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Wednesday, 16 September 2015
Page: 7064


Senator DASTYARI (New South Wales) (19:08): I want to begin by commending Senator Bullock for his contribution moments before, his understanding and his long-term experience in standing up for workers in Western Australia and with the SDA, the shoppies union as it is affectionately called by its friends. It is an incredible record. He is rightly proud of what he has been able to achieve for some of the most low-paid, most disadvantaged workers in Australia, particularly those in Western Australia. It is a legacy that I know he is very proud of.

This Fair Work Amendment Bill 2014 is nothing more than an attack on the rights of Australian workers and an attack on trade unionism in this country. In this legislation we have part of what is really nothing more than an ideological drive by elements of this government to push a fairly radical world view and a fairly radical view of industrial relations in this country through the prism of what they purport to be fair and reasonable. There is nothing fair about this legislation and there is nothing reasonable about this legislation. What we have is some of the worst elements of previous failed attempts being brought through the back door. Frankly, this type of ideologically driven agenda—in this case against the trade union movement—has really driven this government to the mess that it is in.

When we have 800,000 fellow Australians unemployed—the highest number in 20 years—114,000 more people on the jobless queue since this government was elected and an unemployment rate of six per cent and above for more than a year, you do not need an attack on the rights and conditions of workers. I want to show why legislation like this is so dangerous. There is the recent case of some incredibly exploited 7-Eleven workers that we saw on Four Corners, through the journalism of Adele Ferguson and others on the Four Corners team. In this space we should be having a debate about how we make sure those people are able to access their union, how we make sure that the good work that the unions do and want to do in that space gives them greater protections, how we protect these workers, how we give them more access and how we match databases in places like immigration with those available to trade unions to make sure these workers are able to be protected and stop being exploited.

Instead of having the debate I believe we need to have, here we have a debate about stripping away the rights of these workers, about stripping away the conditions of these workers and about taking away the fundamental conditions they need to have protected. Frankly—and this is what is so worrying—the government is doing this through the guise of being reasonable and saying they are small changes, there are words here and there and it is small bits and pieces.

The Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee reported on the Fair Work Amendment Bill 2014. Those listening may have an opportunity to pull that off the parliament website. It goes through in detail just how damaging some of this legislation is. It is all driven by the ideological view that trade union representation and participation is something that needs to be destroyed or degraded. I think this ideological position that those on the other side of politics have had for so long has driven us to this situation.

The acting minister for industrial relations, Senator Abetz, has really had this position over a very long period of time. The language has certainly been toned down, there is no doubt about that. I think recognition of the political reality of the view of Australian workers has meant that this government is not prepared to be as frank or honest in its language about what it wants to do, but there is still the intent, the nature, the details, the hidden tricks within the legislation and the small measures that are designed to do so much damage. I think that is what we need to be worried about. This is a continuation of a crusade against employment conditions. It is a continuation of the race to the bottom mentality when it comes to labour standards. Most importantly, this bill will stitch up low-paid workers and make it harder for them to make a decent living.

This flies in the face of the promises that were made before the election. The government promised in proposing amendments to the Fair Work Act that the amendments would not go any further than its pre-election promises and it would implement specific recommendations directly from the 2012 fair work revie The government has broken its promise on both counts. The government is going further than its pre-election promises in a number of places, including, as Senator Bullock eloquently outlined, individual flexibility arrangements, greenfield agreements and right of entry. The government has overstepped its election mandate by using language to disadvantage employees. It is now clear that the government cannot be trusted to honour its most basic promise, which was to implement recommendations from the 2012 Fair Work review without change.

If enacted, workers are going to suffer as a result of so many of the proposals in this bill. There is the language that has been used. There is the idea of some kind of responsible centre that we are going to return to. The details of this bill demonstrate that was never the real intention of this government, because that is not where this bill takes the debate. The idea of the individual flexibility arrangements is so worrying. The reason why they are so worrying is that they are a tool used for a specific purpose for a specific environment at a specific time. They could be used in a scenario that could be a win-win by extending it in the way that this legislation suggests. The devil is always in the detail in these matters. The government is unreasonably proposing that the key safeguards be abandoned. It is the small thing of language.

Senator Bullock talked—and more eloquently with his experience than I will be able to—about greenfield agreements and right of entry. We heard Senator Gallacher as well, a little bit earlier, go through both of those. I am conscious of the time. I wanted to use this brief opportunity to perhaps express some of my personal experiences dealing in this space. Senator Bullock, I believe, talked about his 37 years working in the trade union movement. I spent three weeks working in the trade union movement. There is an opportunity here to explain why it did not go beyond that.

I did a program with the Transport Workers Union—a union that I have been a proud member of for over 12 years now—when I finished my schooling in 2001. It was over the summer period. I thought it was a great experience. I thought I did very well. I thought I was a very impressive model employee for the three weeks that I was there. Frankly—and I said this to Mr Tony Sheldon at the TWU conference recently—I do have a bone to pick, and I will be settling the score in the few minutes I have left tonight! At the end of the three-week program, there were five jobs available at the union. Three people applied. Two of them were given a job. It was the feeling of the union executive at the time that I was not a fit and proper employee of that institution. When I raised it with Mr Tony Sheldon in jest at the conference dinner—I was there as a speaker—he pointed out that the Transport Workers Union, which I have been a member of for 12 years, had to draw the line somewhere and they felt that they needed to draw the line with me. I said to him that I would settle the score one day and that I would take the opportunity—perhaps using parliamentary privilege at some point in time—to be able to explain my case. Frankly, I think I was an amazing employee of that place and I think it was their loss and not mine with their decision not to hire me in the call centre, which was the job for which I applied. Those who know me and have seen my record and my mobile phone use know that a call centre perhaps was the perfect job for an employee such as myself!

This is a bad bill. This is a bill that should not be supported. This is a bill that, at its heart and in its detail, has so many damaging elements that go too far and break election promises. This is the type of bill, the type of legislation, that has got the government into the mess that it is in. I hope that, as part of this somewhat-review that surely will be going on in this government, they realise that pursuing this type of ideological attack against working Australians is not only bad politics—leave the government to make its own bad politics; they can make these decisions themselves—but also bad policy. It is the fact that it is bad policy that worries me so much. There is the trade union royal commission; every piece of legislation they do; the agreements they make in the public sector; what they have done in the manufacturing space—all of that unholy attack on working Australians is doing the government no favours and, more importantly, it is doing Australia no favours.

We have a detailed report that has been assessed and has been analysed.

Debate interrupted.