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Monday, 16 October 2017
Page: 10625

Ms CHESTERS (Bendigo) (13:06): If the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2017 is passed it will basically mean the end of democratic civil society in this country. This bill targets the Australian union movement—the right to organise, the right to come together and the right to vote on who you want to represent you. This bill tears apart the very notion of those rights. As the shadow minister said, this bill breaches international conventions. It will basically let the government and the minister of the day dictate and decide who is a fit and proper person and who can be the leaders of our unions. Australian society have every right to be sceptical of the minister having such power given the contributions of the previous speaker, the member for Fairfax, and I am sure of other speakers to come.

The member for Fairfax talked about something that happened at Oaky North mine, but we have discovered that that did not happen. Threatening rape of a child is serious—it is a crime. Raping a child is serious and a crime. It is so disappointing that those opposite, in a bill about integrity, would stand up here and cite rumour. Queensland Police have confirmed that they are not investigating this matter. Even The Australian paper, which is no friend of the union movement, has confirmed that Queensland Police are not investigating this matter. Yet those opposite, in the pursuit of their politics, in the pursuit of passing this bill, will cite any rumour to sensationalise the issue.

I want to say a couple of things about the Oaky North coalminers. I have met them and their families a few times, and they are good people, hardworking people who have been locked out for 100 days because their employer, Glencore, wants to pay workers less. They are using labour hire, bussing people in to do these jobs. They are purely and simply trying to kill the town of Tieri, forcing the workers to be drive in, drive out or fly in, fly out. I have met with the wives and partners of many of the people working at Oaky North, people who love their town, and they are having surveillance and security officers follow them to their kids' schools. The government is not talking about what is happening to the workers or the people who have been locked out at Oaky North. In this integrity bill, they are not talking about the behaviour of Glencore and the way in which they are bullying people. No, instead they refer to something that there is no recording of and which the Queensland Police aren't even investigating.

It doesn't end there. This government's hatred for unions and working people knows no bounds. You would think that a bill that was about ensuring integrity would mention trying to tackle wage theft, trying to focus on the shonky operators, the people involved in labour hire scams, the sham contracting or the cases of modern slavery that have been exposed that are going on in the horticulture industry and going on in food processing. But no. This government is not interested in what is happening to working people and what is happening in some parts of our sector. Instead, the only thing that unites them is beating up on the union movement and on people's right to organise.

This bill, the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2017, does everything but ensure integrity. It proposes a fit and proper person test to hold office of a registered organisation and mechanisms for disqualification from office. This comes from a government who, in their own Liberal Party in Victoria, have one of their former directors sitting in jail for fraud. This comes from a government where the Liberal Party's own opposition leader in Victoria is famously known for the 'mobster lobster' scandal. Yet we're supposed to believe that they can bring forward a bill that talks about integrity, new grounds for deregistered organisations and mechanisms for placing registered organisations into administration.

You cannot fault the community for being sceptical of this government when it comes to placing organisations into administration. The government's new tests for doing that include: because organisations organise protests, because they get workers together, and because they dare to let off a siren and get on a megaphone to talk about the wage theft going on in their workplaces. This government seeks to shut down civil society in our Australian democracy, starting with the union movement.

Democracy in our society exists everywhere. Football and netball clubs have an election every year, as do school councils. It is a big part of who we are as a country. For as long as we have had Federation, we have had workers come together to organise, to have elections and to decide who they want to lead them. That is freedom. That is democracy. This government and these Liberal-National Party members are so far away from that in this bill, they can hardly call themselves the Liberal-National Party anymore. I thought the Liberal Party was about liberal individual rights and freedoms. This bill is everything but that, because it says to a group of workers: 'You don't have the right to elect who you want to represent you. You don't have the right to decide if you wish to amalgamate. We are going to introduce this new draconian system to stop you from coming together and organising collectively.' For a party and a government that claim they prefer small government over big government and claim to be about cutting down on red tape, this bill does everything but that. It puts roadblock after roadblock in the way of people wanting to collectively organise and workers wanting to stand up for themselves.

This bill only targets workers, largely. It does not crack down on wage theft, which is now not only a hashtag in this country but a growing phenomenon. It does nothing to deal with the shonks, particularly those in the building industry. An example of that is what happened in my own electorate at the Bendigo hospital. Asset Interiors use a combination of visa workers to work on the building site, particularly on the plastering. There were workers who would come and go. There were 457 and 417 visa holders and people who were here not on working holidays but on tourist visas, and they just disappeared. The company went into receivership and then into liquidation. Small businesses in our electorate that supplied them lost out. The CFMEU organised a protest out the front of the Lendlease office to basically say, 'Lendlease, you need to take responsibility for this; you need to clean up this mess.' After a few protests, the CFMEU said: 'Okay, we will sort it out. We will pay these workers out.' Some of them lost $16,000 in back pay.

This bill doesn't do anything to correct what happened there. It doesn't do anything to stop this from happening in the future. Instead, what it does is make it harder for that union to protest. It makes it harder for that union to stand up for those workers who lost $16,000 and were working in unsafe conditions and for those small businesses who lost money because this company went under. The CFMEU, because of the ABCC, is being pursued for holding those protests to ensure workers got what they were owed. This is the focus of this government. They will fine a union official who fails to give 24 hours notice before stepping onto a workplace $50,00—for the simple, administrative failure to give 24 hours notice. But they will not go after the company that phoenixes. They will not go after the company that rips off workers. They will not go after the company that puts people in unsafe working conditions.

Take, for example, what happened in Perth. A backpacker fell to her death. She didn't have the experience. When she signed up for the job she thought she would be doing traffic management—turning the stop-slow sign. Instead she ended up who knows how many storeys up without the proper training and fell to her death. On that workplace, the employer didn't stop work. It took an ABC journalist calling the police and the police turning up before work on that job stopped. Yet this bill doesn't go after that employer, doesn't go after the conditions under which a person fell to their death. No: it goes after the union—the union that walked on-site to say, 'This work needs to stop.'

This is what this government cares about. It doesn't care about working people. It doesn't care about your rights at work. It doesn't care about workplace health and safety. This government just wants to stop any opposition to its government rules—any opposition from people who might speak up against its mates in big business. This bill does not crack down on the exploitation of temporary workers or modern slavery. This bill does not address the fact that we have guest workers who are here in this country living in the most unsafe, awful conditions. It doesn't address that issue at all.

One of the other speakers mentioned the HSU. Under current laws, there was an issue within that union, the HSU. Those people are going through court proceedings as we speak. This bill wouldn't have changed the fact of what happened in that union. People inside that union stood up to that, and those people were dealt with through the current legal system. This bill, though, doesn't help the Dorevitch workers, who've been locked out and now reinstated. Dorevitch is a company that earns millions of dollars from the taxpayer. People here may have been to them. They are a blood collection agency, basically. All the money they make is essentially from the taxpayer, from our pathology. People who work for Dorevitch on a Saturday are paid $21 an hour to collect blood. They are going through enterprise bargaining at the moment, and they can't get a fair deal. Yet this bill won't help them get a decent day's pay for the work they do. It instead targets their ability to organise.

And it's also about what's happening in construction. This bill will not help all the unemployed construction workers in Perth, many of whom have been locked out of jobs because labour hire companies there are using 457 visa holders. This bill doesn't help them get a job back. This bill doesn't help the 700,000 workers who've lost their penalty rates—United Voice SDA members, people who work hard in hospitality, retail and pharmacy. This bill doesn't restore their penalty rates. This bill also doesn't help the Bupa aged-care nurses who are fighting for decent ratios—the ANMF. This bill doesn't help to ensure safe standards in our aged-care facilities—that there are enough nurses on every shift to ensure quality care for all of the aged residents in these facilities. This bill doesn't help them. This bill doesn't help the AMWU, the AWU and the ETU locked-out workers at the Esso Longford plant. At a time when we're talking about a gas crisis in this country, at a time when we're exporting more gas, at a time when we have a real issue when it comes to energy prices and when it comes to gas, this bill doesn't help those workers who've been locked out, who do not want to accept a massive pay cut.

This bill basically and fundamentally goes after workers' rights to organise. It contravenes ILO core convention 87, Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948—in particular, schedules 2 and 3 in this bill, where a union can be deregistered or put into administration because of certain actions taken by two or more officials. This is what this government's doing. This is something you'd expect in countries where they do not have a proud history of freedom of association and democracy. This is what you would expect from countries like Cambodia. This is not what you expect in Australia. In Australia we have always had the right to organise, the right to stand up and the right to protest. This bill goes to the heart of that because it allows one or two officials, the minister of the day or an employer who doesn't like a bit of union pressure to make a complaint that could result in an organisation being deregistered. It says 'fit and proper person'. Again, it is being designed by a government whose own Liberal Party in Victoria have officials in jail and been confronted with headlines referring to 'lobster mobster'. They have ongoing issues.

This is a government that doesn't really care about workers. This is a government that, for all of its preaching, does very little to crack down on the real issues in the work place, like wage theft, like breaches of occupational health and safety and like what is going on in so many of our sectors when it comes to stagnant wage growth. If you truly believe in a liberal society and in freedom and democracy you will vote against this bill, because it is basically a big step towards destroying our democratic civil society that we have always been so proud of in this country.