Second Reading – Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Secure Jobs, Better Pay) Bill 2022

Tuesday, 8 November 2022

Mr PITT: We’ve heard a lot about mandates and we’ve heard a lot about the impact of this proposed bill, the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Secure Jobs, Better Pay) Bill, even from the Independents who recognise the risk to the Australian economy, the risk to small business and the risk to our country. I did a little bit of research because there is an entire generation of Australians who are not aware of what it looks like when the unions run this country. They just have not seen it and so they don’t understand it. I wanted to check my memory because I was only a young child and then in the late eighties—13 January 1987—I commenced as an apprentice, so I thought I should check some of the previous reports on just what it was like for industrial relations when pattern bargaining and union activity were at their height.

On 25 August 1975 the Herald in Melbourne reported, ‘From midnight tonight about 9,000 shipyard workers will strike for 24 hours.’ ‘Doom town’ is the headline. My personal favourite was on 22 September 1979, ‘The body snatchers turn the wharves into battlefields.’ It quotes that the ports of Sydney and Melbourne have been free of disputes for only two weeks in the past 18 months, most stoppages caused by demarcation and poaching. It is just quite incredible that they lost more than 131,000 working days on the waterfront in disputes in 1978, and a source at the container terminal at White Bay said 1979 should have been a ‘quiet year’ because they weren’t due to negotiate their awards until the next year, 1980. But that wasn’t the way it turned out. We move forward to March 1987 and in the Australian, ‘Unions on the march, a national 24-hour strike that yesterday paralysed the already limping Australian building industry and a warning of further militant activity to come.’

This is what happens when the unions are running this country. Another personal favourite, ‘The billion-dollar House on the Hill’, this parliament. The original cost estimate in 1978 was $220 million, when the first shovel of dirt was turned it had risen to $275 million and by August 1987 it had blown out to $1,047.8 million. Here’s the big part of that, the final figure being above $1.2 billion. Guess what? The building has been a nightmare with the BLF calling a 14-week strike in 1984 and smaller industrial action that has continued. This is what this type of activity does. It drives up the cost for every Australian, whether in construction, on the wharfs, in imports or just trying to be in business but getting held up by this type of activity.

A couple of the types of things that were happening: 1989, Sydney Morning Herald: ‘About 200 angry building workers halted the national wage case yesterday by invading the court and jeering at the wage bench. They commandeered the building lifts and poured into the court on the 39th floor.’ ‘Wild brawl over dockyard plan: a policewoman was bitten on the arm and six striking Cockatoo Island workers were arrested. When a demonstration outside the NSW Labor Council building yesterday erupted, more than 50 police, including tactical response group officers, had to swarm and respond.’ This is the type of activity that the Labor Party wants to bring back into our nation. To give you a quick summary of what impact was, in 1972 two million working days were lost as a result of strikes. In 1973 it was 2.6 million, and in 1974 almost 6.3 million days, keeping in mind that in 1980 this country only had a population of 14 million. Whitlam’s stacking, more industrial action, more industrial trouble.

Those opposite continue to claim they have a mandate for this decision, a mandate for this activity. Well, we’ve done some research—and this has been provided to me. We went back to have a bit of a look. Let’s have a look the comments that leader Albanese and others might have made. To ACCI on 5 May 2022 there was no mention—not one, not a single mention of this proposal. No wonder industry and business think this has been dropped on them from out of the big blue sky—not a single mention. There’s another opportunity here, the Prime Minister’s speech to the National Press Club on 18 May 2022—nope, wasn’t in that either.

What else have we got? Perhaps it’s on their policy page. Perhaps that’s where we can find it. It says, ‘I want to talk about the first eight elements of Labor’s Secure Australian Jobs Plan’. No, no mention of industrywide bargaining in Labor’s policy on their website at that time—none. No-one expected this, certainly not business, certainly not small businesses, certainly not those who are out there and will be directly impacted.

Even Minister Burke didn’t rule it out in the questions that were put to him by the Australian. The Treasurer makes a lot of noise in question time, but from what we can gather he didn’t quite get this one right. David Speers said, ‘I’m asking you about industrywide bargaining. Is it a yes, a no or a maybe? Chalmers—the member for Rankin, the current Treasurer—said, ‘It’s not part of our policy, David, I’ve just explained to you what our policy is on industrial relations, and we’ve already announced that some time ago. It is not our policy.’ I find this outrageous. It is no wonder that even the independents are up in arms about the time that this has taken. It is too short. These are very, very detailed considerations. They have a direct impact.

Why does Labor want to do this? As the Leader of the Opposition outlined it is to pay off those unions that’ve supported them. We cop a lot of flak from that side about those of us on the side who don’t come through the same sorts of places as the Labor Party. As I said, I started as an apprentice on 13 January 1987 at the Fairymead Sugar Mill. I can tell you that it was a heavily industrialised workforce. My first experience of a strike was when 200-plus workers from that mill walked out, wandered off and left the apprentices behind—because apprentices don’t strike. You continue to go to work. My first experience was in my fourth year, out the front, with someone saying, ‘Solidarity brothers, solidarity.’ I said, ‘Mate, what is going on?’ He said, ‘Well, they’re going fishing and we’ve got to stay here and oil the drill machines and the pedestal drills in the workshop.’ That went on for a number of days.

My experience with this type of activity is personal. When I completed my time—working with a number of individuals I had worked with for four years—if I didn’t get my union ticket the day after, the first thing that happened was I was black-banned. I was black-banned from the place I’d been at for four years, as an apprentice, because it was unacceptable.

One of my greatest regrets is that I never learnt how to weld, because in those days demarcation prevented me from learning. It’s a skill I would love to have. I am really pleased that the current crop of apprentices don’t have to deal with this sort of nonsense.

I do want to shout out to a few of people I used to work with: Stumpy, Joel, Rabbit, Ross, Les, Davey, Pick, Hiscock—whose nickname I won’t use because it’s highly inappropriate—the boss, Alan Teasdale. There are a number of others who have names that I just can’t repeat in this place. They would be appalled at this because they were always willing to fight for their rights. They were always willing to do what was necessary to keep their business running, particularly a sugar mill—which, as you know, Deputy Speaker, has to run continuously when it’s on. They would be appalled at anything that would change the risk to this country; that would decrease our level of security; that would impact business and mean less employment, not more employment, because it is business that has to pay the bills.

This is always about balance. You have to get the balance right between the needs of the employer and the needs of the employee. I can see those opposite shaking their heads. They don’t they think it is about balance. If the business is not making enough money they can’t pay the wages and it is gone, so you have to get this right. This takes time. I say to those opposite: stop trying to charge this legislation through. You’ve got even more challenges in the Senate than you do in the House of Representatives. These are big changes. They’re difficult changes. We’ve seen industry come out and absolutely attack you, which is really unusual. The fact that they are all lined up and oppose these changes should say something to the Labor Party—that this is not the right decision.

I’ll come back to the people I used to work with: they were good, hardworking Australians. They were union members, and proud of it—and that is great—but they were more proud of their country. There are a number who are gone now, and I miss every single one of them, but I know they would not support this, because it is the wrong decision. It is the wrong decision; Labor should reconsider what they’re doing here. Listen to the crossbench if you don’t want to listen to us. Listen to business. Listen to small business and listen to the people out to pay the bills. We have to get the balance right or, quite simply, the country will suffer and the outcome will be bad for all Australians.

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