Mr BUCHHOLZ (Wright—Chief Government Whip) (11:23): I acknowledge the wholehearted way in which the previous speaker tried to defend his undefensible position.
Mr Brendan O'Connor: Indefensible.
Mr BUCHHOLZ: Indefensible—thank you. With the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2014 [No. 2] we intend to establish an independent watchdog, the Registered Organisations Commission, to monitor and regulate registered organisations, with enhanced investigation and information-gathering powers. I will go through some of the other requirements of the commission. The intent is to strengthen the requirements for officers to disclose material personal interests and change grounds for disqualification and ineligibility for office; strengthen existing financial accounting, disclosure and transparency obligations under the RO Act by putting certain rule obligations on the face of the RO Act and making them enforceable as civil remedy provisions; and increase civil penalties and introduce criminal offences for serious offences or breaches of duties, as well as introducing new offences in relation to the conduct of investigations under the RO Act. We as a government want to introduce this because we are committed to the improvement of the Fair Work laws so that we can build a more stable, fair and prosperous future for Australian workers, our business and the economy.
The previous speaker alluded to this government 'hating unions'. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our nation needs a robust union movement. Our nation needs those who will stand up in the workforce and protect the rights of workers from less-than-scrupulous operators in the private sector. So nothing could be further from the truth. In fact this bill enhances the union movement—in particular honest union members. What this bill seeks to rub out is what we see time after time in the Australian press: the word 'union' associated too many times with 'bullying', 'coercion', 'intimidation', 'thuggery', 'corruption' and 'royal commission'. Am I the only one who can see that there is a problem? The setting up of a royal commission stands to strengthen and enhance honest union membership. The previous speaker also mentioned that this party wants to 'kill the union movement'. The union movement of Australia is doing that quite well on its own. Page after page after front-page story of scandal—union members spitting on officers of the Commonwealth, investigations of threats and intimidation, strikes, vandalism, backyard deals shutting out construction companies, and fines to the tune of tens of millions of dollars. We see this every day. Members may remember a case, which I will get to, about inviting a journalist to a union meeting and then bashing him up. So opposition members should not say that we as a government are killing the union movement. The Australian Labor Party is doing that quite well on its own. This bill seeks to assist the opposition in dealing with a most serious situation that they are in.
Most of us on this side of the House come from the small business sector. So we put bills up through our budget mechanisms to try to enhance small business—getting rid of red tape, less government and providing incentives through the budget in asset write-downs so that small business can prosper and unemployment can be addressed. On the other side there are three main threads to the bills that they bring before the House. In the previous parliament it was normally some increase to the bureaucracy. Their idea of fixing a problem was—
Ms Chesters interjecting—
Mr BUCHHOLZ: I sat and listened to the opposition member in silence but I do not expect the same respect from the other side, who endorse the union movement. They should not bring their thuggery and intimidatory tactics to this place while I speak, because I offer them a respect that I do not expect I will get in return. Those on the other side normally come to this place with some connection to the union movement. Whether it be working for a union, endorsement by a union or preselection by a union, most of the opposition frontbench have a union affiliation which has led them into their position. So the unions are as entrenched in the ALP as small business is entrenched in this side of government. No-one in Australia should believe in any pretence that we are anti-union. Nothing could be further from the truth. But honest unions are what we want—honest representation for honest workers who need to be represented better than in the cases I want to draw the House's attention to.
Recently in Queensland there was a newspaper article with the headline 'Queensland unions investigated for threats, intimidation, snap strikes and vandalism'. It read:
Militant union activity is rampant in Queensland, with building investigators 'run off their feet' looking into threats, intimidation, snap strikes and vandalism.
The Fair Work Building and Construction Commission … has revealed 52 out of its 133 active cases are in Queensland—more than any other state or territory.
This is my state. This is where the heavy lifting normally gets done in our economy in and around construction, and we need to protect those businesses that are looking to lawfully go about their business without the threat of intimidation and vandalism. How would anyone on the other side of this House dare defend that this acceptable practice? Nigel Hadgkiss, the Fair Work Building and Construction director, said:
Our Queensland investigators are run off their feet responding to calls for help … Despite my staff working their hardest to enforce the rule of law on construction sites, the spread of unlawful activity seems to be spreading faster than ever.
That is why we are bringing this bill before the House. Another headline says, 'The trail of union intimidation of women must be stamped out.' The article said that a union member:
… used a megaphone to broadcast the name and phone number of another FWBC official, in front of scores of CFMEU members, and encouraged them to call the number. He then shouted at the official, 'You think all I got is your phone number?'
He then said, 'Lick it up, you f—ing dog'. This is the high-water mark of behaviour—or is it the low-water mark? If you want more stories, just wait for the next day. There is this headline: 'CFMEU ordered to pay Grocon $3.5m; fined for conduct on Brisbane worksite', and the article states:
Australia’s biggest construction union is under siege amid a record $3.55m payout, a push for deregistration and damaging allegations including of unlawful conduct at a Brisbane worksite.
… … …
The CFMEU has also been fined $545,000 for unlawful, intimidating and coercive conduct on a Brisbane worksite where subcontractors and employees were called dogs and 'scabby gay boys'.
In a scathing judgment the Federal Court found the union displayed 'outrageous disregard' for industrial norms and implied it could face deregistration if it continued its unlawful conduct.
No-one on the other side will come to the House and try to defend that position. I know that those on the other side of this place are honourable men and women. No-one on the other side will come in endorse these actions and behaviours of some members who some of them owe their political career to. None of them will endorse these behaviours. But it is increasingly difficult, with the closeness of the entities that relate, for them to move to discipline. The bill before the House seeks to do exactly that.
Another headline reads, 'Builder needing union favour paid CFMEU figure $2,000 for strippers, royal commission told'. We have had our fair share of stripper allegations in this place that we saw firsthand. The article reads:
A builder who needed union approval to get lucrative jobs paid a senior figure at the militant construction union $2000 cash to spend on strippers …
… … …
It was revealed that a union organiser and senior union figure had to be separated during a dispute at the CFMEU's Swanston St headquarters.
So if you think you are safe on the worksite as a result of being a union member, do not credit that. You are not even safe within the union because if they do not like what you are doing, the union officials will actually take to you. 'It was revealed that a union organiser and a senior union figure had to be separated'. They will go at each other. As I alluded to earlier in my speech, last year the MUA conference condemned the attack on the freedom of the press. The MEAA incoming chief executive, Paul Murphy, said, 'At a trade union meeting, a worker's not safe and is in fact assaulted, is nothing short of disgraceful.' For those who were not aware of the issue, there was a meeting of the MUA in Perth. An Australian journalist was invited to cover the story and when he arrived there he was set upon by union members. Hardly a welcoming endorsement. This Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2014 seeks to act on those unscrupulous actions.
When we are in an environment of such thuggery, such coercion, such intimidation, it is difficult to dig your way out of this hole. It could very well be that it is like the symptoms of being an alcoholic. If you do not realise that there is a systemic problem within the organisation, if you do not understand that there is a systemic problem that runs through the veins and is corrupting those honest, hardworking union members—let us not get to the value for money membership, where their fees end up—the union movement must first understand that they have a problem and, in doing that, I would encourage them to embrace this bill. You will hear that this is just an attempt to return to Work Choices. Nothing could be further from the truth, Australian people. There is nothing in this bill that speaks to anything but Work Choices. This bill clearly goes to trying to stamp out unethical behaviour that is systemic within the union movement. If there is no problem, if there is nothing to hide, then support us in the chamber on this most valuable piece of legislation.
If we have a look at the trajectory of union movement membership in Australia, it fairly well emulates the union movement membership over the last 50 years globally. Union membership globally has fallen away. In the previous speaker's comments you heard that the intent of this government was to kill the union movement. I again say that those on the other side, those within the union movement group, are doing everything in their power to do that of their own accord.
They said that this was an attack on their leader. I know the Leader of the Opposition to be a good man. He has fought many hard battles with an intent to represent those who he was paid to represent. He acknowledged that he wanted to go before the royal commission earlier. I will not stray into anywhere other than to wish him well in those deliberations. It is not the intent of this government to do anything untoward there.
In closing, the opposition needs to first understand that there is a systemic problem within their movement and the only way that it can be fixed is to address the problem. We will provide the tools through this bill to try to work through it. If you do not work through it, stories like those that I have just read will continue to dominate our press. It is not good for the future of the Australian union movement and it is not good for our country.
I commend this bill to House.