Second Reading – Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2019
Mr PITT: Firstly, can I say to those opposite: there is no intention to stop people from organising. That is just completely false, absolutely false. I want to congratulate the member for Fisher for his contribution because, unlike most of those opposite, he’s actually someone who came through on the tools—a chippy who put himself through a law degree afterwards and then practised law. I’m a bit like him—I’m an electrician by trade. I came through heavy industry, working in union-organised workplaces for many years. Like the member for Fisher, I’ve had more than 30 years involvement in one form or another working in heavy construction, heavy industry and heavily unionised and organised workforces. So, when we speak on this bill, we actually speak from experience. Unlike those on the opposite side—and I can’t say that I know the new members well, but I certainly know the only tradesperson I can think of is the member for Hunter who I believe was an auto-electrician before he came into this place through the standard union path and other organisations. I congratulate the rising star, the member for Hunter. After 20 years, he’s certainly on the front foot.
We are here talking about this bill now because of a very, very long history of the CFMMEU and other union organisations acting in the wrong way, inappropriately, towards their members’ money and their members’ benefits. In terms of that history—and I know this might be a surprise to you, Mr Deputy Speaker Vasta—I’ve actually been asked on a couple of occasions why I don’t sit with the Labor Party. Having been through public schools, having completed an apprenticeship in heavy industry and having worked in the sugar industry and others, why am I not on that side? The answer is quite simple. It’s history and what I’ve learnt over many years of being involved in those organisations and, in particular, their unions.
I will never forget when just 48 hours after I completed my apprenticeship the people who I’d worked with for four years demanded I join the ETU otherwise I’d be black-banned. It was quite astounding. I will never forget my father being black banned by the FEDFA and the AWU because his workers were not AWU members and the risk that that posed to our family, their business and paying our bills. Those are the reasons we have come to this point.
Quite simply: both the Labor Party and the unions no longer represent working people. They simply do not. Let’s look at their actions in construction and what they have done to the construction industry. They continue to put up the price. That is no good for consumers. We on this side actually stand for something. We stand for the people who are paying those construction bills. We stand with them. They shouldn’t have to pay over the numbers—they shouldn’t have to pay over the odds—simply because it is an organised workforce that black bans anyone who doesn’t contribute.
These are the facts of the modern construction industry. I and the member for Fisher have been involved with them for a very long period of time. We’ve seen some of the best of the unions. The unions in my view are a necessary evil. They have done some good things over the years—they truly have—but currently their operation is quite simple: they take the money from their members and give it to the Labor Party. That is the process. I think that is just wrong.
That is the reason we have come to this point and are debating the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2019—because they simply cannot manage the members’ funds and they do not act in their interests. This is a matter of public record. If we are talking about the members’ money and if we are talking about looking after the interests of union members, I say to the Labor Party, ‘Perhaps you should look at where your money comes from.’ I publicly congratulate the Leader of the Opposition, Anthony Albanese, for going on the record and saying that John Setka should go. The man is a convicted thug and a criminal. He should not be in charge of anything to do with the money of his members and your members. You are all members of organisations—all of you. I have no issue with that at all, neither does the government. We do not have a problem with people who want to have organised labour. As I’ve said, the unions have done good things over a long period of time, but that time has come to an end, particularly in the construction industry.
It’s good to see the member for Petrie in the chair. I know the member for Petrie has a local small business—an air conditioning business—that basically went bankrupt because it was black-listed by the CFMMEU in his electorate. It put all of the people employed by him out of business. These are the operations of the modern union movement in the construction sector—comply or go broke. And it is not just them. If you look at the report from the royal commission, you will see it is also big business. There are big businesses named in the royal commission report for doing the wrong thing. This bill affects them as well. You must continue to act in the interests of your members.
There is an opportunity here for the Labor Party. Once again I congratulate the opposition leader for standing up to someone like Setka, an absolute thug and convicted criminal, who is doing the wrong thing. We firmly believe in enforcing the law and holding those law-breakers to account. It is the reason we have reintroduced this bill. It is not because of the proposition put forward by those opposite—it is not because we want to destroy unions. We think that they, like every other organisation in this country, should abide by the law. They should be run by people with integrity who are not criminals. I don’t think there is any problem with that whatsoever. This bill will ensure those registered organisations work in their members’ best interests and within the bounds of the law. It is specifically designed to target organisations and individuals who fail to take the privileges and responsibilities arising out of registration or appointment as an officer seriously.
We have all seen the reports from the royal commission. We have all seen the media reports about thuggery, assault and threats. I don’t see how anyone on the opposite side can defend those types of individuals. There are some very good people in the union movement. I know a number of them. I wouldn’t be so brave as to name them here, because I consider them my friends. Let’s say that a former president of Young Labor in Queensland is a strong union man. He is strong for the Labor Party. He is there for the right reasons. It is people like that who you need to promote. Those are the sorts of people you need to promote. You should disassociate yourselves from the bikie gangs, the thugs and the standover merchants. Like the member for Fisher, we have seen this in the construction industry over many years. It ebbs and flows and it moves and changes. The purpose of this bill is to ensure that that type of activity stops.
The bill applies equally to unions and employer organisations, and only to the conduct occurring after the commencement of the bill; it is not retrospective. The bill will give the court more appropriate powers to disqualify officials of registered organisations that have breached their duties to act in the interests of members or who have a history of breaking the law or are otherwise not a fit and proper person to hold office in a registered organisation. I ask you, what is wrong with that? What is wrong with requiring a fit and proper person to be in charge of tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of dollars of their members’ money over a period of time? I think that is entirely appropriate.
The bill will allow the registration of an organisation to be cancelled or have rights and privileges removed from specific parts of an organisation where it or its officials have acted in their own interests rather than in the interests of their members, have not complied with court orders or injunctions, have committed serious offences or have a record of law breaking, none of which is possible under existing law. And I say again to those opposite: what is wrong with that? I think it is entirely appropriate.
The bill also gives the court more flexibility to act to reconstitute dysfunctional organisations and introduces a public interest test for mergers of registered organisations. We have made some amendments, and I won’t go through all of those, but I think it is important to continue to note that this is a bill about integrity. This is a test for those opposite to stand up for their individual members who pay their money every single year as union members. In my view, if they do not, you will continue to find that those rusted-on dedicated union members walk away from those opposite in droves, just as they did at the last election.
This is an opportunity for those opposite to do the right thing, as is the government. We all act to ensure the integrity of those who are running unions in their organisations and looking after their members’ money, and I commend the bill to the House.