MPI – Workplace relations

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Mr PITT: First and foremost I agree with some of the most recent comments from the previous member. I’ve described them this way before and I’ll do it again: unions are a necessary evil, just like banks. They do play a role. They are an important part of what happens in the industrial relations system, just as employer organisations are. Over a long period of time they’ve genuinely done some good things. I was here for the contribution from the member for Watson, and I genuinely like the member for Watson. It’s rare that I’ll stand here and give advice, but I’ll give him some advice on this: be very careful about politicising fatalities in workplaces. I spent some time, when my hair wasn’t grey, as a principal inspector, and I know those individuals who are out there every single day, every week, every month and every year, getting called to workplaces to investigate incidents where people have been very seriously injured or lost their life. We in this place should all be incredibly cautious about how we look at these issues. Individuals around the country are distinctly affected.

This brings me to my next point. I know the individuals who do this type of work. They are ex-tradespeople, ex-engineers, ex-construction workers, ex-nurses, ex-union officials—it doesn’t really matter. They are doing an incredibly difficult job at a time where those workplaces are in absolute crisis. They are not wilting wallflowers. These are individuals who go onto some pretty heavy-duty construction sites and deal with some roughnecks, I have to say, and they have done so for a long period of time. Yet on 30 January 2019 we saw a report in Queensland’s Courier-Mail that says:

The … Government’s own … inspectors are so fearful of “occupation violence” from unions and workers they are refusing to attend 17 construction sites across Queensland.

That is in no-one’s interest. These people are highly skilled at identifying challenges and problems and ensuring they are fixed. So, regardless of what we are doing here in this debate, we need to ensure that those individuals can continue to do their job, and—I’d say to everyone in the chamber—that is what we need to be doing because this is about ensuring that no-one loses their life on a worksite. Once again, I will acknowledge the member for Cooper’s genuine work for the union movement and her absolute commitment over a long period of time. If we look at asbestos, and this seems to be the topic of the day, standards around asbestos—working with it, the removal of it, getting rid of it from workplaces—have genuinely improved over a long period of time with consultation between unions and employers, and we need to continue to do that.

I would say to those opposite, who are calling us out saying we don’t look after workers, that we’re not interested in workers and that we don’t do things for them, I will give you some examples. Mr Deputy Speaker Hogan, I know you were involved in this. You were interested and you certainly worked hard to make sure we had a solution to the exploitation of foreign workers, particularly in horticulture. We have a real problem with these issues across the country. But what happened? We on this side actually did something about it. We established Taskforce Cadena, a multijurisdictional task force which cracked down on those bad seeds in the industry, ensured there were prosecutions and protected workers. What did those opposite do? They had another inquiry. That’s what they did when they were in government, another inquiry with no real action.

When we are talking about looking after workers, the government are absolutely doing those things and we are acting in their interests. Labor, when last in government, cut the staff from Fair Work by 20 per cent. How does that ensure you have fair workplaces, can crack down on foreign worker exploitation and on individuals not being paid the correct wages and superannuation? Let’s face facts: that is absolutely what happens. If you don’t have that oversight, if you don’t have the enforcement, if you don’t have these inspectors, if you don’t do that work then individuals will take advantage of the system.

What we know is we are doing things for workers in this country. We are ensuring that workplaces are as safe as possible. We need to be very careful with our rhetoric in this place when we’re discussing those types of issues. We know what happens on the other side. We have a Labor Party now that are completely lost as to what they stand for. You only have to look at Deputy Premier Trad in Queensland, who went out, stood in front of a microphone and said to every single worker in the resources industry that they need to transition out of their job. The best thing we can do for any individual in this country is ensure they’re employed and that they have long-term jobs they’re committed to, that are highly skilled, well paid, and that go on until they are ready to retire. It’s how they pay for their families, it’s how they pay for their kids to go to school, it’s how they pay for their house and their needs, and we need to ensure that that continues. Those opposite are completely lost. They no longer stand for working people any more, and I think that is a great shame.

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