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Wednesday, 27 November 2019
Page: 4283


Senator STERLE (Western Australia) (09:31): It might seem strange, but I relish the opportunity to speak in opposition to the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2019. The sad part about this place is that we pass so many pieces of legislation but the majority of Australians have no idea what's going on here, when they should have an idea of what's going on here. This bill is a classic example—not so much the content of the bill but the content of what this government has been doing over the past six years, carrying on from the previous Howard years, when they blew up the nation with Work Choices. What they've done here is to ask: 'How can we undermine the working conditions and wages of Australians? How can we control the greater masses to do as we say? It's pretty easy. Let's put laws in place that limit the opportunity for unions to do their work.'

It takes me back to one of my favourite films. This situation is not a comedy, but we all remember that magnificent film Monty Python's Life of Brian. We all remember when the commandos and Reg convened a meeting in someone's house. They all ran in and they were all dressed the same. It was a Judean People's Front secret meeting. They started asking, 'What have the Romans ever done for us?' Every Australian remembers this skit, but I'm going to put a different slant on it. This is exactly like when we ask, 'What have unions ever done for us?' Let's go back to the skit about 'What have the Romans ever done for us?' One of them said, 'The aqueduct.' They said, 'Yeah, yeah, but apart from the aqueduct?' Then they went on. They said, 'Sanitation.' 'Yeah, right.' 'Roads, irrigation, medicine, education, wine, public baths—what have the Romans ever done apart from that?' Then one of the commandos said: 'Well, it is safe to walk the streets, and they know how to keep order. Let's face it, they're the only ones who could in a place like this.' Then all the commandos laughed, 'Ha, ha, ha.' Then one of them said: 'We wouldn't want to go back to those days, would we? But what have the Romans ever done for us?'

Let me put another spin on it. What have the unions ever done for us? That mob over there just blindly follow their leaders. Half of them probably don't even know what's going on either, the lemmings. They'll just go over the side of the cliff with their leaders. But what have the unions done for us? There is no particular order here, Madam Deputy President, because I know you know this, as all of us here on this side know this. It was the unions that first led the eight-hour campaign, where workers could have eight hours of work, eight hours of play and eight hours of rest. That's what the unions did, not the employers. The unions then introduced the 38-hour week. The unions were the ones that brought us the wages safety net. What have the unions ever done for us? Well, they've given us awards, and they are the ones pursuing equal pay for women. It ain't the employers; it's the unions. This is what they're doing for us.

What else have the unions done for us? Penalty rates, meal allowances in lieu of a meal break—no, no, stick around, Senator Molan! I know I've broken you down, Senator Molan, and you're one of the intelligent ones! You're not like the other lemmings, so imagine what the other ones are going to do! I don't blame you.

Senator Molan: I have to leave now, for credibility!

Senator STERLE: What else have the unions ever done for us? Rostered days off, sick leave, bereavement leave, public holidays, annual leave with a loading. My goodness me, workers being able to have a minimum of four weeks leave with pay! In a lot of places it's gone out to six weeks, and so it should.

What else have the unions done for us? My goodness me, they negotiated long service leave! They're now negotiating domestic violence leave. It was the unions that negotiated maternity and paternity leave. It was the unions that negotiated superannuation and continue to enforce superannuation. We found out through an economics committee that in this nation there has been no less than $6 billion in superannuation theft. That's even before I get to the bigger problem of wage theft.

What else have the unions done for us? My goodness me, they even negotiated shift allowances and living away from home allowances! It was the unions that pushed for permanent employment in a majority of workplaces. Madam Deputy President, you and I both know that the corporations and a lot of employers in this nation would love nothing better than to employ casuals. They'd love that. Tell me how many casuals can go to the bank and get a home loan?

What else have the unions done for us? It is the unions that are continually negotiating wage rises for us. Look at wage stagnation in this nation. Wage stagnation in this nation is shocking. But in the union yards and the yards where the unions are represented there is collective bargaining. There at least they have the ability to try and succeed in getting wage rises through enterprise bargaining.

It was the unions that introduced dispute resolution protections and unfair dismissal protections. How much time in our previous lives did you, Madam Deputy President, and I spend in the commission trying to negotiate an unfair dismissal case when you and I both knew the dismissal was completely out of order? We had the ability to represent our members. Most of the time we got them back on the job, and, if they didn't get back on the job, they were able to leave with dignity and were paid the money they were entitled to.

What else have the unions done for us? Let's talk about wage recovery. I don't see any employers or the government going out there prosecuting the case for wage recovery. It is the unions that do that. What else have the unions done for us? Goodness me, we even get paid weekend penalty rates—oh, unless, of course, you're employed in hospitality or are one of the retail and pharmacy workers who aren't under an enterprise agreement. I forgot about that. It wasn't the unions that stripped penalty rates. It was that mob over there moving legislation in this place to give employers the opportunity to do that, under the pretext that there would be more jobs. Well, how the heck has that worked out? I would be interested to see how many more jobs have been created.

What have the unions ever done for us? Redundancies. One of the worst things we have to do as union organisers is negotiate redundancies, not because we're going to see a few bob going into the pocket of a worker who has lost their job through no fault of their own; the sad part is that they've lost their jobs. The majority of these workers don't have other jobs to go to, so at least the unions are able to negotiate redundancies. How many times, Madam Deputy President, have you and I sat there and had to negotiate redundancies and then, lo and behold, what do we find on the site a few months later? Labour hire. We can start at the top of the chain on this. Major corporations are notorious for this. I don't have to mention them here, because we know who they are.

What else have the unions done for us? I don't think it was the employers who led the charge in the industrial revolution to make sure that workers didn't lose their fingers, their arms or their legs or get injured without an ounce of compensation through workers compensation. It was the unions that negotiated that. I could go on for hours and hours about what the unions have done for us.

I come from a trucking background, and I, unlike the majority of sycophants on the other side, who have just gone and worked for someone who would give them a job in parliament, have lived and breathed it. I come from the trucking industry where I worked with my hands. I followed my old man, and I'm proud to say that my son has followed me. We get out of bed in the morning and say: 'We want to put our boots on; we want to go to work; we want to earn a good quid.' We know we've got to work hard, but the beauty is that, if something goes wrong, I can fall back on the protection of my union membership should I need it—should I be unfairly targeted for my activism on the worksite. Not that I want to see the employer go broke—not at all—but I want to share the common wealth all the way down the chain from the employer through to the employees. And it is the unions in this nation that have done this over the hundred-odd years that they've been active, clearly. It was the unions that formed the Australian Labor Party—we all remember that—following the dispute with the shearers because, as the unions said very clearly, we wanted to have a voice in the parliament to represent working men and women. And it might pay the Greens to listen. You might get an education on how unions work, and, my goodness me, some of you need it.

Senator Gallacher: Point of order, Madam Deputy President. I ask if you could bring the chamber to order. There appears to be another meeting at the other end of the chamber.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: I would ask senators to respect the right of Senator Sterle to be heard in silence. Please continue, Senator Sterle.

Senator STERLE: Thank you, Madam Deputy President. And, thank you, Senator Gallacher, because we do take this seriously. We don't just think there's an opportunity to have a gaggle and a photo and appear in a Green Left weekly magazine, because we're taking this damn seriously. As I said, millions and millions of Australians have benefited from the work of unions in this nation. Nothing galls me more than when I hear those on the other side and their lemmings—the followers—talking about how wonderful they've been in negotiating their contract. Every worker in this nation owes it to the work of the unions on the worksites. There is a saying that I picked up. My good mate Senator Gallacher uses it regularly and I like it too: 'A rising tide lifts all boats.' How true a statement is that. And it is the work of the unions and the union membership that actually lifts that tide, and those boats lift with that work.

What we've seen here, since the Howard days, is that they're clawing at the gates. They're like a dog, like a greyhound in the boxes at the races, bursting to get out. Every day they're conniving. How can they calm the chooks and put them all to sleep, while they quietly work around undermining the ability of young Australians to walk into a well-paying job? What is wrong in this nation with Australians not only expecting but demanding that the next generation shall have the conditions that we've enjoyed? And we've enjoyed these conditions through collective bargaining and we've enjoyed these conditions because we didn't have the horrible of the horriblest, the LNP—that mob over there—undermining us at every opportunity when we were in government. As soon as they're in government, that's the first step: how can they undermine the working conditions of Australian men and women? We heard yesterday, Senator Sheldon, I think, raise questions in question time to the minister—and I cannot remember who the minister was; they shift around a fair bit. Who was it?

Senator Sheldon: Minister Payne.

Senator STERLE: Minister Payne—thank you very much, Senator Sheldon. When Minister Payne was asked about whether certain conditions would be rolled back, she didn't protect the position as it is now. She just dodged it. So let's face it: what we can assume is that there are IR wars coming.

Before I digress, I want to go to something else from yesterday. It's all starting to fall into shape here. There was an article in The Australian—and let me tell you, when I've got heartburn and I'm feeling sick and I'm not sleeping well and I want to get back to sleep, I read The Australian because it usually takes about half a page. It's one of the worst bugles in this nation. But I've got to tell you that one thing popped out in The Australian, and I'm glad I saw this. It was an article by Ewin Hannan, who is one of the better writers around. It's headed 'Employee activism scares execs'. Have a think about this: here we have a concocted bill on the premise that the unions are all baddies and we need to put them all in jail or whatever we need to do. Why would this pop up out of nowhere? I have never heard this before. I'm not sure if you're aware of this, Madam Deputy President, but I'll quote from the article:

Senior company executives fear an 'unprecedented rise' in workplace activism—

we can't have that—

driven by employee discontent with rising automation, executive pay levels, surveillance of workers and management decisions could cost companies up to 25 per cent in annual revenue.

Doesn't it all start making sense? It's saying: 'It's all right for the top of the chain to be wallowing in wealth and money, but why should we share that around with the workers? So, you know what? Our mates in the LNP, we really need you to do everything you can to stop the activism, and one of the best ways is let's just target the unions and let's make it as hard as possible for the unions to go out there and do their job, which is to represent union members and those who aren't in unions.' They actually have the opportunity to be educated: 'Do you realise that you are being screwed all the way down the chain here?' And this is what happens. We all know that.

But it really sickens me, because now, in this nation—and I didn't want to waste time on this, because it is wasting time, but it has to be raised, and I could talk for hours underwater with a gob full of marbles on this stuff—we have the carry-on of the banks, while we're trying to screw workers and the workers' representatives, while we're trying to jail them and chain them or whatever we can do to make sure they can't do their job. And thank you, former LNP senator Barry O'Sullivan, because you, Sully, were one of the ones—against your party—who stood up and told the Treasurer and the Prime Minister exactly what they could do with the sycophants they sent around to see you because you were going to pull on the royal commission into the banks. And, wow, hasn't that been very interesting?

While we've got Australian seafarers being dragged out of their bunks on the docks at Freo to be replaced by foreign seafarers who are exploited—and this government here, congratulations; we love the mob at Portland, Alcoa, no problem. We find also that we've had seafarers on our iron boats. We all remember our iron boats—a great part of our history—running iron ore. We know how important iron ore is to this nation—sending it around the world. The iron boats were sent into international waters outside of Hong Kong—didn't even know what was going on—then to be frogmarched down the gangplank. This is BlueScope and BHP iron boats. They were frogmarched down the gangplank, off the ships—couldn't even contact their families, couldn't contact the ITF or the maritime union and say, 'Whoa: what the hell's going on?' Australian seafarers: out. The incoming foreign seafarers—to whom the Australian seafarers mean no malice—these poor devils are exploited something shocking. They actually asked some of the seafarers, 'Can you leave your boots in the cabin, because we don't have 'em?' I'm not making this up. I know, because I spoke to the seafarers.

And here is another example. We've got—what's the word, 'human tapeworms'?—the board of Westpac. Now, I didn't say that; that was reported in the Financial Review yesterday. I wouldn't be that nice! They're parasites. While they're conducting their illegal behaviour, our truckies are being fined the equivalent of a week's pay because in their logbook they spelt the name of the roadhouse or the town they slept in the night before incorrectly. Have a listen to this: they were fined a week's pay because they spelt it wrong. Can you believe this rubbish, in this day and age, while sycophants and human tapeworms and parasites at the Westpac bank are absolutely wallowing in wealth?

Do we hear from the LNP? 'Oh, my goodness me: how can we let this operate under our nose, especially when we opposed the royal commission, the banking inquiry'—26 times. They can blame previous Prime Minister Turnbull, but it's the same circus, with the same clowns running around. Just the ringmaster's changed; that's about it. And let me just talk a bit about the Westpac bank—this Mr Lindsay Maxsted. I make no apologies for this, Mr Maxsted: what an absolute disgrace you are. You might not have implemented it. There may have been previous chairmen of the bank and previous board members, but not one of you has the intestinal fortitude, let alone the decency, to say: 'You know what? We really have got caught with our fingers in the cookie jar.' Whether or not the previous sycophants or human tapeworms or parasites set it up, you oversaw it. Not one of you stood up and said, 'In the best interests of our customers and the shareholders, my goodness me, I'd better forfeit my $1 million plus or whatever I'm getting.' And I've got the figures here; I just haven't got enough time to read them.

I tell you what should happen to the executives of the Westpac bank. They should be jailed. We should be rushing legislation into this chamber—not to try to prosecute union officials, who have to break the law sometimes to get an outcome. And tell me which law's broken; tell me which law's not working. The union officials are getting fined. They're paying their fines; they're getting on with work. But what law is broken? None of you can answer that, because this is just concocted. You're looking after these human tapeworms in the Westpac bank. Why aren't we debating, in this chamber and in the other place, legislation rushed in to address this white-collar crime that's been operating under their noses? We'll have the Treasurer say: 'We don't talk about the CBA because that was only $700 million. They're the good baddies. But these bad baddies, we'll talk to them. We'll smack them on the wrist or whack them around the ear with a silk-scented scarf.'

I say to Australia and Australian workers, 'This is what the LNP have in line for you.' The Australian people should be rising on their toes, saying: 'Hang on, if we've got unions and if we are members of those unions, we want them to represent us. We want them to improve our terms and our conditions. We want them to do it not only for us but also for the generations that follow us.' And the same Australians should be rising on their toes and saying: 'You know what? This is exactly right. Why aren't we debating legislation'—there wouldn't be a debate. If you mob over there had any guts—and you haven't; you haven't got any decency in you anyway. If you had the decency, we would be debating laws to not only stop this white-collar crime but to actually shame these so-and-sos. We would actually pass laws that would strip them of their ill-gained proceeds that they've stolen from the bank customers. I'm a Westpac bank customer, but I'm not moving because it's the workers there that deserve our support, not the parasites at the top.

Why aren't you introducing laws in this chamber and the other chamber—you can all put your heads down in your laps—to not only get the money off them but also send them to jail? Why aren't you going to give us laws that don't stop at Westpac because we know of all the criminal behaviour that we've seen at AMP and the Commonwealth Bank and others? What an absolute disgrace you are, you lot over there. Australia, you need to rise to your toes. You need to start the revolution right now.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Sterle. I was very reluctant to interrupt Senator Sterle because it's not fair to him. I understand that others are conducting business in here, but I do ask senators to do it quietly. The conversations were very audible to me and it is disrespectful to senators who are speaking.