Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2019 – Second Reading – Wednesday, 31 July 2019
Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler—Leader of the Opposition) (12:21): I rise to speak in opposition to this draconian, reactionary legislation, the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2019. In 2016, Marianka Heumann, a young German backpacker working on a Perth building site, fell into an open lift shaft. Marianka plunged 14 storeys to her death. We cannot imagine the horror of the final seconds that she would have experienced. She was only 27, a promising life cut short, on a visit to Australia from which she never returned to her native land.
The CFMEU received photos from the site that appeared to show safety contraventions. Two CFMEU organisers arrived at the site with right of entry permits. Why were they there? They were there to carry out what is a prime duty of trade union officials: to ensure the safety of workers—to ensure that workers who leave home in the morning get to go home to their family, friends and local community at night. The fact is that Marianka was tragically let down. She was never going home. Those CFMEU organisers wanted to know why, and they wanted to make sure that it never happened to any of Marianka’s colleagues.
This construction company was owned and run by Gerry Hanssen. Gerry Hanssen, of course, is a Liberal Party member. He’s a Liberal Party donor. How does he react to this response to a pointless waste of such a young life cut short? How does he respond to this move by a union to come in and to inspect the site to ensure that it doesn’t happen again? You would think that he would make every effort to ensure that it would never happen again to another person in his care, whom he has a duty to as the owner of this company. You would think he would welcome every possible inspection to ensure that safety was there on the site and that those who worked for him to gain profits for him got to go home at the end of the day. Oh, no. He responded by illegally excluding the union from the building site.
Speaking with The Australian newspaper he described himself as ‘A Liberal at heart’. A young woman in his employee was dead, and his response was to bar the CFMEU organisers from entering and doing exactly what the law allowed them to do. A young woman was dead, and Hanssen wanted to block the union from investigating. A young woman was dead, and Hanssen said he was unrepentant about blocking the union from doing the very job that the law—the magical thing that those opposite say they want to uphold—sanctions the union to do. A young woman was dead, and Hanssen said the enemy was the union.
Federal Circuit Court judge Sandy Street said Hanssen was ‘blinded by his hatred’ of the CFMEU. Where might he have got that hatred from? It’s the sort of rhetoric that we hear from the dispatch box every question time in this House. It’s the sort of rhetoric that we hear from those who are supposed to represent the national interest rather than sectional interests when it comes to workplace relations. It’s the sort of rhetoric that we hear, for partisan political purposes, perpetrated by those opposite, day after day. Here we have a legitimate role of a union, a legitimate role of a company too.
I’ve made it very clear for my entire time in this place that Labor, at our best, understands that there are common interests between workers and employers, that you can’t actually have trade union members unless you have a private sector that’s employing those trade union members, that we have common interests in boosting productivity, that we have common interests in ensuring that workers can contribute in their work places, that businesses which are most successful are ones that have the harmony and the enthusiasm of their workforce. Profits aren’t created in abstract—certainly not profits in companies that employ people; there are some speculative operations so enamoured by those opposite who think everyone engages in that sort of activity. But the truth is that businesses that employ people rely upon those people. Smart employers who I’ve got to know over the years—the Lindsay Foxes of this world—understand exactly that; they want not just workers who work for them for a wage, but workers who are proud to work for them. They understand that safety is critical.
Yet, what do we have with this legislation before us today? What do we have with the rhetoric from those opposite with this legislation? They ignore the Gerry Hanssens. We know that he was fined some $62,000 for excluding the union from the work site. What we know, though, is that this young woman, Marianka Heumann, won’t be coming back.
Those opposite, when they talk about industrial relations, are so unbalanced in their approach. This is a government that’s just won its third term in office. In this third term in office, they come to this place with wages stagnating. In their third term in office, we have examples of wage theft of $8 million-plus by a very prominent member of the community, Mr Calombaris. We have penalty rates cut yet again, on 1 July, just before this parliament resumed sitting.
The circumstances surrounding Marianka’s death are not unique. There are fatalities and serious injuries on too many worksites right across the country, and some of those, not all, are absolutely preventable. What we have from those opposite, though, is just an anti-union obsession. They’re not concerned about the impact of the current industrial relations system on the economy, or the fact that enterprise bargaining isn’t working in a fair way. When I met with the Business Council of Australia, it said that. It’s not just the ACTU; it’s both sides. The Reserve Bank of Australia says that. Every economist says that. What’s the government’s solution to the problem with the economy and stagnant wages? Get rid of the trade union movement! What do you think that will result in—wages going up or wages going down?
We know that the most successful economies in the world are the ones that understand that trade unions have a critical role to play in our democracy. It is a vital role: the right to organise labour. Those opposite say there is some contradiction in our position and in the position I’ve taken with regard to Mr John Setka. One of the first things I did as the leader of the Labor Party was advocate for his suspension from the party. That remains in place. I’ve said this man does not have values that are consistent with the values of the Australian Labor Party. The recent court conviction confirms that. There is no contradiction in my saying that he should no longer be a member of a party that I lead and the fact that I respect the right of trade unions to determine democratically who leads them. That’s not the job of parliamentarians; that’s the job of the unions—democratically. That is a fundamental principle of democratic engagement.
If you look at totalitarian regimes, one of the things that defines them is attacks on the rights of organised labour to have their own independent organisation. So, yes, the Labor Party has proud connections with the trade union movement going back to 1891, but we are separate entities. I have always regarded that as an important principle for the Labor Party. But it is also an important principle for the trade union movement: their right to act independently of us. We are not one organisation. We are a political party that has to represent more than just trade union members. We have to represent independent contractors. We have to represent the interests of people who aren’t members of unions. We have to represent small business. We have to represent people who are looking for work but are unable to get it, hence why we are arguing the case for Newstart recipients. We’re a broad party. What we won’t do is stand back and support bad legislation that is aimed, yet again, at providing an argument rather than a solution.
This government are obsessed with trying to provide wedges to the Australian Labor Party. They’re not governing in the national interest. They don’t have an agenda for their third term. The average trade unionist is not a CFMMEU member. The average trade unionist in 2019 is female, in their mid-40s and likely to be a nurse or a childcare worker. That’s the face of the modern trade union movement. What this legislation does, though, is provide for penalties against unions that aren’t there for employer organisations. No-one here in the government is arguing that Mr Calombaris should be barred from ever having a business, or, indeed, continuing in his business. You’ve got to be consistent—and we on this side will be consistent. From time to time, people might have noticed that Mr Setka hasn’t responded warmly to my actions! From time to time, I’ve got the guts to make decisions that are in the interests of the nation. Those opposite don’t. They represent sectional interests. They are not prepared to call out bad behaviour by employers. They don’t ever do it. They stand up and defend their sectional interests. They are defending, in this case, their donors and their advocates in the Liberal Party. That is why this legislation should be rejected. They should go back to the drawing board.
We are prepared to discuss legislation that genuinely advances the needs of employees and employers. I don’t want unions behaving badly, but I don’t want employers behaving badly either. This legislation attempts to provide political power and take away the rights of workers. Most people affected by this legislation are volunteers. They are people who give up their own time to sit in committee of management meetings or executive meetings of trade unions. They do it because they care about their fellow workers. Usually it costs them money to do it—let alone time. If those opposite don’t understand the concept of solidarity, maybe they should understand the concept of mateship—because the talk about it occasionally. This legislation should be rejected. It’s a substitute for real action from the government—a government like a chook with no head, frantically doing a few laps of the yard, running around with lots of noise but no real action. (Time expired)
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.