This bill is Draconian, Antidemocratic and a reflection of the form of this Government
November 26, 2019
This bill is draconian, it's antidemocratic and it really is a reflection of the form of this government. How is it that you cannot have a good look at what you're doing here to Australian families right across this country? How is it that you cannot equate the care of an employee on a construction site—that they are able to go home to their family at night instead of being injured or killed on a site? How is it that you cannot care about workers who are bullied in the workplace when they cannot sit across from their employer and argue for a fair wage and fair conditions? They need to be able to go home to their families, have a good night's sleep, look after their families and pay for the goods and services that their families require, like any other Australian family.
That is what you are attacking tonight. That is what you are attacking at the heart of this country. That is what you are doing. You hide behind your computers. You hide behind your books. You sit in your glorious offices. You sit there and you discuss, supposedly, and debate amongst yourselves, but all you're doing is convincing yourselves that this is the way to keep Australians disempowered, this is the way to keep Australians down, and this is the way to not encourage productivity and not encourage the best in an individual or a family or an organisation in this country. This is how you keep the workers down: through fear and through draconian laws that disable the opportunity for leadership in places to assist those who cannot stand up for themselves. That is what your attack is about tonight: it goes to the heart of this country's democracy, the heart of a fair go and the heart of every single Australian who wants to do good and do well for themselves, their families and their community.
When I started in the workforce, I started as a journalist. I was a very proud union member of the then Australian Journalists Association. It was the AJA, which then became the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, the MEAA, which fights for the rights of journalists, producers and editors. The CPSU fought for the camera operators, editors and production teams to ensure that the people in those industries, in those careers, could achieve the highest level with fair wages and conditions. What you're doing here tonight impacts on every union member in this country, but that's the whole purpose of it, isn't it? It's about keeping the workers down. That's what you're about. This bill erodes the rights of workers and will erode the rights of those who are most vulnerable.
I'm also a member of the First Nations Workers Alliance in this country and am enormously proud of the union movement—in particular, the Northern Territory unions, who fight fiercely for the many different workers in hundreds of different occupations, including health workers, nurses, teachers, construction workers, electricians and boilermakers. I'm enormously proud of our union movement. The First Nations Workers Alliance is an organisation that has campaigned and fought for the rights of First Nations workers, especially those caught up in the Community Development Program—ah, yes, the CDP. It's interesting that not a word has been said about that, yet there are 33,000 Australians in this country who are forced to work for $11 an hour. Shame on you—$11 an hour! And you wonder why we stand up here and fight this bill.
The First Nations Workers Alliance was established by the ACTU to provide CDP workers a collective voice to campaign for fair wages and employment conditions. There are more than 30,000 people who are covered by the CDP. Most of those are First Nations people. They are workers and they turn up to do a job under the CDP. But, in return, they do not get fair wages and they do not get fair conditions. Under the CDP the government has basically created a pool of free labour for employers to access. But those employers have none of the responsibilities that we should expect in this country. CDP workers don't have any annual leave or sick leave, and they are also specifically excluded from things like federal occupational health and safety and workers compensation legislation.
The First Nations Workers Alliance was formed to be a collective voice for the workers in this scheme. The breaches under the CDP scheme are just incredible to think about. I will share some with the Senate. A lot of the workers on CDP are breached because they cannot make the journeys of hundreds or thousands of kilometres to particular locations in these regional and remote areas. In terms of their ability to get to these areas, there are flooding concerns; there's certainly a lack in the IT network; there's sorry business; there's caring for a child. There are legitimate reasons that CDP workers cannot get to specific events or appointments, but they are breached. And they are not just breached for one day; they are breached for eight weeks. How would any of us feel having no income, even if it is $11 an hour, for eight weeks? How do you pay your bills? How do you pay your electricity bills? How do you keep up with the rent? What about food and clothing and the basic necessities that are so desperately required? This entrenches poverty.
Unemployed people in remote areas must take part in this troubled Community Development Program to receive welfare payments, and can be docked about $50 per day for missing activities. The Work for the Dole participants in one remote community were slapped with infringements an estimated 15 times on average—worth at least $650 per person, or six per cent of their annual income. Most participants in the federal government's mainstream Work for the Dole scheme, jobactive, were not slapped with penalties.
The damage caused by the CDP is immense. The reports from participants about what has happened to them under the scheme are really quite heartbreaking. Jawoyn man Jamie Ahfat said that being on CDP at Barunga in the Northern Territory—just south-east of Katherine—was 'like being a slave'. After being breached up to three times a week and once being cut off payments for eight weeks, he could not pay the rent and he did not have money to buy food during the eight weeks he was breached. This program is supposedly an employment program, but it is actually a program driving people further into poverty. Where would they be without their union? It is the union movement that has brought this absolutely devastating, discriminatory program to the fore here in Australia, making sure that all Australians are aware of it.
Former Liberal deputy leader Fred Chaney said that the $1.5 billion initiative had seriously disadvantaged vulnerable people. Mr Chaney said that the CDP has caused pain and hunger and imprisoned people in a system of immense complexity which is causing immense hardship through breaching. The First Nations Workers Alliance has fought the unfair and discriminatory CDP for the past two years—and, do not worry, we will continue to fight it. It is down largely to the hard work of the FNWA that the government was forced to bring in reforms to the CDP. The CDP is still a terrible, terrible scheme that is causing far greater hardship and not leading to the creation of any meaningful employment or economic development. But I know that, without the First Nations Workers Alliance, without the ACTU, it would be far worse. I am enormously grateful that we have the union movement there that is backing up the most vulnerable people in this country, and in particular those who are on this terrible, discriminatory scheme. That is what unions do. Unions get out there and back up and support the people who require it.
This government has form in picking on certain examples. Sure, what organisation does not have its problems? But, just like you did to the Northern Territory by intervening completely in 2007 based on one or two points or facts—or what you thought were facts—you have basically destroyed the livelihood of thousands and thousands of people. That has taken 12 years—even now you want to introduce the cashless debit card on top of the BasicsCard, because your sole agenda is to completely keep people disempowered and entrenched in poverty. 'Do not let those Australians who are not as fortunate as you try to rise up the ladder; it is best to keep them down.' That is the only way that we can view this legislation. It is not about a fair go; it is about keeping you mob up there and the rest of the country down there.
This bill wants to silence the voices of the people represented by unions. It will ensure less safe workplaces. It will ensure more wage and superannuation theft. It will ensure a less effective union movement that is more preoccupied with getting its paperwork right than with doing the job which has delivered better wages and conditions for workers in Australia for over a century. This bill will not ensure wage growth for Australian workers, will do nothing good for the economy and will certainly do nothing to stimulate growth, jobs and development in remote Australia. You already have a record that shows that you entrench people in poverty, and that is where this bill will keep them.
THE SENATE PROOF BILLS Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2019 Second Reading SPEECH Tuesday, 26 November 2019 BY AUTHORITY OF THE SENATE
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