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Questions: Union-busting 'ensuring integrity' bills in Committee

Mehreen Faruqi 28 Nov 2019

The Greens have made it very clear that we oppose this bill. We don't like this bill at all. That's because this bill is a clear attack on workers and on unions and their members. This bill is a political and ideological attack on unions and their members and also the ability for unions and their members to work for the good of working people and for a fair and just society for everyone. This bill is anti-democratic, and that's why the Greens strongly oppose this bill.

We also don't think that it can be amended in a way for us to support it. We agree with Labor on that point. That goes for the government amendments that we are discussing today. However, we have circulated amendments of our own which are very measured and will make the bill just a little bit fairer and more reasonable. It is hard to make this bill really fair and reasonable; it needs to just be put in the bin to do that. These amendments won't fundamentally change the bill in a way that we would like, and that's why I want to be upfront with senators and say that, even with minor tweaks, we'll still be opposing the bill. But we do hope our amendments are considered on merit.

I want to talk a little bit about the timing and the atmosphere in which this bill has been brought into parliament. We've now come to expect headlines of possible corruption by ministers and of interference in our democracy by lobbyists almost every single week. This has really eroded trust in our democracy to a historic low. We are in a time when trust in democracy, in politicians and in government is at an all-time low. The level of democratic satisfaction has plummeted steadily and pretty drastically, from 86 per cent in 2007 to just 41 per cent in 2018. That's less than half of the community that trust our democracy, and here we are putting a bill forward which is supposed to ensure integrity of unions and their members but does nothing to ensure the integrity of the politicians sitting in here. If we go according to the way trust in democracy has been plummeting, by 2025 fewer than 10 per cent of Australians will trust our politicians and political institutions. In effect, that sort of stuff makes a government illegitimate, and it really has a very negative effect on our social and economic wellbeing. So I think this should really be a wake-up call for this government, and parliament should not be able to force workers and unions to abide by these new so-called integrity standards while letting politicians continue to escape scrutiny all the time.

I have a couple of questions for the minister. One of those is on mergers. Minister, at the moment the process by which unions merge in Australia is a democratic vote of members overseen by the Australian Electoral Commission. The entire process is overseen by the Fair Work Commission, and there are already conditions that need to be met. So, from my perspective, this new test that has been put up, the public interest test, is undemocratic and open to corporate interference. I just want to see what justification you have for government to intervene and block unions from merging. From my perspective, the only people who should be able to make that decision are the members and the unions, because otherwise, with government and ministerial interference, it just becomes a political football.

My other question is around the review of this act. We have heard so many concerns about this bill. We've spent three days in this chamber sitting here, literally hearing one concern after another about how damaging this bill will be for unions, for members, for workers and for society at large if we undermine the great work that the unions in Australia have historically done and continue to do to protect workers and their interests, rights and wages. So why, given that there are so many concerns—concerns that organisations like the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights have raised and concerns that we heard during the committee inquiry on this bill itself—don't we have a period after which this act will be reviewed and considered with an eye to whether the commission, the ROC, is acting properly on this new legislation?


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