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Wednesday, 27 November 2019
Page: 4298


Senator DI NATALE (VictoriaLeader of the Australian Greens) (10:32): I rise to speak against the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2019, and I'll tell you why. Wages are flat and they're going nowhere fast. Corporate profits are at record highs. Coal, oil and gas companies are openly flaunting how they own the parliament and dictate lawmaking in this country, whether it be Canberra, New South Wales for mine approvals or Western Australia for avoiding gas pollution charges. Meanwhile, we see that multinational tax avoidance is rife. Banks are flagrantly breaking the law, pollution is at record highs, wage theft is rampant, 40 per cent of people are trapped in insecure work, and the rate of household debt, one of the highest rates in the world, is weighing down our economy. We've got a set of problems confronting this nation, and what is this government's solution to those problems? To go after the very organisations that are there to represent the interests of working people.

This is a bill that puts more restrictions on unions than it does on corporations. The government talks a lot about red tape. It hates red tape, except when it's red tape that's tying the hands of working people together. We know that this is just the latest in a string of Australian labour laws that have been rewritten to restrict people's rights to organise, to cut away at awards and restrict wages growth, all the while so corporate profits can be boosted.

We know that the right to strike is already unlawful in many circumstances. I remember hearing a worker say, 'Well, if you remove my right to strike, I'm nothing more than a slave.' You can't strike at the moment in so many circumstances, and certainly in circumstances that would actually force far-reaching industrial change. And, not content with that, we've now got a government that has their eyes set on silencing and intimidating people who want to protest against the government—climate emergency protesters and so many others. We know that, as soon as this bill's dealt with, there will be another bill that follows that places even more restrictions on working people, presumably with the support of members of the crossbench and groups like Centre Alliance.

The bill is going to give binding legal powers to the corporate donors of the Liberal Party, as people who have a 'sufficient interest' in an industrial relations matter, to seek the disqualification of a union official, to deregister a union or to pursue a union to be placed into administration. There is going to be a public interest test on union mergers, which overrides the choice of members as to whether or not they want to organise in a way that better represents their own interests. This is a government stepping in, with a minister having veto power over ordinary working people who are deciding to organise in a way that better represents their own interests.

We know where much of this stems from. Like so many bills in this place, it's the price we pay for a broken political donations system. This is the bill you get when big business can buy what they want in this parliament with the money they have saved from laws that allow them to avoid paying their tax. You pay off the Liberal Party and you get legally enforceable rights over unions in return. What a great investment! If you're a big multinational corporation, donating to the Liberal Party is a great investment. The dividend is right here today.

This bill has been widely condemned. The International Centre for Trade Union Rights completed an overview of trade union regulation around the world and, compared to this bill, found:

… no precedent for the degree of state interference in the functioning and establishment of trade unions in comparable industrialised liberal democracies … however … draconian measures of this variety are characteristic of some authoritarian regimes in which independent trade unions are suppressed or entirely prohibited.

This is unprecedented in a Western liberal democracy. It's an indictment on this parliament and on a political party that espouses the value of freedom. Freedom was supposed to be the connecting theme that ran through the broad church of the Liberal Party. But, instead, within the modern Liberal Party an authoritarianism is creeping into all areas of policy and seeping out of the government in all directions. Look no further than the secret trial of an Australian citizen, which led to convictions, recorded in secret, which was uncovered only last week. The government accesses private citizens' and journalists' data without a warrant and blocks the media from basic information, which has culminated in the Your Right to Know campaign. The government wants to ban secondary boycotts by citizens who are concerned about the climate crisis and ban workers' free right to protest. There are companies out there who want to shut down coal plants because they are massive liabilities for them.

In this government, epitomised by people like Peter Dutton, it must be said, is a rising and creeping authoritarianism, addressed at its critics, like the unions, the environment movement and civil liberties groups—all pinned up on the cabinet staff board. I say to members of the crossbench, to Centre Alliance: you are part of this government's authoritarian impulses if you support this bill. There is irony in a bill called 'ensuring integrity' at a time when we are seeing rampant corruption, rip-offs and money laundering within corporate Australia. At the heart of this government a government minister is being investigated by the police for his activities. Surely the higher priority is addressing the corruption and malfeasance within government and within corporate Australia, rather than going on an ideological crusade against the union movement.

That's why the Greens will be moving an amendment to halt the commencement of this bill. We don't like this bill. We don't want it to pass. But, if it did pass with the support of the crossbench, then at the very least they should prevent its passage until we have legislated and established a national independent anticorruption body. Of course, the government doesn't want to do that, because that would require a bill that would put the spotlight firmly on the government itself and on its mates.

Fighting corruption should be our highest priority. It is remarkable that, in the context of what we have seen this week and despite the fact that state jurisdictions have anticorruption bodies, the federal parliament is dragging its heels. This bill would solve none of the problems that we are facing as a society. It's a bill that empowers corporate donors, with legal powers over unions, and all it will serve to do is make record low wages even worse.

I'm going to finish with some words written last week by Guy Rundle. He said:

The parties that trumpet the cause of "small government" can only keep capitalism spluttering along by using the state to regulate and micro-control the free association of workers. Building on the neoliberal anti-strike, anti-worker platform they received, with gratitude, from the Gillard government, the Coalition is preparing for the possibility of a coming slowdown and the ensuing anger and militancy that might result.

This bill is a triumph of ideology over anything of substance. We know the challenges that are facing us collectively as a community. This bill should not be supported at a time when wages are stuck and the economy teeters on the precipice because of it. This bill should not be supported at a time when corruption and malfeasance in corporate Australia, and indeed in this government, thrive. This bill should not be supported. Those of us who understand what it means to be able to organise and represent the rights of working people and what that has done for the advancement of society in this country must hold that principle dear and self-evident. This bill should not be supported.