Fair Work (Registered Organisations)

This is the third time I have risen to briefly contribute to the debate on the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2014, and for the third time I will vote against this government legislation. In division 3, this legislation takes away fundamental civil rights from blue-collar workers—like the right to silence, the presumption of innocence and freedom of association. I cannot in good conscience support extraordinary legislation which specifically targets union members and blue-collar workers while ignoring white collar crime and criminals.

If the government were at the same time to introduce extraordinary legislation to parliament, which applied the same standards to all workers, both blue-collar and white-collar workers, then they would have my support. For example: if the government wanted to establish a federal commission against corruption, or a federal ICAC, which had extraordinary powers to attack all corruption and crime, then I would support them. And there is a great need for a Federal ICAC. But when the government try to take away fundamental civil rights from brickie's labourers while effectively exempting bankers from the same treatment, every fair-minded Australian must reject that proposal. Our nation and democracy are based on the principle of equality before the law for all. Regardless of whether you push a concrete saw on a building site for a living or a $1,000 pen in a corporate boardroom, you should be treated equally before the law. If the government makes the case for a removal of fundamental civil rights because of extraordinary and entrenched corruption and crime in the Australian community, then let the ensuing legislation and the corruption-fighting organisations attack wrongdoing both on the building sites and in the boardrooms of big business.

This legislation reverses the onus of proof. In other words, it forces accused workers to prove their innocence, rather than the authorities having to prove the guilt of alleged wrongdoers. So if this legislation is passed, building workers accused of wrongdoing will face penalties if they exercise their democratic right to silence, while they are forced to go to the expense of proving their innocence. This is an un-Australian and undemocratic situation. It should only be tolerated when you are tackling the extraordinary threats posed to Australia by terrorists and organised crime.

I have spoken about this to the Senate before, but it is worth repeating again. Unlike members of the Liberal Party in the Senate, I do not have an ingrained hatred for members of unions. I acknowledge that, on balance, the union movement in Australian has been an agent for positive change and has protected and strongly advocated for the rights of working Australia families. If we did not have unions and organised labour and their fights for better wages and conditions, Australia would be a poorer, less fair country and work sites would absolutely be less safe. However, yes, I also acknowledge that the unions—just like the corporate world, just like the military and just like politicians—have had their fair share of fraudsters, crooks and standover men who have ripped off their members and committed shocking crimes to satisfy their own greed and lust for power.

Of course, there is an ongoing need to monitor, investigate and enforce our laws wherever crime and corruption are found. Within many organisations, whether they be government departments, political parties, corporations or unions, the military—wherever there is a concentration of power and money—the risk for criminal or unethical behaviour increases because, as we all know, if you are human, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. However, the problem I have, when the Liberals say they want to apply corporate standards of regulation to the unions, is that Australian corporate standards—let us be hones—are not all that flash. You only have to look at the corruption in some of the Liberal Party's biggest election donors, the banks, to realise that the Australian corporate standards are about as good as the standards and regulations governing the Australian union movement.

I believe that an equitable solution to corruption in the workplace and broader Australian society is the establishment of a permanent corruption watchdog whose Star Chamber power will apply to bankers and union members equally. Combine that body with reformed world's best whistleblower or public interest disclosure laws that protect, encourage and reward genuine whistleblowers coming forward, and then corruption in the workplace, corruption in government departments, corruption in the boardrooms, corruption in political parties and, God forbid, corruption in the military would finally be properly addressed.

I have also spoken about this in previous speeches when I have addressed the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2014: overseas workers on various work, 457 and student visas have been used to undermine the rights and work conditions of Australian workers, something that this legislation does under the pretext of targeting corruption. Both Labor and Liberal governments have made rules while in government relating to 457 visas which allow our big oil and other associated companies to legally sack 36 Australian maritime crew and replace them with foreigners on their tankers. This Liberal government decided to kill off the jobs of 45 defence clothing manufacturing workers because the defence minister decided not to place further orders with the Workwear Group, resulting in the company announcing in recent times that union members will lose their jobs. This government has a budget of $100 million a year—$50 million to be spent on making uniforms in Australia—but now the Liberal Party is happy to have the majority our defence uniforms made overseas because it means fewer Australian union members.

I would like to address an issue raised by members of the government: political funding and its potential to influence votes in this chamber. The JLN has refused to take any political funding from big banks and from unions like the CFMEU and the Maritime Union, all of whom have had serious questions raised about their governance and integrity. I oppose the legislation before the House based on its merits as it is written, not because of any political funding or promise of political funding. Indeed, in order to lead by example, the JLN is the only political party in Australia which discloses political funding in real time. I challenge all senators and political parties to adopt a similar level of transparency for their political funding.

I will vote against the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2014. I understand that, should this legislation progress to the Senate committee stage, different senators have proposed amendments which I believe may improve the flawed legislation. I will listen carefully to the debate and amendments proposed by all senators. In particular, I am very interested in the improvements foreshadowed by Senator Xenophon and Labor—and I am inclined to support their improvements to the legislation which provide greater protections for whistle blowers and more accountability for auditors and electoral donations.

The bill is ideologically motivated, unfair and irrational. It undermines the basic civil liberties and rights of Australian workers, while ignoring tens of billions of dollars in fraud, tax evasion and crime in the banking, finance, medical and insurance industries—just to name a few industries where multinationals have had great influence. According to Parliamentary Library research I recently commissioned, over a five-year period from 2010-11 to the present day the four big banks—the Commonwealth, the NAB, Westpac and the ANZ—have donated in excess of $2.56 million to the Liberal and National parties alone. That is why you will not see a banker lose their right to silence or have to prove their innocence if accused of an offence or crime in the finance industry. But if this legislation passes, you will see blue-collar workers lose their right to silence and the right to a presumption of innocence, while bankers are treated separately.

Government members and others have used findings and evidence of the Heydon royal commission to justify this legislation and the ABCC legislation. I have raised this point before. As my research and consultation on the ABCC legislation progressed over the months, my trust in Commissioner Heydon and his $60 million royal commission was absolutely shattered when it became blindingly obvious that Commissioner Heydon had lied to the Australian people about the so-called grave threats he had discovered to the power and authority of the Australian state. I am in a unique position to pass judgment on Commissioner Heydon's secret reports and his findings. Unlike most Australians and politicians, I have read Commissioner Heydon's so-called secret reports. They are a fiction and they are lies. There are no grave threats to the Australian state. If there were, ASIO would have been all over the Heydon royal commission like a bloody rash. They would have been all over it and they would have known about it. When I questioned ASIO about Heydon's secret reports and his wasted $60 million at estimates, no copy had been referred to them—nor had ASIO even thought of asking for a copy of the so-called secret reports. What we have with this $60 million royal commission is a royal commissioner who agreed to participate in a Liberal Party fundraiser and who lied to the parliament and the Australian people about the seriousness of the threat to the Australian state through his investigations into union and other corruption. I repeat: why did Commissioner Heydon lie to this parliament and the Australian people?

I think it is very important to note that many members of the government have made speeches in which they have used many examples of CFMEU bad or criminal behaviour as a reason to pass this legislation. If the government were fair dinkum about tackling bad or criminal behaviour by the CFMEU they would have agreed to my proposal to deregister them. In the last parliament I asked a question of the then Leader of the Government, Senator Abetz:

Given that the senator agrees that the CFMEU leadership is involved in a wide range of serious criminal activities—blackmail, extortion, death threats and assault—and associations with outlaw bikie gangs, killers and underworld figures, and given that there is little difference between the CFMEU and the BLF, can the senator explain why his government … has not deregistered the CFMEU, just as it knows the Hawke-Labor government did in 1986?

That was the moment when the Australian people were able to see that the government really did not want to address the problem at hand in a measured and targeted manner that respected democratic fundamental civil rights and liberties. It quickly became apparent that they were using a rogue union as an excuse to attack the democratic civil rights and liberties of all Australian workers. It is a classic case of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut—and legislative overreach which must be opposed or, at the very least, amended and mitigated. I oppose this legislation.