Where will Scott Morrison’s war on workers end?

Where will Scott Morrison’s war on workers end?

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The government have been keen to give answers
in question time and speeches to the House concerning lawlessness, and they often want
to rush to the chamber reporting on what the Federal Court has had to say. Funnily enough,
when the Federal Court made a decision roughly 10 days ago regarding raids, where the media
turned up before the Federal Police did, that Federal Court decision never found its way
into the parliament. That Federal Court decision isn’t one of the ones that the minister decided
he needed to tell us about. Why? Because the form of lawlessness that had been uncovered
was lawlessness from the Registered Organisations Commission itself.
We have a Federal Court decision, which had to take place because the Registered Organisations
Commission had commenced an investigation that was found to be beyond their power—an
investigation that was found to be unlawful. What’s the government’s response when the
Registered Organisations Commission does something unlawful?
Mr Stephen Jones: Crickets. Mr BURKE: Behind me, people are saying ‘Is
it crickets? Is it quiet?’ It’s actually worse than that. Their response is to say, ‘Let’s
give them more power.’ If an organisation created by this government is acting unlawfully
and is doing so in a way which is unlawfully acting against unions, their response is to
give the organisation more power. There’s lawlessness from their friends. The Registered
Organisations Commission is not the only example of it. There’s the ABCC. We had Nigel Hadgkiss,
the leader of that, go when he had breached the act. What was his breach? He was telling
employers to break the law. He was telling employers to break the law—that’s
how he broke the law—so those opposite keep wanting to give that organisation more power
as well. Gerry Hansen is a big donor to the WA Liberal Party. This is not someone who
has bought a few raffle tickets. We are talking $175,000 to the federal and WA Libs and Nats
over the last five years or so. In 2008, he was fined $174,000 for exploiting foreign
workers. A decade later, an auditor alleged 93 employees were underpaid by him more than
$270,000, an amount of money even bigger than what he donates to the Liberal Party. What’s
the punishment for him under these laws? It’s not just underpaying people; it’s after there
was a death on his work site that he blocked an occupational health and safety inspection
from a union. And what was the government’s response? Oh, well, there will be a punishment
for him; he won’t be allowed to be a union official. That’s the punishment. That’s the
new law that’s responded. I don’t know if those opposite appreciate
it but the public are onto the fact their attack on unions is simply an attack on workers.
That’s all it is. When you defend the people who underpay, you attack workers. When you
defend the organisations that attack unions, that are responsible for arguing for better
pay, you attack workers. Every time, they block and support their Liberal-donor mates
who block access for health and safety inspections. Even today, we had the minister wanting to
go straight from James Hardie to health and safety inspections, to desperately talk about
another issue. But everything those opposite want to do is about blocking access to safer
workplaces and better remuneration for workers and that is the simplicity of the strategy
coming from the government. It’s no accident that those opposite voted for the changes
to penalty rates. Every time the Prime Minister says, ‘An independent
agency made that decision,’ we know how the government deal with independent agencies.
When there was an independent agency meant to make sure that truck drivers had safe rates
of pay and those opposite didn’t like the decision the independent agency made, they
didn’t just abolish the decision; they abolished the entire agency. But here, when a decision
is made that they support, they back it in every time. And the reason they supported
it was because it meant less pay for workers—simple as that.
If lawlessness was in fact the issue for those opposite, if lawlessness was something they
wanted to act on, they would have abolished the Registered Organisations Commission, they
would have deregistered 7-Eleven as a company, they would have prevented Gerry Hansen and
a series of celebrity chefs from employing people in the future. The concept they have
is: if someone is in breach of the law and therefore should not be able to do that job
again, how come every single person engaged in wage theft goes on to continue to employ
people and probably rip them off again? Why does that happen? Why do we get no response
there? We got these sudden thundering comments from
the minister today. I think we were onto it that he has no idea what happened in the James
Hardie dispute, absolutely no idea. If he thinks that the problem there was unlawful
industrial action, well, he’s following a fine tradition of members of the Liberal Party
from his state in spending a whole lot of their time defending James Hardie against
asbestos victims. The former member for Curtin had a proud record of it as well. What happened
in the James Hardie dispute was the actions taken by the unions were not during an official
bargaining period. They were not actions that would have ticked the box of authorised industrial
action. It was a series of actions that would have breached section 28G of the legislation
in front of us right now, the ensuring integrity bill, where the test is an entire union can
be deregistered, whether or not their action—unless it was protected in the act, which none of
this was—interfered with the activities of a federal system employer.
Well, of course it did! And it needed to. They engaged in an escalating series of protests,
work stoppages, work bans and boycotts, as well as the marches, the investor activism
and the political lobbying. But, had they not engaged in the work stoppages, the work
bans and the boycotts, James Hardie would have got away with it. James Hardie would
have got away with the massive transfer of funds offshore to make sure that people who
were dying, people who were dying of asbestosis, never got the compensation they deserved.
I thought maybe we would have got a better response last week, when we had victims of
asbestosis in the gallery and we told the government they were there. And what was the
response? The minister goes off on his rant about the CFMEU, and the Prime Minister, sitting
in that chair—after I’d pointed to exactly where they were sitting—swings his chair
to face the minister and turns his back on them. We often talk about this government
turning its back on workers, but you rarely get a demonstration of what this government
is all about—when there are people who, if ensuring integrity legislation had been
in place at the time, never would have been eligible for compensation. The money would
have gone offshore and James Hardie would have got away with it, had those union protests
not happened. Mr Pitt: That’s rubbish.
Mr BURKE: And, please, the response over there: ‘That’s rubbish, that wouldn’t have happened.’
The people on your side were acting for James Hardie—acting for James Hardie—and it
was the unions that took the action that made sure people ended up getting compensation
and James Hardie was held to account. Now, let’s not pretend that the James Hardie
issue is in the distant past and it’s never going to happen again. We know, as long as
there are employers like Gerry Hansen; as long as there are operations like those we
saw with some of the franchisees of 7-Eleven; as long as there are employers like TV celebrity
chefs who make millions of dollars for themselves but, because of the complexity, they claim,
of industrial relations, even though they comply with all the volumes of tax law, can’t
check an award to make sure they’re paying people the right amount—as long as employers
like that exist, there will be a need for employee representation. This government,
in attacking employee representation, is attacking workers. It’s part of the low-wage strategy
that is a deliberate design feature of this government.


  1. I have watched this guy twice now, excellent research and knowledge of the subject and damn fine speaking for us all. Will anything change from this while the others that allow this to slide are in power?

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