Monday, 1 December 2008
Fair Work Bill 2008
Thank you very much; I agree with you entirely. I want to draw attention to the words I quoted at the time in that speech. I am endorsing this other person. These were the words of a noted left-wing British academic some years prior to my speech in 1981. He wrote a paper entitled‘Trade unionism is killing socialism—the English experience’, and he said:
Above all, the economic organisation of society, the way in which wealth is invested, and rewards distributed, to all of us who are its members, should have become the function of democratic governments.
I will carry on with his remarks. This is a bill that could have been just that if it had stopped before it started to give privilege, above all else, to a private enterprise organisation known as the trade union movement. He went on to say:
But this is not what has happened. The unions have refused to recognise the limits of their historical role. They have not only rejected the idea of a progressive abdication, and the shift of their social and economic function to the political process—
that is, this place—
but they have flatly declined to allow the smallest diminution of their power to press the sectional interests they represent.
Indeed they have steadily, ruthlessly and indiscriminately sought to increase that power. In recent years, and in particular in the last five years—
all that time ago—
they have exhausted or beaten down any opposition and have finally succeeded in making themselves the arbiters of the British economy. This has not come about as part of some deeply laid and carefully considered plan. It is not part of a plan at all.
It has been, essentially, a series of accidents. Huge unions each pursuing wage claims at any cost, having successfully smashed other elements in the state governments, political parties, private industry, nationalised boards—now find themselves amid the wreckage of a deserted battlefield. The undoubted victors.
They did not plan the victory—they do not know what to do with it now they have got it. Dazed and bewildered they are like medieval peasants who have burnt down the lord’s manor.
He stated further:
What next? They have no idea as they did not think ahead to this sort of situation, and indeed are not equipped by function or experience to embark on positive and constructive thinking.
A name like Mighell comes to mind. He continued:
That is not their job! Here we come to the heart of the matter. The trade union is a product of 19th century capitalism.
Let me remind you that the 19th century means the 1800s. He went on:
It is part of that system. Against powerful, highly organised and ruthless capitalist forces, it had an essential even noble part to play. But when those forces are disarmed, when they are in headlong retreat—indeed howling for mercy—the union has no function to perform.
They are not my words; they are the words of someone who had a fundamental view, as a socialist, that the role of industrial relations was a responsibility for government—and government does not need any helpers. This legislation retains the industrial ombudsman. So why in the heck have we got to have someone, self-appointed to the job, to go and demand people to pay his wages so he can interrupt their daily activities at work? Why should they have special privileges over anyone else?
Now we have had all the spin that workers can appoint any bargaining agent they like and I hope some might take that choice. I would be more comfortable if the legislation said that there had to be a 75 per cent positive vote amongst the total workforce for the purpose of appointing that agent. But that has been left out and the default mechanism appoints a trade union heavy. How is he going to build his membership? Remember that while there has been the legislation in place workers have discovered (a) confidence in themselves and of course (b) a belief that the money they paid to the trade union was not getting them very much at all. There is a heap of evidence of that.
So why does this legislation, the Fair Work Bill 2008, give standing to this special interest group, a trade union? They are nobody. They are not special. Why not give BHP or someone else standing within this legislation? Nobody else gets standing—why them? Who are they? They are a mob of people that get around, get themselves a job —and with a bit of hope they get here next—but the fact of life is that that is what is wrong with this legislation. I understand that people thought the previous rules were slan-ted too much towards the employer—that is, the poor devil who goes and mortgages his home to create some jobs. Of course, there will never be a law that requires people to make jobs. Since this legislation was on the drawing board they have been bail-ing out in their hundreds, including Boeing. Fisher and Paykel have gone to Thailand; they left Australia, taking 400 jobs. They just got out before their troubles started again.
Why do we have legislation in this House that gives special standing under the law to a group of people who claim to look after workers’ interests? I had nearly as long a period as an employer as I have had as a member of this House. I made my first speech on industrial relations because I was so browned off having to watch the great advances of the Pilbara, prior to my employment here, being destroyed and watching the Japanese going to Brazil. There was no financial value in the Japanese going to Brazil, considering the freight on a lowly valued product called iron ore—it is only a heap of rocks. They went there because they could not get delivery out of Western Australia. I will not go further down that track because there are other things that I want to say.
I want to go back to this legislation, which says that right of access is to be reinstated and which gives access to people’s private wage details. I am astounded to hear unions say, ‘We’re going to catch up on the bloke who gets more than his mate.’ Is that Australian? That is what they said. They have discovered market wages when it comes to a 457 visa. If you have market wages, why do you need a union to look after you? The market will decide—up or down. What I am saying is that the unions are entitled by this legislation—and I will fight that—to walk into a workplace, maybe with the one planted member out of a thousand, and view the records of other workers. Maybe they will or maybe they will not have the address of the person associated with those wage records. If they come off cards that is what they will have. Even if they do not have the address, as politicians today we all know how easy it is to find out where someone lives. Is it now possible that a woman will answer a knock on the door at 10 o’clock in the morning or at three o’clock in the afternoon to find two men standing outside to tell her that they know where her kids go to school and it is time hubby joined the union.
I read in the paper the other day that they do not do it that way any more. Ask Peter Baldwin about that. Ask Senator Cameron about that, when he got beaten up in much more recent times. He had to shift house. Who knows about that? Tell me that things have changed amongst those people who dominate in this sector. They beat up their own, why wouldn’t they beat up some recalcitrant poor devil who thinks buying shoes for his kids is more important than paying union fees and who trusts his boss because his boss and he have a drink every Friday night and a bit of a yarn and at any time he can tell his boss what he thinks about the pay or anything else?
I do not mind; you can rewrite the law. You can simplify the law and you can make it better for working people provided it achieves that outcome. But what you cannot do is to put this other mob in. It is interesting that having read what has been said by a British left-wing academic I also mentioned in my speech what has been said by the member—I was going to call him the member for Calwell again—