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Monday, 16 October 2017
Page: 7504

Senator WHISH-WILSON (Tasmania) (13:30): I rise on behalf of the Australian Greens to speak on the Competition and Consumer Amendment (Competition Policy Review) Bill 2017. The Greens, like Labor, will also be supporting this bill today, subject to an amendment that essentially removes the provision for secondary boycotts from this bill. The 13 or so other issues that are dealt with in this bill are essentially coupled to the effects test, as part of legislation that was passed by this place only a few weeks ago. In a sense, they enable an effects test to come into law and come into practice. I'm grateful that Labor have come to their senses and supported the legislation that's necessary for an effects test, and I'm grateful also for the amendment on secondary boycotts they have put up to have that removed from the bill.

The issue of secondary boycotts really has nothing to do with an effects test. As with the effects test, it was recommended by the Harper review, but it's an entirely different matter. I did urge the government to remove it from the bill before they brought it to this place, so that it could be debated in a separate piece of legislation and so as not to necessarily complicate matters on the effects test. I congratulate the government for working with the Greens and the crossbench to pass an effects test. I know this is something that the National Party were very keen on, and it is something that the Greens have campaigned on now for many, many years, starting with Christine Milne prior to my taking over the competition portfolio.

An effects test is going to be one of the biggest reforms to competition policy that Australia has seen in nearly a decade. Essentially, it will make it much easier for small businesses and farmers and aggrieved parties to tackle the power of monopolies and cartels. It is interesting that Senator Dodson said that Labor want to stand up to monopolies and cartels, and yet they have thumbed their noses at an effects test primarily because vested interests within the Labor Party—the shoppies union primarily—are big donors to the Labor Party and they are in bed with big companies like Coles and Woolworths. Nevertheless, what we have here today is the enabling legislation for an effects test. It's high time that we got on with this. This is something that I know the rural community in my home state of Tasmania has been campaigning on for some time, and we are very, very close.

I have a couple of things to say about secondary boycotts. The Greens don't believe that the chamber should be supporting this provision. We see this as simply an attack on the rights of workers and their right to strike. We do believe, like Labor, that this is an industrial matter; it's not a competition issue. Cases of prosecutions for secondary boycotts are very rare. The penalties issued by courts, as opposed to settlements, don't go anywhere near the current $750,000 limit, let alone the $10 million limit that would be set by this bill if it were to pass unamended.

The ACCC, in their submission to the Senate inquiry—an inquiry that I initiated into penalties for white-collar crime—didn't raise the issue of secondary boycotts as a matter of concern or urgency for them. I also note that when Mr Peter Costello, when he was Treasurer of this country, reviewed competition penalties in the Howard government's final term—when, incidentally, the Liberal government had the numbers in this place—he didn't seek to equalise penalties for secondary boycotts, like this legislation recommends, when he introduced the penalties that are currently in place, including $10 million penalties for other compensation-related penalties.

We do believe that unions are not-for-profit organisations—they serve a very important purpose representing workers—and that there is a very good case to be mounted as to why they should be treated differently to profit-seeking corporations. We feel that this is yet another attempt by this government to hold up a paper and say that they've taken on the union movement in this country. It unnecessarily complicates what is essentially really important legislation that passes an effects test into law and makes it a lot easier for farmers and small businesses in this country to tackle the strength and the power of big corporations—especially in the case of farmers—who have exercised that market power in the past in what certainly looks to small businesses and farmers to be unconscionable conduct and anticompetitive behaviour. There is a very good reason why Professor Harper recommended an effects test. It makes it a lot easier for them to prosecute a case. All they need to do is prove that the effects of anticompetitive behaviour are there, rather than the intent and purpose.

Anyway, I spoke at length on the effects test when the legislation passed. There is no more to say about that except to say that it is good legislation that is very important for small businesses and farmers in this country and I look forward to supporting Labor's amendment on the secondary boycotts. I hope that the government in the other place supports the amended legislation and passes an effects test into law.