Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Legislation Committee 29 February 2012

I move:

That the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Amendment (Transition to Fair Work) Bill 2012, as passed by the House of Representatives on 16 February 2012, be referred to the Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Legislation Committee for inquiry and report by 8 May 2012.

It has been said:

Anybody who breaches the law should feel the full force of the law. Each and every breach of the law is wrong and each and every breach of the law should be acted upon.

So spoke the then Minister for Workplace Relations, Ms Gillard, in introducing legislation into this place to get rid of the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

As a result of this legislation being put forward, the Senate had an inquiry into the bill. After the Senate had finished its inquiry and was busily writing its report, the Labor government in the House of Representatives, at one minute to midnight, introduced a Greens-inspired amendment to absolutely gut that which would have remained of the Australian Building and Construction Commission. And the issue that needs to be reviewed by the Senate committee is not only a workplace relations issue. This goes to the very issue and fundamentals of the rule of law in our country. Indeed, that which Ms Gillard promised—like she promised with the carbon tax—has now been shown to be an empty promise. But this is even more serious than the carbon tax, because it undermines the very fundamentals of the rule of law. Allow me to explain. The amendment that the Greens inspired and the Labor Party passed in the other place means that a prosecuting authority can no longer pursue the prosecution if the parties have come to a settlement between themselves. Just imagine if the police were no longer allowed to charge somebody who drove through a red light, settled up with a person whose car they damaged—and paid them a bit of extra money—and as a result the police were denied prosecution of the case. Or imagine an arson case in which somebody does not want to go to jail, does not want to be prosecuted and goes to the person whose property he has burnt down and says, 'I'll pay for all the damages plus $100,000,' and the police are then denied prosecution of that person for arson.

That is what the Labor Party and the Greens want to introduce into the industrial law of this country. What it means is that big unions and big business—with big wallets—will be able to buy themselves out of prosecution but the individual worker will not be able to, because they will not have the money. The small subcontractor on our building sites will not have the money to do that. There will be institutionalised corruption and institutionalised pay-offs. What is more, this has been such a deceptive move. Indeed, when we as the coalition senators wanted the hearing to go on for a bit longer than we had been allowed we were told, 'All this has been canvassed for ages.' If it had been canvassed for so long—for ages—then why this last-minute amendment?

Let us be quite clear. The government must have known it was going to move this amendment but deliberately hid it from the Senate and the public to ensure that this amendment, which is just so fundamental in undermining the rule of law in our country, was hidden from the inquiry so it could no longer be investigated. Or it was a genuine last-minute amendment. And if it was a genuine last-minute amendment then, given that it is of such consequence that three state Attorneys-General have come out to condemn it as undermining the whole basis on which the rule of law runs in this country, this is worthy of further examination by the Senate.

The Australian Greens, I have no doubt, will be voting against this matter going to a Senate committee, as will the Labor Party. If they do so it will be proof positive that they knew about this beforehand and that it was deliberately denied to the Australian people. Either way, this matter should be going to a Senate committee for further consideration.

About Eric

Eric Abetz has been a Liberal Senator for Tasmania since 1994 and has served in a range of Leadership, Ministerial and Shadow Ministerial roles.

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