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Tuesday, 24 October 2017
Page: 11863

Mr STEPHEN JONES (Whitlam) (18:12): There is no limit to the willingness of this government to use the extraordinary powers of the state to go after their political opponents for political reasons. In this parliament today we have seen some extraordinary circumstances. The government, in the House of Representatives, had one of their ministers stand up in parliament and make some absolutely outrageous observations about their political opponents on the other side of the House. The reason they did this? Because we had the temerity to expose some weaknesses and some problems with their administration of the Australian Federal Police.

A few moments before question time we saw the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police tell a Senate estimates committee that staff cuts to the Australian Federal Police—we understand about 117 jobs—and budget cuts to the Australian Federal Police were interfering with their capacity to conduct drug raids. We understand that the ABC has seen documents from senior sources within the New South Wales branch of the Australian Federal Police saying those very same things: staff cuts are interfering with their capacity to conduct drug raids.

Yet, at the very same time that evidence was being given and the minister was standing up in the House saying all sorts of slanderous things, the police had the capacity to be planning and conducting a raid on union offices. 'Staff cuts mean we can't conduct operations against drug smugglers and criminals, but we've got enough staff to raid the offices of the Australian Workers' Union about an alleged event that is alleged to have occurred 10 years ago.' I am sure that most Australians are scratching their heads and saying, 'Where are this government's priorities?' 'We haven't got enough staff to go after drug smugglers, but we've got enough staff to put on an operation to go after our political opponents.'

We have become anaesthetised to this government's willingness to use the forums of parliament, day after day after day, to slander law-abiding Australian citizens who do nothing but dedicate their lives to protecting the rights and conditions of their fellow workers. They are a target as far as this government is concerned because they are political opponents as far as this government is concerned. We have become anaesthetised to this government's willingness to use the legislative instruments of this place to go after their political opponents. In fact, you know it's a sitting week in Canberra because the government's got a bill before the parliament which is going after workers and their representatives. That's how you know when parliament's sitting; they go after workers and their representatives. You've got that fool of a Treasurer who goes on the radio this morning and says, 'We've got to do something about inclusive growth.' Then, a few hours later, he stands up in parliament and attacks unions and the representatives who are trying to do something about dealing with inequality in this country.

Australians are scratching their heads. They know that this government will leave no stone unturned in going after their political enemies, using the protections available in this place to slander and defame law-abiding citizens; and using the legislative instruments of this place to attack the very institutions whose sole purpose is to look after workers' rights, protect their rights and conditions and ensure that they get some wage equality in this country. They will leave no stone unturned to use the legislative instruments of this place to go after those organisations.

And yet today we see that is not enough: 'We have to go further. We are going to use the police force to go after our political enemies.' This at the very same time that the police force is telling parliament, 'We do not have the resources to go after criminals and drug importers and other people who legitimately should be attracting the police enforcement efforts of this country,' because this government has cut the resources to the AFP. And the minister who is responsible for this legislation before the House today thought it was more important that she instruct the AFP and the Fair Work Commission to have them go after this union. It is nothing short of a disgrace! The minister deserves to be condemned. The Prime Minister needs to be condemned. Is it any wonder that there is no member of the coalition government who is willing to come into this place and defend their actions and defend their legislation?

It's not only the legislative instruments and the police force of this country that the government are using to go after their political enemies; they are doing it as an employer as well. They are doing it as an employer as well. There is not a day in this country where good, hardworking members of the Australian Public Service aren't putting themselves on the line to represent the government and its policies, whether they agree with them or not, and to ensure that they are providing the service that the Australian public deserves and expects of their government. They don't get paid well. They don't get paid as well as you and me, Mr Deputy Speaker Goodenough. They certainly haven't enjoyed the pay rises that members of parliament and ministers of government have enjoyed over the last five years.

In fact, let's look at what's happening in the Federal Court of Australia. The work of the Federal Court and the Family Court is incredibly important to the Australian community. Court staff often deal with some of the most difficult cases. Funding and staffing of our federal courts have been a challenge for a long, long time. The courts have generally had a strong working relationship with their staff and their union representatives, but this has broken down in recent times. It has broken down under the decisions of this government. In June this year, staff overwhelmingly rejected an enterprise agreement, with a 90 per cent vote against it. After four years of a pay freeze, staff were offered an agreement which proposed substantial cuts to conditions and money in exchange for a one per cent per annum pay increase. Now, you don't need to be a member of Mensa to understand that a one per cent per annum wage increase is actually a pay cut, because of inflation and other cuts to conditions. But instead of attempting to negotiate in good faith with the staff and their representatives, the government is slamming the door shut.

Well, members on this side of the House understand the important role performed by members of our court's staff. We understand that they are on the front line, just as the staff in this place are often on the front line, standing between the politicians, the ministers and the government in this place and the members of the public and what they expect of their government. We on this side think they deserve a fair and decent pay rise. Labor supports a pay rise for these people that will at least see them keeping pace with the cost of living without having to trade off hard-fought-for conditions.

If we had to spend this afternoon debating a bill to do with industrial relations and the rights of workers and their representatives in this country, these are the issues we should have been dealing with—things that are within the direct control and interest of this government and that it turns its back on, at the very same time it is using the instruments, the forces—the police force—of our government to go after its political enemies. Is there no level to which this government will not stoop? If there is a decent member on the other side of the House, they will stand up in this parliament today and condemn the actions of their government as an employer, condemn the actions of their government as a legislator and condemn the actions of their government as an executive, for using the police force of this state for nothing more than political purposes and diverting resources away from their proper purpose.

If we are to debate an issue that matters to the Australian people, an issue that is relevant, these are the things and this is the legislation we should be debating today, not this stuff, which is nothing short of a political attack on those who seek to represent workers and those who are dedicating their lives to ensuring that people who go to work every day—whether in our courts, in our public sector, on a building site, in the transport industry or wherever, in a small business around the country—get the wages and conditions they deserve, and perhaps a bit of a pay rise, and the dignity they deserve day in, day out.

This legislation is nothing short of an attack on the political enemies of this government And I can tell you: the numbers of those who have a grudge with this government are growing day after day—this government's mismanagement of everything from the NBN to the economy, their attack on workers' rights, their failure to do anything about inequality in this country. The workers of Australia, the people of Australia, have worked them out, and they're coming after them.