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Tuesday, 27 February 2018
Page: 2064

Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union

Mr ZIMMERMAN (North Sydney) (14:30): My question is to the Attorney-General. Will the Attorney-General update the House on the Federal Court's judgement in the case of the Australian Building and Construction Commissioner v the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union? What role do the courts play in maintaining the rule of law? Is the Attorney aware of any alternatives?

Mr PORTER (PearceAttorney-General) (14:31): I thank the member for his question. As the member is well aware, the Federal Court yesterday levied near-maximum fines against the CFMEU for, amongst other things, knowingly making false representations to a worker about the necessity to pay fees to the CFMEU in breach of section 349(1)(a) of the Fair Work Act and threatening to prevent a worker from their lawful right to work on a site with the intent of coercing the worker into industrial activity in breach of section 348. The Federal Court judge in that case said that the CFMEU had a deplorable record in contravening the law, having contravened industrial law on 135 separate occasions in the last 15 years. The judge also found that the CFMEU condoned the continual breaching of the law.

The judge, interestingly, also found that the CFMEU in the 2016 calendar year had revenue of nearly $31 million and net assets valued at $58.5 million, including $9.2 million in cash. The case dealt with a worker who had not worked for three months, who was struggling to pay their bills for their family and faced illegal threats designed to prevent him from doing his job and designed to coerce him to pay money to the same union which has $58.5 million in assets. How lucky the workers are to have the CFMEU looking after them in such a professional way!

As the Prime Minister noted, this is of course the same union whose representatives made threats against the children of Glencore workers—threats of the most sickening and seriously criminal kind made against children.

Mr Perrett interjecting

The SPEAKER: The member for Moreton has been warned.

Mr PORTER: I was asked about alternatives. There are of course alternatives to prosecuting and convicting these types of breaches of the law to provide a deterrence to threats and coercion. Instead of cutting ties with the union to deter its criminal conduct, you could, for instance, accept large amounts of money from the same union whose business model in raising money is to break the law. It is notable that, in the 2016-17 financial year, the ALP accepted in excess of $620,000 from this union. Instead of discouraging unlawfulness with clear public statements that it is unacceptable, you could attend a rally and encourage the behaviours by describing the law being broken as a cancer. Perhaps the most remarkable thing in here is that the alternative of the Leader of the Opposition exhibits all of the trademark hypocrisy that he has become known for—

The SPEAKER: The Attorney-General will resume his seat.

Government members interjecting

The SPEAKER: Members on my right will cease interjecting. The Manager of Opposition Business on a point of order?

Mr Burke: The Attorney-General has now referred directly to the Leader of the Opposition. Under standing order 68 he is referring specifically to a claim that the Leader of the Opposition supports particular conduct and statements that have been made by people.

Government members interjecting

The SPEAKER: Members on my right! Member for Brisbane!

Mr Burke: Under standing order 68, when the issue has been specifically dealt with by personal explanation, there is an opportunity for the Speaker to intervene, and I ask that you do so.

The SPEAKER: I am very familiar, obviously, with this terrain, and I'll take a little bit of time of the House to explain my approach on this. The former Speaker gave a comprehensive ruling on this matter back near the beginning of the last parliament, because the standing order to which the Manager of Opposition Business refers was introduced back then, at the beginning of that parliament. The former Speaker rightly pointed out a number of things. It was a lengthy ruling; I won't go through every aspect of it. She quite rightly, in my view, pointed out that this additional standing order posed challenges for the Speaker: one, is in balancing free speech; also, with a misrepresentation being repeated.

She adopted a number of principles, which I've said previously in the House I abide by.The claim would have to be of the exact nature—and I am listening very carefully, and in this folder I have many things, including previous personal explanations—and I was listening very carefully to the answer. It would then need to be raised by the member affected—that is, the member who made the personal explanation, and that would be the Leader of the Opposition. The Speaker would need to be aware of exactly what was said, and for it to be an exact replication. And, even after all that, standing order 68—I have the page open here—says: 'the Speaker may intervene'.

Now, I'm listening very closely. I'm very conscious that, prior to the introduction of this standing order, the Speaker could not intervene. I'm very conscious that that is something that the House has decided to include in the standing orders to give the Speaker that option. I'm just going to say to the Attorney-General that I'm listening very closely. He hasn't exactly met the threshold, but I've taken the time of the House for any subsequent answers to questions to make that matter clear.

Mr PORTER: The question is: if you go to a rally like that and describe the laws being broken as a cancer, are you discouraging or encouraging the breaking of those laws? And the ultimate hypocrisy here is that they were laws introduced by Labor.