Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2014 [No. 2] - Second Reading


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (18:04): I have been encouraged to enter this debate by the first speaker for the opposition, Senator Cameron, who gave an emotional address that was big on rhetoric, big on misrepresentation and big on self-interest as a former union heavy but lacking any sense, lacking any truth and lacking anything that would help to serve the best interests of the workers of Australia. It was a typical speech of a union hack at a union meeting. But it is not, unfortunately, what is required in this chamber, where we actually debate facts.

Most of the Labor members who have spoken in this debate today are themselves former trade union operatives, former trade union officials or sons, daughters, husbands or wives of trade union officials. As I said before, there is nothing wrong with that if the trade union movement was at all representative of workers in Australia. But only 17 per cent of all workers in Australia choose to join a union. Within the government sector, that figure gets up to 42 per cent. Living in this town for some of my life, I can well understand and appreciate that. More importantly, of workers in the private sector, only 12 per cent choose to join a union.

Who is in the private sector? Can I suggest that the industries that are run by private enterprise include the coalmining industry in Australia, and all of those workers in the Bowen and Galilee basins up where I come from who provide the wealth of our country. But of those people, only 12 per cent across the board choose to join the union. What else might be a private industry where only 12 per cent of employees choose to join a union? It is all the other mining industries—iron ore, zinc, copper refineries and the nickel refineries in the town where I have my base in Townsville

They are all private sector investment, private sector employers. On average across the board, only 12 per cent of their workers choose to join a union.

What else is in the private sector? The car making industry. Any manufacturing industry in Australia. Any transport industry in Australia—and there are people in this chamber who claim to represent the manufacturing workers and the transport workers. Of those people, because most of them are in the private sector, on average across the board only 12 per cent choose to join the unions.

Yet the people sitting opposite us, most of whom are only here because of the trade union movement and the influence they have on the Labor Party, represent less than 20 per cent of the total Australian workforce and less than 15 per cent of the workforce in the private sector. You do not have to think about this too deeply to work out that of this small group of Australians in the private sector—workers or representatives of workers in the private sector—only 12 per cent of them join a union. But the unions have enormous influence in the Labor Party.

I have mentioned before that, of those in the Labor Party in this house, most of them are only here because of the union movement—that is, the union movement representing no more than 17 per cent of the total number of workers in Australia. Half of the current federal ALP MPs and senators have had a paid position in the trade union movement. This includes 23 of the 55 ALP lower house MPs and 17 of the 25 ALP senators. More than half of the ALP frontbench at the current time—22 out of 43—are former union officials.

Of the 26 current members of the ALP's national executive, which is the chief organisational body of the Australian Labor Party, 19 are current or former union officials. As I say, that is fine if the union movement was at all representative of the Australian worker, but it represents fewer than 17 per cent of all workers in Australia. That means that 83 per cent of all workers in Australia choose not to join a union. And yet the alternative government, who is here solely at the behest of that 17 per cent of Australian workers, claims to represent the working men and women of Australia. Clearly, that is a false assertion.

If you heard the speeches here today, you will understand why all the former union organisers are so totally opposed to any legislation that requires accountability and transparency. You do not need to go to the royal commission; this has been obvious for a long period of time. The former colleague of many of the members of the Labor Party, Mr Craig Thomson, proved to us without a royal commission just how corrupt certain elements of the trade union movement are.

I am not anti-trade unions—and in fact at one stage I worked very closely with an element of a big trade union movement. We fought together for three years against the Labor Party, I might say, to protect the jobs of Tasmanian timber workers. That was the forestry division of the construction mining forestry workers union, the CFMEU. But at that time, the forestry section, and I emphasise just the forestry section, worked very closely with me—and I was then a minister in the Howard government—to make sure that we protected the jobs of Tasmanian workers.

Those who were around in the 2004 election will remember that, I think, the seminal turning point in the 2004 election campaign was when those forestry workers organised by the F-part of the CFMEU, came together in Launceston and provided the backdrop for the then Prime Minister, Mr John Howard, as he addressed the workers of Australia. They were all there in their high-vis and helmets. Mr Howard addressed them and told them that he and the Liberal Party would be sticking up for workers.

As a result of that, the people of Australia, not only in Tasmania, voted for John Howard and his Liberal Party because they understood that it was the Liberal government that was interested in worker's rights, not the Labor Party. They had made the decision—and I know Senator Lambie will be interested in this—to abandon workers in the forestry industry and get on board with the latte left set in Sydney and Melbourne.

At that time, the F-section of the CFMEU worked in workers' interest. I have every respect for them and I have every respect for the then boss of the forestry section of the CFMEU, Mr Michael O'Connor. I class Mr O'Connor as one of my friends. I think he is a nice guy and an honest guy, but he is now the national head of the CFMEU. Clearly, he does not have control over the CFMEU as he did over the forestry division of the CFMEU. I know that Michael O'Connor would not be interested in organised crime, the Comancheros, the threats and the bullying of women particularly, and the abuse of members of the CFMEU in relation to those matters. I know Mr O'Connor would not be involved in Mr Shorten's close friend Cesar Melhem's false invoices issue.

So there are elements of the trade union movement that I respect and that I know, and I have in the past worked closely with them. I am sure that the old forestry section of the CFMEU would have no problem with this bill because all it requires is transparency and accountability—the sort of transparency and accountability that applies to corporations, as it should. This bill is all about providing for workers, whose money the unions manage, the sort of accountability and transparency that we are required to have in public office around Australia in the various state parliaments and in this parliament. We have that accountability and transparency. Corporations have that transparency and accountability. Why not trade unions? I know that decent trade union officials—who, as I say, I have worked with—would have no objection to that. They do not mind telling people what their salaries are, what conflicts of interest they may or may not have and what other entitlements they might get out of their work as a union official.

I cannot understand people like Senator Cameron who violently oppose any transparency. I say to Senator Cameron and Senator Ludwig and to anyone else who has spoken in this debate: what have you got to hide? I am not suggesting that you have anything to hide, but then why not have an open and transparent regime that exposes and leaves you beyond reproach, beyond question, for the 12 per cent of Australian workers who choose to join your union?

As I say, I have nothing against unions. I do have a problem when various Labor governments insist that public servants have to join unions or that they have to provide their details to unions so that unions can approach them to be members. That is probably why some 42 per cent of public sector employees are in the unions—because they are more or less compelled, when Labor governments are in power at state or federal level, to disclose their details so the union organisers can get around and embarrass or intimidate them into joining a union.

With regard to the private sector, perhaps there are some Labor people speaking after me in this debate—I do not think there are, but I wish there were some—who could explain to me how they claim to represent the working men and women of Australia when effectively they represent less than 12 per cent of those in the private sector. Of all miners in Australia, all manufacturing workers in Australia and most transport workers in Australia, less than 12 per cent of them choose to join the union. Yet you have all the union hacks over on the other side saying that they look after workers' interests; they know what the transport workers want; they know what United Voice wants. They know what these workers want, and yet the workers vote with their feet. Even United Voice or whatever the Public Service union is—

Senator Payne: It is the CPSU.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: The CPSU. Even of those, only 42 per cent choose to join a union. Every time a Labor politician gets up and says, 'I represent the working men and women of Australia,' I say to myself, 'You represent less than 12 per cent of them in the private sector and less than 17 per cent across Australia.'

It is the working men and women of Australia who time after time—and I mentioned the 2004 election—have returned Liberal governments because they do not trust the unions either. If they trusted them, if they thought they were doing anything for the working men and women of Australia, they would probably join them. They would probably become members of the union, but they do not because (a) they think the unions do nothing for them; (b) they think the union officials do everything for themselves, and we have had a lot of evidence about that; and (c) they do not believe that they are on the right track for the interests of working people in Australia. And those working people of Australia vote for Liberal governments, not for Labor governments. This is an important factor, which I repeat often and will repeat more often because I get sick and tired of Labor senators getting up and saying that they represent the working people of Australia when clearly they do not. Clearly they do not! Less than 12 per cent of private sector workers choose to join the union.

A lot of those workers do not join the union, because they look at people like Craig Thomson and say, 'We are not going to pay our money so that some union hack, some union official who was supported by the Labor Party into this parliament, can cheat us, can rob us and can use our money for his own personal gratification and gains.' That is why people do not join the unions. If this legislation were passed and unions were more accountable, perhaps some of that 88 per cent of workers in the private sector who choose not to join a union might say, 'Well, now that the union industry is open and accountable, we might join because we now know that they are honest because we have the transparency and the accountability mechanisms to see that they are looking after our interests and not after their own interests.'

I say to anyone else taking part in this debate: do not be misled by anything Labor Party politicians tell you on this debate, because they represent less than 12 per cent of private sector workers.

You might ask yourself why that is so. It is because those private sector workers know that the union officials, by and large—there are some exemptions, and I have mentioned one case—are in it more for their own interests rather than the interests of the workers they serve. That is why 88 per cent of workers in the private sector choose not to belong to a union. Listening to Labor Party people talk you would think that they represent every single working man and woman in Australia. Clearly they do not. And I can assure the Senate—because I know, and the election result proves it—that workers in the forestry industry in Tasmania voted for the Liberal Party when the Labor Party abandoned them and left them to rot on the unemployment rubbish heap.

This bill, when it is passed, will help the unions. It will allow workers to understand that the unions are accountable and transparent. I would have thought that any genuine union official would be out there supporting this bill, because it could mean that more Australian workers would have the confidence and the trust to join a union. This bill will give Australian workers confidence and trust in the union movement, and that is one of the reasons that it should be supported.

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