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Wednesday, 15 June 2011
Page: 2843

Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (13:23): I rise on a matter of public interest and that is the destruction of workers rights in New South Wales by the Liberal-National coalition state government. The O'Farrell government has followed the Howard government Work Choices play book, the play book invented by Peter Reith, Senator Abetz, Senator Minchin and defended staunchly at every chance by Senator Bushby. Senator Bushby is always defending Work Choices but never defending Tasmania. There was no warning, no debate and no policy proposal to strip away the rights of 400,000 New South Wales workers. This is an ideological attack on firefighters, nurses, bus drivers, train drivers, public servants—ordinary Australians who have dedicated their lives to serving the New South Wales community, ordinary Australians who simply want a fair go and the capacity to maintain and improve their standard of living. These workers are public servants; they are not public enemies.

Removing the New South Wales Police Force from the coverage of this legislation is an admission that the legislation is unfair, inequitable and unsustainable. New South Wales public servants have had access to an independent umpire since 1901. The Indust­rial Relations Amendment (Public Sector Conditions of Employment) Bill is designed to impose government wages policy on government employees. Premier O'Farrell has introduced a new concept in wages policy when he argues there is no point in having government wages policy if it can be ignored. If this is the coalition approach, then logically they would be seeking to have it extended to all workers so the boss can determine the wages policy and his or her policy cannot be ignored. This is a major challenge to fairness and equity in the Australian workplace and a major challenge to the Australian ethos of a fair go.

Stagnating wages in the New South Wales public sector will mean that public sector workers will face real hardship. Where are the voices of indignation and concern for Australian workers that we hear so hypocritically espoused by the New South Wales coalition senators and MPs? Where are Senator Fierravanti-Wells and the Liberal member for the Blue Mountains, Roza Sage, who expressed their concern about the living standards of public servants? We have not heard a word from them. Has the member for Macquarie, Louise Markus, raised the issue of public servants' living standards with her mates in Macquarie Street? I will bet she has not.

Why would Senator Fierravanti-Wells or Mrs Markus express concern? It is because they feign concern for workers' living standards at the same time as they yearn for a return to Work Choices. They are Work Choices warriors and they voted consistently to rip workers rights away. The hypocrisy of the coalition knows no bounds. Mrs Markus used her printing and communications entitlement to distribute a glossy brochure claiming that the coalition's policies and vision for Australia was to ease the pressure on families. Tell that to the public servants in the Blue Mountains and in the Hawkesbury.

Mrs Markus has the hide to talk about reducing the cost-of-living pressures when she stays silent on a historic and unprecedented attack on the rights and living standards of public servants in the seat of Macquarie. Mrs Markus would like to photoshop her voting record on Work Choices out of the history books. She voted to rip away workers rights on 23 occasions. Her hypocrisy knows no bounds as she has photoshopped the disgusting sexist placard that she was content to stand in front of at the 'No Carbon Tax' rally in Canberra out of her leaflet. She printed a leaflet and then she photoshopped the sexist placard right out of the leaflet, which made it untrue. That is not what happened. You have to ask yourself what Mrs Markus is about if she is prepared to do this in her leaflet to the electorate of Macquarie. She is not fair dinkum.

If Mrs Markus is prepared to stoop to doctoring a photograph in an attempt to mislead her electorate, then there is very little chance that she will stand up for public servants in the seat of Macquarie. With no voice of support from their state or federal member, New South Wales public servants in the Blue Mountains and the Hawkesbury have every right to feel betrayed and abandoned by their elected representatives. Premier O'Farrell has had a very inaus­picious start to his premiership. He has had to backflip on the solar bonus scheme. He has betrayed public sector workers when during the election he argued that public sector jobs were likely to increase under the coalition and then, only days after the election, he stated that he is not ruling out job cuts. He claimed that the New South Wales government had a $4.5 billion black hole and that the former government had cooked the books. He was proved to have misled the community when the acting Treasury secretary, Michael Lambert, reported that the former government's figures 'accurately reflected the available information at the time'.

The message is simple: the coalition cannot be trusted. The coalition are addicted to Work Choices and addicted to attacking working families. No matter what the coalition say prior to an election on industrial relations or job security, it will be changed if they win government. As New South Wales workers rally to defend their wages and conditions, I challenge New South Wales coalition senators and MPs to publicly reject this attack or stop the hypocrisy of purporting to be concerned about cost-of-living pressures in New South Wales.

The trade union movement engaged Arthur Moses SC to advise on the constit­utionality of the proposed laws. Mr Moses advised the coalition on industrial relations while they were in opposition in New South Wales. His advice indicates that it is arguable that the changes are unconstit­utional. The proposals would render the 'commission as, in effect, an alter ego of the executive' by making it abide by government policy. Mr Moses said:

... there is no doubt [the laws] would be considered repugnant to the judicial process ...

and he continued—

In our opinion, although not free from doubt, there are reasonable grounds upon which to conclude that [the legislation] will impair the institutional integrity of the commission so as to render its exercise of judicial power incompatible with chapter three of the Australian constitution.

Decisions by the IRC would be 'challengeable', because the laws remove rights for unions to argue in front of the com­mission against government wage policy, which 'would be a denial of procedural fairness', and Mr Moses concluded that he considered 'challenges have a reasonable foundation'.

The President of the New South Wales Industrial Relations Commission, Justice Roger Boland, has warned that that judges and tribunal members will be placed in a straitjacket as punishment for the state government's public sector wages blow-out. Justin Boland said it was clear that the government blamed the commission for a public sector wages blow-out. He said:

I think it is grossly wrong and unfair to have done so ...

Justice Boland continued:

What I strenuously object to is the government laying the blame for the failure of its wages policy on the commission and using that as an excuse to shackle the commission's independence.

He went on to say:

The truth is that the commission, by various means, implemented the wages policy. That there was a failure to fully achieve cost offsets, if that was in fact so, is not a failure that can be sheeted home to the commission.

He said that between 1995 and 2007 only the nurses and teachers had arbitrated wage claims in the commission while all other public sector wages were agreed between the government and the relevant union. He said:

That the Parliament would directly fix wages and salaries for government employees rather than an independent tribunal is a novel proposition in Australia. No other state or territory does so, neither does the Commonwealth ...

Justice Boland also said he was puzzled why the government kept its plans for the workplace laws a secret. I could tell Justice Boland why it was kept a secret. It was kept a secret because they would not dare tell the New South Wales community that they were going to rip the wages and conditions away from nurses, firefighters, the police, public sector workers, bus drivers and train drivers. They would not have dared do that before the election. That is why it was kept secret.

It is quite clear that what is happening here is a rerun in New South Wales of where the federal coalition and the state coalition find their ideological base, and that is in the far right of the Republican movement in America. That is where this starts to say that public servants should not have rights to any bargaining position, that public servants should be under the complete control and at the will of the government. That is what the Republicans are doing in the United States. We know that the coalition, the Nationals and the Liberals would certainly like to replicate what the Republicans do in the United States. They are enamoured with the Tea Party extremists on climate change, enamoured with the Tea Party extremists on industrial relations, and enamoured with the Tea Party extremists on social policy. We know that the extremists in the coalition are in control. They want to rip away workers' rights. We know that if they had half a chance, they would get back to that genetic disposition of the coalition: as soon as you get any power, hoe into workers' wages and conditions, get rid of workers' rights, get rid of the penalty rates and get rid of their shift allowances. That is what the coalition are about. We know that they are simply waiting there, hoping that they can con the Australian public into thinking that they actually care about something, and as soon as they ever get to power Work Choices will be back on the agenda.

We know that Senator Bushby loves Work Choices—he has told me time and time again. He will not defend Tasmania against the attacks from his coalition colleagues in Western Australia but he will defend Work Choices. Senator Bushby, you should put some effort into looking after Tasmania and not buckling under to the extremists in Western Australia. The same goes for the National Party. It is no good standing up and saying that you think cost of living is a problem when you want to rip and tear at workers' wages and conditions.

We know Work Choices is just bubbling away under the surface, ready to explode any minute, because over there the Work Choices warriors are in control. The extremists—the climate change deniers and the Work Choices warriors—in the coalition are in control. Anyone who had even a moderate approach on these issues has buckled under. They have done backflips on climate change; they have done backflips on Work Choices. The coalition in this chamber are the backflip champions. They have no backbone, no courage. They do what the leader says has to be done regardless of whether it is lies and misinformation. 'We will just run the agenda'—that is the position. They have absolutely no credibility in standing up for workers in this country and they would instigate Work Choices the first chance they got.