. I would like to note the contribution by the chair of the committee, Senator Lundy, particularly in outlining statistics on violence against women, and her commitment to this area. I also note that, if we look around the Senate chamber now, we see that the majority of senators, from all parties, are indeed female. I think it is a good thing.

I am pleased that this report has been tabled today. It is important and it is very timely. One reason it is timely is that the Senate has recently heard of several incidences of violence against women in the workplace that are of significant concern. As the chamber has heard on several occasions this week, there is disturbing evidence of a subculture of aggression and violence towards women emerging from some quarters of the union movement. Earlier this week, the front page of The Australian Financial Review reported an instance of a union blockade of a workplace in Sydney. The employer called Fair Work Building and Construction, whose inspectors arrived at the worksite on Monday to investigate the blockade. Those inspectors were treated abusively by the blockaders. Of particular relevance and concern was the report that one union official actually spat at the female inspector in what, I suspect, was an attempt at intimidation. This is the same female inspector who was last year abused by the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union's official Luke Collier. When he saw her at a construction site, he swore at her and called her names that were both sexist and aggressive. This female inspector was simply doing her job. I have great respect for her willingness to continue to stand up for lawfulness and fairness on our building and construction workplaces.

However, I was saddened to hear during Senate estimates that this is not always the case. Director of Fair Work Building and Construction, Mr Nigel Hadgkiss, gave evidence to the committee that I chair that some inspectors, particularly female inspectors, are so distressed by the threats and abuse levelled at them by aggressive unionists that they have to be moved on to other duties within the inspectorate. Mr Hadgkiss also told Senate estimates of two serious instances of attacks on women. One was where the CFMEU Victorian assistant secretary, Shaun Reardon, made late-night threatening phone calls to a female member of his staff. I saw the Herald Sun report that as a result, Mr Reardon was consequently stripped of his role as a White Ribbon ambassador, a role that would require him to stand for women and against violence perpetrated on them, and certainly not himself to engage in such violence.

The second incident Mr Hadgkiss relayed was also very serious. He told my committee that another CFMEU official had made a late-night threatening phone call to a female member of his staff and threatened her with gang rape by him and seven of his mates. In Mr Hadgkiss's words, one of our female staff members received a phone call. I will not mention her name. I will change the name. He said, 'Mary is it? Mary, me and my seven mates are going to come and F-U-C-K you tonight.' He also told the committee that social media was used to deride his staff including using such terms as 'dogs' to abuse them. Indeed, Mr Hadgkiss told the committee that he had concerns about the safety of his staff and that in recent years he had 25 serious security matters involving his staff.

The Labor Party and the Greens are led by women in this place. The ACTU is also led by a woman. Where is the reprimand of action from these bodies to call out and chastise these actions by aggressive union officials? I hope that all our female senators will consider what can be done by us to protect women against these types of attacks. I also asked the Finance and Public Administration References Committee to address these very issues in its final report on violence against women in June. I look forward to reading the interim report.