Workplace Relations Amendment (Work Choices) Bill 2005 - The Senate
Senator the Hon John Faulkner
Labor Senator for NSW
Third Reading: The Senate
2 December 2005
In my view, this is as bad as any piece of legislation we have seen in the history of the Commonwealth of Australia. It is unfair, it is divisive, it is extreme. It just stinks. We have heard throughout this debate an attack, yes, on trade unions, yes, on trade union officials, but also, of course, on working Australians. That has characterised this debate. I have to say that I have had an absolute gutful of it. I am proud to stand up in this third reading debate and, with my Labor colleagues and others from the crossbenches, say that we will be opposing this bill in the parliament and we will fight it beyond the decision in the Senate this evening.
I am also proud to say, of colleagues in the trade union movement and trade unionists who have defended and worked in the interests of working Australians, that we ought to thank those individuals for what they have done. I unashamedly associate myself with the trade union movement and thank them for their great achievements in over a century of struggle. I thank them for the eight-hour day, for eight hours work, eight hours sleep and eight hours for what we will, as it was described. I thank them for winning weekends for Australian workers, for winning, firstly, a 44-hour week and, secondly, a 40-hour week, and then the ACTU’s great efforts to win a 38-hour week. We have had the minimum basic wage since 1907 thanks to the efforts of the Australian trade union movement.
I thank them and appreciate the fact that we have equal pay and equal work because of that wonderful test case that was mounted by the ACTU in 1969, which meant that women could receive the same pay as men if they were proved to be doing work of equal value. I thank them also for equal pay for equal work for Indigenous Australians. I thank them for what they have done in relation to sick leave. I thank them for what they have done in relation to maternity leave. I thank them for what they have done in relation to workplace safety. I thank them for what they have done in relation to paid holidays. And I thank them for what they have done in relation to superannuation.
I acknowledge the efforts of those trade union officials who have worked tirelessly in support of the working conditions of their members. It is often a thankless task, and you can see the level of criticism in this chamber that those decent Australians have received for working in the interests of others in the community, for wanting to improve the lives of working men and women in Australia and for wanting to ensure that Australian families are better off. I thank the trade union officials and the trade union movement for what they have been able to achieve, and I thank them for fighting this unfair legislation as hard as they have done.
This legislation is best characterised as un-Australian. It is un-Australian and it is unfair. It will rip away the working conditions of working men and women in this country, and it will affect all their families. These are conditions that have been hard fought and hard won. Most often, they have been matters decided in courts and tribunals. There have been incremental changes over decades and decades, fights that have gone on for year after year, conditions won which are now to be ripped away in legislation by this contemptible government. The point is that it is not trade unions that will be worse off; it is Australian workers and their families who will be worse off as a result of this legislation being passed in the parliament this afternoon. That is what will happen.
I heard in this debate—and it made me sick to hear the new terminology—that the government say they are not interested in workplace fairness; they are interested in a new term: ‘workplace harmony’. They are not interested in fairness; they are interested in harmony. I say to those who are experts in spelling and who have a dictionary with them: take out the ‘o-n-y’, because what you will have is workplace harm. You will have workplaces in this country which are much less satisfactory, less happy, less reasonable and less fulfilling places to be present in as a result of this legislation going through.
Of course, the government could not carry the argument themselves. They did not have the capacity to carry the argument in the chamber or elsewhere. They had to spend $50 million of Australian taxpayers’ money to support this corrupt change to the workplace relations legislation and laws in this country. They had to bludge on the taxpayers to mount their campaign. They did not have the capacity to argue it out themselves. They did not have the skill. They did not have it in them to mount the case.
As far as the debate in the parliament is concerned, there was a committee stage debate that was grotesquely truncated by the government. They could not afford a proper committee examination of this legislation—not at all. They had to truncate the committee debate. And this for a bill the size and weight of a house brick, 687 pages. This for an explanatory memorandum, again, the size and weight of a house brick, 565 pages. Then when we actually got to the debate itself, we had the government sleazily introducing 98 pages of government amendments, 337 government amendments, half an hour before the committee stage even began. If you did not like that, there were 133 pages of explanatory memorandum in relation to the new government amendments. That could not be provided until hours and hours after the debate began. What a grotesque manipulation of proper procedures. What an absolute disgrace. Talk about thumbing your nose at the parliament. Talk about thumbing your nose at the people of Australia.
I want to say this in conclusion. The Australian Labor Party was formed in 1891. We were formed in the interests of ensuring that working men and women had their interests protected. We have always looked after those Australians. That has always been priority for our party and it always will be. We have been around an awful lot longer than the Liberal Party and we will be around a lot longer to come, I can assure you, to fight in the interests of those Australian workers and to fight in the interests of those people who defend and protect their interests—the people who actually defend decency in our society and decency in our community—and in this parliament, of course, we defend integrity of process. That is what the Labor Party has always done.
That is what we have done in this debate and that is what we will do into the future, regardless of the scandalous, despicable and contemptible decisions that this Senate is going to make courtesy of the Howard government this evening.