I continue my remarks on the Fair Work Amendment Bill 2013. There is an element of commonality that links this bill to most bills that are brought before this House by this government. The commonality is that it is a bill that introduces a new tax, or it is a bill that looks to increase the size of the bureaucracy, or it is a bill that gives more power to the government's union mates. This bill seeks to give more power to the union mates to whom this government is beholden. It is a shame.
The coalition was disappointed to discover that this bill had been granted an exemption from the requirement for a regulatory impact statement. When questioned, departmental officials at a Senate committee hearing could not provide a substantive reason for the exemption. So we have one rule for Australians and another rule for union bosses. Given that this bill will affect every employer and every employee in Australia, the coalition believes that these changes would have benefitted from a regulatory impact statement so that both the community and the parliament could have detailed understandings of what the bill entails and the expected real-world impacts it contains.
As an aside, the coalition notes that, courtesy of this exemption, a further postimplementation review of the Fair Work Act will need to be conducted within the next couple of years. But this bill has been rushed and lacks clarity. The rushed nature of the bill could explain the concerns about the distinct lack of clarity that were identified in a number of submissions to the Senate committee. For instance, the vast majority of submissions from employee and employer groups, as well as interested parties, contained a number of suggested amendments largely related to the wording of the provisions. These groups were seeking greater clarity and in the amount of time they had to deal with it they could not get their head around some of the definitions that this bill sets out. It was disappointing that the government did not take time to consult widely and to ensure that the language contained in the bill was of a sufficient quality to ensure clarity. That is what business groups were asking for.
We have seen the Prime Minister—no other than the Prime Minister—on a number of occasions come to this House and, when it comes to issues of industrial relations, say, 'We have got the balance right.' Well, we are very apprehensive about the dramatic expansion of power for union bosses right across this bill. We note that the Prime Minister is taking great pride in the Fair Work Act—it is her baby—enacted in 2008. She claimed openly that she had got the balance right. Indeed, at her first press conference as Prime Minister she said, 'I have consulted hour after hour with business leaders, with union leaders, with small business leaders, to get the balance right.' The claim is that 'this is right'. I will now give evidence in this House to the contrary.
This is something that has been repeated and repeated, including as recently as 2012 when the Prime Minister said, 'We have built a modern and fair system that has got the balance right.' It was just the other day. The coalition notes that this bill will take the count for amendments to the Fair Work Act since 2009 to more than 400 pages. So if it was balanced then and there have been another 400 pages of amendments, that is no longer balanced. 'Hours and hours and hours of consultation with business—we had it right then'. Stick on another 400 pages of amendments and it is no longer balanced.
The coalition notes with some concern the figure circulated by the Australian Industry Group that there have been 157 new or extended union rights under the Fair Work Act. Why would anyone suggest after 400 pages of amendments and 157 new or extended union rights under the Fair Work Act that it is balanced? This government is doing nothing but returning the dues to the paymaster. This is a government that is totally beholden to the labour union movement. You need to look no further than the quality of the front bench when looking for someone who does not have linkages to the union movement. It is embarrassing—the gene pool that leads this nation. There are 100 days to go until the democracy of this nation will hopefully speak as to whether or not they believe that balance is in order, because I can assure you that 400 pages of amendments—157 new extended rights to union movement—is far from balanced.
The coalition again expresses deep concern that the vast bulk of this bill does not deal with the recommendations arising from the Fair Work review. We firmly believe that two recommendations of the Fair Work review should have been enacted as a part of this bill. For example, the High Court's unanimous judgement in the Board of Bendigo Regional Institute of Technical and Further Education v Barclay case found that union bosses should not be an untouchable class in the workplace—something also recommended by the review panel.
The coalition welcomed the High Court decision and the Fair Work review panel's recommendations to this end. However, the coalition found that it was disappointing and emblematic of Labor through the then minister and current minister for industrial relations that he intervened in the High Court on the side of the union bosses, as a minister, as a member of the Crown. Mr Barclay argued that it was actually the intention of the Fair Work Act to make union bosses untouchable even if they did the wrong thing. How can that be? How can it be that anyone can advocate that they have the balance right when you have High Court judges advocating that it is unsettled?
Did you know that in Labor's intervention into the Barclay case they used more than $160,000 worth of taxpayers' funds? I would not say that was getting the balance right—using our money to argue for the union bosses against a taxpayer funded education institution. I would not say that that was about getting the balance right. Indeed, in a damning judgement, it has now been confirmed that the minister for workplace relations acted as an ex-union boss first and then a minister of the Crown second, after foolishly intervening on the side of the Australian Education Union in the Board of Bendigo Regional Institute of Technical and Further Education v Barclay. This was the comment of the judge, Justice Heydon:
… the Minister's stance before and during the oral hearing was not that of an intervener, but that of a partisan. For example, some of the Minister's oral submissions were directed to factual material. This is hardly the province of an intervener.
This is the quality of the frontbench of this government that now through this bill has to pay its dues back to the union movement. That is why this bill is before the House; no other reason. That is why this bill is here, because they owe their political lifeblood to the union movement.
The coalition is disappointed that the government did not use the first or second tranches to enshrine this recommendation into legislation, which would ensure that union bosses are treated the same as all other employees in the workplace.
Within this bill there is also antibullying legislation. We have not got the balance right in this, because what parts of this schedule speak to is that the rules only apply to the workers. The rules apply to the bosses, but they do not apply to the union bosses. They are the weapons of choice for a union: bullying and intimidation.
Mr Champion: What rubbish! What a slur!
Mr BUCHHOLZ: You will get your turn. Weapons of choice, I say. There are 100 days left to go. Here is another damning point: the provision in this bill relating to right of entry must be amended. This is a provision that must be excluded from this bill, because it is fundamentally flawed. This was a promise made by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister made a commitment at the National Press Club debate in 2007, straight after she—
Mr Frydenberg: Read it to us.
Mr BUCHHOLZ: Ms Gillard said they would not be amending the right of entry. She said:
If you'd like me to pledge to resign, sign a contract in blood, take a polygraph, bet my house on it, give you my mother as a hostage, whatever you'd like.
And here it is in black and white in the bill before the House. This is a government that you cannot trust. This is a Prime Minister you cannot trust, because at every turn this is a government that is beholden to the union. This bill is all about paying the paymaster:
We will make sure that current right of entry provisions stay. We understand that entering on the premises of an employer needs to happen in an orderly way. We will keep the right of entry provisions.
They walked away from that commitment. The only way that they can honour their word is to have these parts of the bill excised. Those parts of the bill must come out if Labor are to be kept to their word. Based on these promises, it was right to accept that the existing rights-of-entry provisions would be maintained. However, as we know, this is just simply not the case.
There are parts and provisions in this bill which we will adamantly oppose. There are provisions in this act that are not good for our country. There are provisions in this act that at face value are deceitful. There are 100 days left, but the Prime Minister does not need another headline about going back on her word. We have had, 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead.' We have had, 'We will deliver a surplus and continued surpluses after that.'
Mr Frydenberg: Pink batts.
Mr BUCHHOLZ: Pink batts. The list of failures goes on. Amend this bill. If there are only 100 days left, amend this bill so that the right-of-entry provisions for employees are not impeded and so that we as a nation can get back to greater productivity.