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Monday, 16 October 2017
Page: 10629


Mr WALLACE (Fisher) (13:21): I was in the building industry for 30 years in a past life as a carpenter, joiner, builder and building construction barrister. I have seen pretty much the best and the worst of what goes on in the building industry. I can say, without any shadow of a doubt, that I too was subjected to union thuggery. Back when I was 19 years of age and a first-year apprentice, I was being so productive on my first day of work on a building site in Melbourne that I was told to slow down by these two big, burly BLF blokes as one drove his finger into my chest. I would have been about 70 kilograms dripping wet. It's a bit different these days, unfortunately! That was just one occasion where I was personally subjected to thuggery on a building site in Australia.

The Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2017 seeks to return integrity to the building industry. Unlike what those opposite might believe, on this side of the House we are not against unions. In fact, a previous speaker on behalf of the opposition, the member for Gorton, talked about how we are against unions and against workers. That is totally false. We are not against unions; we are not against workers. We support workers. What we are against is unions that break the law—nothing more, nothing less. There are good unions and there are bad unions.

The CFMEU is a bad union. I will come to the evidence of that now. This is not Andrew Wallace, the federal member for Fisher, saying this; this is Justice Jessup. In July 2016, he said:

The CFMEU's record of noncompliance with legislation of this kind has now become notorious … That record ought to be an embarrassment to the trade union movement.

Judge Jarrett in the same month said:

The CFMEU has an egregious record of repeated and wilful contraventions of all manner of industrial laws.

Justice White in April 2016 said:

The CFMEU's compliance with industrial legislation generally has been poor.

You might think that's the understatement of the year, Mr Deputy Speaker Vasta. He said that the union's prior history:

… bespeaks an attitude by the CFMEU of ignoring, if not defying, the law and a willingness to contravene it as and when it chooses.

Judge Vasta said:

It would be apt to describe the behaviour of the First Respondent—

namely, the CFMEU—

as "sheer thuggery". Such thuggery has no place in the Australian workplace. Contraventions of the FW Act that involve such thuggery cannot be tolerated.

We've heard the ACTU Secretary, Sally McManus, say on national television that she supports unions that don't want to follow the law but want to break the law, that if they disagree with the law they should be entitled to break it. Those opposite—some of those opposite, in particular those who were in some parts of the ACTU—have got no concept of the rule of law. One of the fundamental principles in our democracy is that no-one is above the law. That includes unions, workers and everybody. No-one is above the law, and unions have to abide by the law whether they like it or not.

This bill arises out of the royal commission into union corruption. It is part of a suite of bills that have been put and passed by the parliament, including the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act, the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Act and the Fair Work Amendment (Corrupting Benefits) Act. There would be no-one, even on the other side, who could reasonably argue that we on this side, the government, are not trying to protect and do the right thing by all workers. That's why we introduced the corrupting benefits bill. We on this side of the fence understand that for every corrupt payment that is received someone had to write the cheque. In those instances where companies write a cheque for a corrupt benefit, they should be held to account, and they will be held to account under the legislation brought by this government—unashamedly so, because we believe in the rule of law.

This bill does four things. This bill will strengthen the provisions of the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act in four respects. Firstly, it deals with the issue of mergers. The bill will ensure that the Fair Work Commission can consider the public interest in its existing role of approving mergers of registered organisations. There is some talk—we've all heard it—that the Maritime Union of Australia and the CFMEU want to merge. Why anybody would want to jump into bed with the CFMEU is beyond me, but, be that as it may, if those two unions, two of the strongest unions in this country, ultimately merge they should be held to a public interest test just like any merging corporation. But at the moment there is no public interest test. If a corporate merger will substantially lessen competition, the Australian Competition Tribunal can approve the merger only if it is in the public interest. All we are looking to do is align those two comparisons. Interestingly, those opposite, who oppose this legislation, are happy to oppose corporate mergers when they feel it's appropriate but don't oppose mergers when it comes to the union movement. Under the changes in this bill, these are exactly the kinds of issues that the Fair Work Commission would be able to consider in the context of merging registered organisations, and Labor has not made clear why it holds a view that is different for corporations and unions.

Secondly, this bill deals with the grounds on which a registered organisation can be disqualified. The bill adds new grounds for disqualification to the existing grounds. These new grounds will apply standards for the disqualification of officials that are similar to those that apply to company directors. It will also implement recommendations of the Heydon royal commission. The bill will ensure that disqualification is available where officials commit serious criminal offences, such as blackmail and extortion. Time and time again we have seen officials, in particular officials of the CFMEU, brought before the courts and convicted. Why any organisation would want to have a convicted criminal as part of their organisation, or a leader of their organisation, is beyond me. This bill looks at who's involved in the organisation and seeks to set up a test as to whether someone is fit and proper. If you want to be a builder—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Coulton ): Order! The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour and the member for Fisher will be given an opportunity at that time to conclude his contribution.