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Wednesday, 31 July 2019
Page: 1544


Mr PERRETT (Moreton) (11:42): I rise to speak on the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2019. I just want to clarify the word 'integrity' for those people who would have seen it in the title of the legislation and would have no doubt thought that this was the Liberal and National parties' Commonwealth Integrity Commission legislation. I'm sure that people like Monica from Sydney would have thought: 'This is it. This is the legislation promised by Prime Minister Morrison back in December last year. Here we are, on the last day of July—surely, with this government, they're doing what they said and bringing in legislation to establish a Commonwealth Integrity Commission to make sure that parliamentarians are doing the right thing.' But, no—sadly, this is not that legislation. This is a broken promise from the government. Instead, it's focused on kicking unions.

I've listened to the speakers from both sides of the chamber on this bill. I take some comfort from the indication from the member for Mayo that she will be looking closely at this legislation, because it is very important.

I do declare that I have worked for trade unions. Before coming into parliament, I worked for the Independent Education Union of Australia, the union that looks after private schools, so I understand the good work that unions do. I've actually helped people with unfair dismissals, all sorts of industrial matters and discrimination matters, so I have some understanding of the work of union officials.

I also should declare that I have three brothers and a couple of nephews who work in the construction sector, so I have some understanding of that sector. I declare this because the construction union is mentioned by government ministers two or three times every question time and probably 10 or 20 times a day by the Prime Minister. He seems to be obsessed with this union.

Sadly, this coalition government seem to be obsessed with union bashing. It is their favourite pastime. They are obsessed with it and think that it is in the national interest to do so. They don't care about the terrible conditions that employees have to put up with. They don't care whether employers are paying workers their entitlements. There's a deafening silence from those opposite when it comes to the theft of wages. They especially don't care whether worksites are safe.

Labor took to the election a suite of policies that would protect workers and make sure building companies cannot avoid their obligations to their employees; to government, to pay their taxes, obviously; to homeowners; and to honest businesses. I'm just going to touch on some of these: the tradie pay guarantee, which was a requirement for large Commonwealth construction projects that would ensure that tradies who do the work on time get paid on time, something that both sides of the chamber would support; the $7 million tradie litigation fund to give the Australian Securities and Investments Commission the ability to run more difficult court cases without draining the corporate watchdog's resources; the director identification number so that all company directors would be required to obtain a unique director identification number with a 100-point identification check; increased penalties associated with phoenix activity so that the bad employers, the sharks who rip people off over and over again, would be prevented from doing so; and a policy of naming and shaming that would allow the Commissioner of Taxation to name individuals and entities as part of the penalty for the most serious tax offences, for those people not doing the right thing by society.

These policies would have made a real difference to working Australians, and I ask those opposite to consider them. They're roaming around the policy wasteland looking for something to do. But for their kicking the occasional union tumbleweed, there'd be no movement at all. The coalition government begins its seventh year in office in September, and I'm sure the member for Blaxland remembers how long that has been. They aren't concerned about policy that would actually make a real difference to working people. They aren't concerned about economic policy to boost growth, wages and living conditions for all Australians. Instead, they just want to distract from their failures and entrench privilege.

Yesterday's HILDA Survey report confirmed what most of my constituents already know: that living standards are going backwards under the Liberals. We see CPI data today confirming that. The median household income has declined by almost $500 in 2017, a fall of 0.6 per cent from 2016. What is particularly concerning is that there has been no increase in median household incomes for a decade. Many workers are finding it tough to make ends meet. Tradies in the construction sector who aren't being paid on time or aren't being paid at all by unscrupulous employers find it impossible to put food on the table or pay for the roof over their head. It's damaging for their financial health and also for their mental health. Labor always has a positive plan. We wanted to stop dodgy bosses ripping off subbies, their workers and taxpayers—policies that would have made a real difference. So I ask those opposite to consider these policies that I've detailed if they actually care about small businesses.

In contrast, the coalition took to the election one plan: that was tax cuts. So now, finding themselves back on that side of the chamber without any plan to govern, what do they do? They turn to their old favourite from that well-worn song sheet: divide, divide, divide. It's a policy that begins with the verse 'We hate unions', and we've heard it in every speech so far from those opposite.

This bill or something not dissimilar to it was introduced in 2017 but lapsed when the parliament was prorogued in April. The stated purpose of the current bill before the House is:

… to respond to community concern and the recommendations of the Final Report of the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption … to ensure the integrity of registered organisations and their officials, for the benefit of their members.

The royal commission formed the view that the governance requirements of organisations should be more like those imposed on corporations rather than incorporated associations, but this bill proposes much harder regulation—make sure you understand that: much harder regulation—on registered organisations than exists for corporations. For example, it allows not only the Registered Organisations Commissioner and the minister but also any other person with sufficient interest to apply to the court for an order to disqualify an official of a registered organisation. This is a much harsher regime than that for corporations, and differs from the recommendations of the Heydon royal commission. The Heydon royal commission specifically recommended that only the Registered Organisation Commissioner should have standing to seek disqualification orders. This could be a disaster. So let's call this out for what it is: it's an attack on the mighty union movement. Shame on this Morrison government!

Trade unions have a proud history in Australia. Workers rely on the union movement—be they union members paying fees or those workers who work alongside union members and get the benefits of what they fight for. Since many years before the High Court's Harvester decision in 1907, unions have been an accepted part of the fabric of society. It has been accepted that all Australian workers deserve to earn a fair day's pay for a fair day's work and, at the end of the day, return home safely to the families. It would be a very different working environment if trade unions did not exist. If it were not for unions, we would not have annual leave. We would not have industrial awards that underpin pay and conditions of employment for millions of workers. We would not have penalty rates—although penalty rates are actually under threat from the coalition government by both deed and inaction. We would not have maternity leave, superannuation, equal pay for women, health and safety, workers compensation, sick leave, long service leave and redundancy pay. We would not have allowances, including for uniforms. We would not have meal breaks and rest breaks. Workers once had to get through the whole day without any break at all. We would not have collective bargaining and unfair dismissal protection. That is a long list, and there are many others I could add.

I won't detain the House too long as I now go through the list of employment conditions spontaneously provided by employers since that 1907 Harvester decision.

Mr Zappia: None.

Mr PERRETT: I'll take that interjection from the member for Makin. Zip—absolutely nothing. We know that union density has been on the decline since the 1970s. So if ever there was a time when workers needed fearless union representation, it is now—and particularly in the construction industry. As I said, I talk to my brothers and nephews who work in this industry. We see people getting ripped off—and even worse. I have one brother who was literally inches away from death when two people were killed right alongside him. We know it is a dangerous industry. There was significant slowing in the annual rate of growth in average weekly earnings for adult men working full time in the construction industry between November 2013 and November 2018—the time the coalition has been in office, the years when the coalition has been asleep at the wheel. For all employees in construction during that period, there was an annual average growth of 0.8 per cent in weekly earnings, which is considerably below the annual average growth of 4.7 per cent achieved between November 2008 and November 2013—the Rudd and Gillard years.

But the growth in average weekly earnings is only one measure to gauge how crook the economy is. Arguably the best measure of wage growth by industry is the wage price index. Using this measure the annual growth in wages in the five years to 2 December 2018 was more subdued in male dominated industries such as mining and construction. The wage growth in these industries was 1.6 per cent and 1.9 per cent respectively. The all industry average wage growth was actually 2.2 per cent. What is most telling is that the average annual growth in mining and construction in the five years from December 2007 to December 2013 was four per cent and 3.5 per cent respectively.

That is government data. It is absolutely clear that wages in those industries are stagnating. So don't listen to the fear campaign coming out of the Liberal Party. I have seen the information they are putting out there. Dodgy figures are being trotted out by the dodgy Liberal Party propaganda union about the costs associated with the building industry. On top of stagnating wages under this government's watch, dodgy building firms are deliberately avoiding paying workers.

A government member interjecting

Mr PERRETT: Find your own chair if you want to make a comment, thank you! Phoenixing is a practice where dodgy companies deliberately burn companies in an attempt to avoid their obligations to employees, government, homeowners and honest businesses. Phoenix activity not only hurts hardworking Australians, their families and their communities but costs the economy billions of dollars. One estimate is that it costs the Australian economy in excess of $5 billion per year, which is more than $200 for every person in Australia. But the Morrison government is doing nothing to stop these dodgy companies from ripping off hardworking Australians. Instead, it attacks the very organisations that stand up for workers and their families.

Just last week, a Perth court fined a Perth builder, Gerry Hanssen, for breaking industrial laws by refusing to allow union officials entry to a worksite—the same worksite where a German backpacker had died weeks before after falling 13 floors through an open shaft. The union officials had a lawful right at all times to enter the site and there clearly was a need, but the judge said Mr Hanssen was driven by his blind hatred of unions. I don't know Mr Hanssen, but it was not the first time that Mr Hanssen or his company had been brought before the law. He had previously been fined for exploiting migrant workers. Mr Hanssen is a major coalition donor and proudly admits that he is a member of the Western Australia Liberal Party. So why isn't the Prime Minister outraged about Mr Hanssen's law-breaking? Why hasn't the PM or the Western Australian industrial relations minister sought his expulsion from the Liberal Party? It's clear that the Liberals are equally driven by a blind hatred of unions. The Liberals' only agenda is to destroy unions without regard to how this will impact on the fabric of Australian society.

Unions make sure that worksites are safe for workers. Union officials need to enter worksites to carry out inspections. The very lives of workers depend on union officials being granted access to worksites. Surely no-one would argue that shutting down an unsafe worksite until it can be made safe is not a lifesaving function of the union movement. The actual working days lost through worksites being shut down due to industrial action have been decreasing for the past two decades. That's in total. Even though there are millions of more Australians, the total number of working days has actually gone down as well as obviously the ratio. There are already laws in place that limit industrial action taken by employees. There are limits on the types of allowable bargaining demands through protected industrial action. Many enterprise bargaining agreements prevent industrial action during the term of that agreement. In fact, some might say that the industrial relations power has completely shifted. Even though it was a Labor government that actually brought in that change to centralised bargaining and the like, that is something that does not give a lot of rights to the employees in the workplace.

So is the Prime Minister tightening up the laws and penalties against this despicable behaviour by dodgy builders that endanger the lives of working Australians? No; we are not seeing action on that at all. The only industrial laws that the Morrison government have brought into parliament are all about attacking unions. As I said from the start, this is not legislation bringing in the Commonwealth Integrity Commission, as promised in December last year by Prime Minister Morrison. Instead, this is a piece of legislation that is all about attacking unions, and the government should be ashamed of it.

Debate adjourned.