Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2019: A Blatant Attack on Workers in Australia and on Trade Unions

26 November 2019

I too rise to oppose the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2019. This bill has 'integrity' in its name, but for me it has 'no integrity' at all. It is a blatant attack on workers in Australia and on trade unions. It's a feeble attempt to try to reduce what those opposite perceive as fake union power in this country. Through the changes that they've made since they first came into office six years ago, they have already drastically reduced the power of unions. If it's their intent to wipe out unions in this country, it's not going to happen. It won't happen. Unions will be here longer than the Morrison government. They've stood the test of time. Remember back to John Howard. In fact, when he took on the unions, what happened to him? He lost his seat—a very safe Liberal seat—and he lost the government, and it was because of his disgraceful, antiworker, anti-union Work Choices bill.

I stand here tonight as a proud union member. I've been working in unions for most of my working life, and I get what it's like. I've stood with workers in the rain on picket lines. I've been with workers as they've cried because they haven't been able to get something at the workplace. I've celebrated with workers when we've been victorious and had a win against the boss. In all that time, I have seen genuine Australians, even quiet Australians, who are proud members of their unions, take on bosses over and over and over again—a lot of the time losing but living to fight another day as proud members of their union.

I'm a member of the United Workers Union, one of the latest amalgamations of trade unions in this country. Goodness knows how they would've fared under this new ''no integrity'' bill! That's an amalgamation of United Voice, which in and of itself has a really interesting history. It started out in Western Australia, where I'm from, with a bunch of caretakers on the waterfront. No-one wanted them, so they joined up with the Federated Miscellaneous Workers Union, a union of New South Wales, and started that branch in Western Australia, with cleaners on the waterfront. It grew in strength through a series of amalgamations, and it's got a really proud history of struggle and fight—winning and losing, but nevertheless a proud history. And now the new United Workers Union will continue that proud history.

The other union that has come into that amalgamation is the National Union of Workers. The synergies between United Voice and the National Workers Union are loud and clear—low-paid workers, process workers, workers on the supply chain, cleaners, security officers, early childhood educators, aged-care workers, hospital workers, hospitality workers—on and on it goes. They are the low-paid workers of the Australian workforce, workers whose jobs are not going to go offshore. They are proud workers who do a very honest day's work, in most circumstances for very low pay.

These are the people that the Prime Minister and the government are seeking to hurt. These are the people they are trying to tell, 'Your union, if it fails to put in three bits of paper, could be deregistered.' These are the people. I challenge those opposite to walk a day in their shoes—aged-care workers on $25 an hour, and hospitality workers, if they're lucky enough not to be casual, on about $21 an hour. What's the Morrison government done to those workers? Oh, let me think. It's ripped away their weekend penalties. These are part-time, low-paid workers who've lost their penalty rates.

I heard Mr Porter just last week say that he's going to review the hospitality award because it's too complex. I know those department officials sitting over there know in their heart of hearts that the hospitality and restaurant awards are not complex awards. We've done that. Remember: we did the whole simplification agenda. Those awards now are very, very simple. The wage rip-offs that we have seen in the hospitality industry are due to greed—nothing more, nothing less. It's a business model.

I lived through Work Choices as a union official. I saw the damage that that did to workers. I saw in Western Australia, first of all, the harsh industrial relations reforms of the Court government. It's always the Liberals that damage workers in this country. What Premier Court did, for the first time in our history, was to allow employers to bargain under the award. We've always seen awards in this country as the bottom line. For the first time ever, he allowed employers to make their own cushy little unfair arrangements with their staff. So what did we see? The first attack came on contract cleaners. Guess what? Eighty per cent of their costs are wages. Remember: cleaners are on about $21 an hour. Let's be very clear here: they're part-time, and they're often casual, but they're low-wage employees. We saw one big contract cleaning company in Western Australia suddenly reduce their rate of pay in order to compete, as contract cleaners do—perfectly legal under the Liberals in Western Australia. Very soon, even the reputable cleaning companies could no longer compete. Everyone had to go to the new floor, which was about $2 or $3 below the award. Suddenly, we saw cleaners working two-hour shifts for $18 an hour. That's what we saw under the Liberals in Western Australia.

This is what you never read in the journals and the academic papers and what you'll never hear from those opposite. Why, you ask yourself, are women's wages so low in Western Australia? It's historical, sure, but it's also because of the sort of unfair legislation that Richard Court, a Liberal, brought in in Western Australia. It allowed employers to contract outside of the award, and we've never seen women's wages catch up in WA. They remain, stubbornly, subject to the biggest gap in the country. You'll hear the Morrison government say, 'It's all about the mining boom.' A little bit might be, but, fundamentally, it's about unfair legislation—the sort of legislation that we see in front of us right now.

I have a lot of experience of standing alongside low-paid workers and fighting with them for wage justice. What have we seen in this country? Low wages and no wage growth. Two weeks ago, I had the honour of standing on the lawn outside Crown casino on Melbourne Cup day as those workers bravely walked off the job. Do you know what Crown—a hugely profitable company that runs casinos here and all over the world—offered as the first wage increase? Zero per cent. So, in order to get a fair deal, those workers took industrial action and lost pay to move the boss from zero per cent. On Melbourne Cup day—the most profitable day of the year for the casino—they walked out. Who did they rely on to make those profits? Let me think. I think it's their staff, because, when we go into those hospitality venues, we don't see the boss in the back room; we see the staff. Whether we have a good experience or not depends on how well we are greeted by those staff—those very staff to whom Crown offered a zero per cent increase. Now, do not try to pretend to yourself, 'Oh, that's just one employer.' Many employers are now offering zero per cent. And what do you reckon will happen if the Morrison government's bill, this ''no integrity'' bill, gets up? It will weaken the bargaining power of these low-paid workers. It will weaken it.

If this bill gets up, a union can be deregistered for three paper breaches. This bill is attacking members of trade unions at a time of record low or no wage growth. This bill comes after the Morrison government stood by and did nothing when penalty rates were slashed. This bill comes at a time of slow or no economic growth. This bill comes at a time of record high youth unemployment. This bill came at the same time as the first wage theft cases started to hit the headlines. George Calombaris and Neil Perry—between them, it was millions and millions of dollars. And, remember, those are low-paid hospitality workers, not people on $40, $50 or $60 an hour; they are people on $21 or $22 an hour, and they are part-time, so that is very big wage theft. This bill comes on top of the staggering admission by Woolworths that their wage theft bill could go to $8 million. Again, Woolworths staff are low-paid workers—between $21 and $25 an hour. This bill is coming on top of that.

This bill comes as Westpac made the gobsmacking admission—there is no other way to describe it—that it has broken the law; it has contravened the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act over 23 million times. It has broken terrorism laws 23 million times—laws about which those opposite, the Morrison government, claim, 'Oh, terrorism is so important. We're right on top that!' And what do we hear from the Prime Minister on how to deal with that? 'Leave it to the board.' After huge public pressure, the CEO has now stood down, and they are going to forgo their massive bonuses for just a short time—not for the long term, but these are people already earning millions of dollars. Yet the Morrison government stands by and somehow says, 'Oh, it is not about us! Let the board decide.' I do not think we should allow a board to allow 23 million breaches. I cannot imagine how big that is. It is huge, yet there is silence from the Prime Minister on that. Some of that goes to the very heart of child exploitation, which Westpac knowingly allowed to happen. The board should be sacked, and that is what our Prime Minister should be calling for—not saying, 'Oh, leave it to the board.' That is clearly an abrogation of his responsibility as our Prime Minister. He is showing no leadership. In the George Calombaris example, with millions and millions of dollars owed to low-paid workers, there was a $200,000 fine. Please! The fines for unions are greater than that.

This bill comes at a time when the PM, as I said, has left it to the board to decide what should happen to the CEO. Public pressure has brought his resignation forward. This bill comes on top of the fact that the Prime Minister voted 26 times against a royal commission into the banks. At one time, he described the need for a royal commission as 'a populist whinge'. This bill comes as the Federal Court orders the government's watchdog, the Registered Organisations Commission, to quash its investigation into the Australian Workers Union—a political put-up by Senator Cash and others to go after the AWU. Well, guess what—the Federal Court has thrown that out, where it belongs, and has ordered all of the documents to be returned to the AWU. We have said from day one that they were trumped up charges against the AWU. And yet this ''no integrity' bill', if it's passed, will give the ROC, which is a flawed and biased organisation, unprecedented power over unions. As we on this side have said in here today, with three paperwork breaches a union could be deregistered—a union like mine, which I'm a proud member of. The United Workers Union could be deregistered over such a frivolous breach, and yet we allow full-scale wage theft to carry on and we allow our banks to act against the law, with 23 million breaches, and that goes unchallenged.

This bill comes at a time when Prime Minister Morrison stands by his man. We heard today that, despite a New South Wales police investigation into Minister Taylor's activity, the PM—who's personally responsible for ensuring ministerial integrity and says he takes it very seriously—allows that minister to continue to operate. He takes no action against Mr Taylor. Once again, he demonstrates that the Morrison government is acting with ''no integrity''. We've seen gags on Mr Taylor, refusal to answer questions in the parliament, refusal to answer questions by journalists, and a department that's backing him in by refusing FOI requests. We see this bill brought forward at a time when the government walks away from any notion of a federal type ICAC. There were big promises before the election: 'Oh, yes, we're going to do that. Yes, we'll have a federal ICAC organisation set up.' What we did see were weasel words from the Attorney-General that would protect corrupt politicians, and now we see nothing. It just does not exist. It's gone.

Many in this place, including in the Labor Party, want to see a real integrity bill in place. It would get support, but the government is too busy protecting its own. Make no mistake: this bill will attack nurses, teachers, flight attendants, hospitality workers, security officers and cleaners. It will attack all Australian workers. Yesterday, some of those workers were here. I met flight attendants. If there is one group of workers the Morrison government does interact with its flight attendants. It probably doesn't know about many other workers, but it does know about them because they serve us on the planes as we fly back and forth from our home states. When flight attendants and nurses attended question time yesterday and the Prime Minister was asked questions about the integrity bill, he accused people of being arm-breakers. Flight attendants, nurses, teachers and members of my own union were there. That's what he said to them: 'We have to have this legislation because there are arm-breakers out there.' Who was he calling arm-breakers? The people watching from the gallery? They were disgusted. It's a good thing when ordinary workers come to this place, because it opens their eyes about the behaviour of our Prime Minister and the Morrison government—how antiworker they are and how they really don't care.

This fraudulent bill, falsely dressed up as 'integrity', is nothing more than an attack on workers. I heard the Morrison government say today, 'We are protecting people.' No, you're not. We called out wage theft. We called out no wage increases. We called out the likes of Crown casino, which has a zero per cent wage increase for their staff. We called out Westpac. We called out about the banking royal commission. We called out about the federal ICAC. So it's not this side of the parliament, the Labor Party, that lacks integrity. Yes, we'll call out the bad behaviour of union officials when and where it occurs, but let's have a level playing field. This bill is nothing more than an attack on workers. It will not kill off trade unions. They will live to fight another day and see the end of this government.