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Speech: Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Withdrawal from Amalgamations) Bill 2020

Speeches in Parliament
Mehreen Faruqi 9 Dec 2020

I rise to speak on the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Withdrawal from Amalgamations) Bill 2020. This bill facilitates the expedited splitting up of amalgamated unions. Not only are the government expediting the splitting up of amalgamated unions; they're also expediting this bill through parliament. I guess that is not new—this government rushes through legislation that it doesn't want any scrutiny of or any light shone on, and it's doing it again—but shame on the Labor Party for being on a unity ticket with the government, for rushing through legislation that really has not been looked at, that really has not been interrogated and that will have a massive impact on the union movement and on workers. Here they are sitting here voting with the government, saying, 'Yes, let's push that through within the hour. No-one will see what's happened.' It's an absolute shame!

The government has sprung this bill on the parliament, with little warning, in a complete act of contempt for this place, the union movement and workers. This bill has implications for all workers and all unions, and it should not be rushed through parliament without proper scrutiny and proper inquiry. As with all legislation with broad implications, we need a consultation process so we are all clear on what exactly we are being asked to vote on. But we won't get that opportunity to do that today, will we?

All of us in this place know that the Liberal and National parties are no friends of unions and no friends of workers. That much is pretty clear. You couldn't trust the government on industrial relations as far as you could throw them. How many attempts at union busting have we seen from that lot over there over the last few years? What evidence have the government ever provided that they want to see unions succeed in protecting workers and advocating for workers' rights? If the government were actually concerned about workers and unions and their ability to organise effectively, they wouldn't be trying to push through legislation in the space of half a day on the second last day of the sitting for the year—taking the trash out.

This is a government that cut some of the most vulnerable workers out of JobKeeper, putting at risk not just workers and their livelihoods but also public health. This is a government that just last year tried to force through union-busting legislation that sought to make union amalgamations even harder than massive corporate mergers. They tried to put the right to strike even further out of the reach of workers. They allowed and celebrated cuts to workers' penalty rates. They weakened workers' rights to good conditions and pay protection under cover of the pandemic response legislation. And they are further entrenching insecure work. These people are the ideological children of John Howard. The government have given no indication that the Liberal and National Parties have evolved since they tried to smash the union movement and people's rights at work with their terrible WorkChoices legislation. The coalition's dearest wish is for the state to be able to interfere in the functioning and establishment of unions whenever they can. To benefit businesses and further their neoliberal politics, the government want unions to be as hobbled and powerless as possible.

We want to be sure that this bill is not designed to fragment the union movement and dilute the power of workers to organise and stand up for themselves against bosses. We want to ensure that any bill affecting the union movement strengthens the power of workers and results in improvement of worker pay and conditions. Unions are a vital part of our civil society. They fight for fair and safe conditions for workers and make important contributions to our democracy. As a long-time union member, I am committed to fighting for the rights of workers to organise and to protect our unions. I will be moving a Greens second reading amendment to refer this bill to inquiry for report so we can hear from the people who will be affected by this legislation and make an informed decision. There is absolutely no rush to push this bill through today or even tomorrow. We can have an inquiry. We can come back early in the next year and then we can decide, based on the information we have, whether or not we and others should support this bill.

Under these conditions, we will not be voting for this bill. We are not here to simply tick and flick whatever bills the government puts in front of us. We are here to make sure the bills are properly looked at. That's our job in this chamber. This is not the way laws should be made. This bill must be referred to inquiry so the Senate can do its job and ensure legislation that affects workers' lives is properly looked at. I move the Greens' second reading amendment and commend it to the Senate:

At the end of the motion, add: ", but the Senate:

(a) notes that the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Withdrawal from Amalgamations) Bill 2020 was introduced, debated and passed through the House of Representatives on the same day, Wednesday 9 December;

(b) further notes there is no urgent reason for the Bill to be rushed through Parliament;

(c) recognises the Bill may have implications for all unions and Australian workers and should not be rushed through without proper scrutiny; and

(d) refers the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Withdrawal from Amalgamations) Bill 2020 to the Education and Employment Legislation Committee for inquiry and report by 4 February 2021".

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