26 August 2014
Mr ALEXANDER (Bennelong) (20:54): I rise today to speak for the government’s Fair Work Amendment Bill 2014. In considering the government’s task in having these vitally important amendments accepted and implemented, I am aware of the responsibility in presenting our case. These amendments are vital and important because they will restore certainty to workplace relations and bring back balance to the workplace. They are vitally important because they will increase opportunities for business expansion, which will in turn lead to successful jobs growth and higher real wages growth. Furthermore, the amendments and their full implementation are vitally important, as they will increase the opportunities for real prosperity for individuals, for businesses, for industry and commerce and trade, and for our country.
In putting the government’s case in support of these amendments, I will appeal to the facts, to cold logic and to unbiased reason. The government has already provided a comprehensive explanation of its proposed amendments, as well as a logical explanation for those changes. This was articulated in the coalition’s policy to improve the Fair Work laws, which was released four months prior to the 2013 federal election. The electorate passed judgement on this policy in the form of a resounding election win for the coalition. This alone should lead the members opposite to support the government’s proposed amendments, rather than resist the change demanded and expected by the electorate.
My argument today in support of the government’s amendments to the Fair Work Act is based on three main elements: fairness, consistency and the common good. ‘Fairness’ is an often articulated term used by the opposition. All members of this government share with members opposite concerns for fairness. Rest assured our commitment to this common cause. Because of this, because the goal of fairness is one espoused by both government and by members opposite, I am sure all will judge for themselves the validity of the government’s argument—the fairness that the government’s proposed amendments bring to the current Fair Work Act.
My argument for consistency is based on the unassailable fact that the government amendments are not original coalition concepts or imposts being presented to a disbelieving opposition, increasingly horrified by the heartless temerity of our proposals; our amendments are the promises of the previous Labor opposition. Our amendments reflect undertakings and intentions of the previous Labor opposition. Our amendments reflect the values of the previous Labor opposition, which I trust are the values of the current Labor opposition. Those values comprise efforts always to improve the prospects and the lot of all Australians. Regrettably, the previous Labor government failed to hold itself to its own promises; it failed to hold itself to its own intentions and undertakings; and it failed dismally to hold itself to its own stated values. It is now the task of this coalition government to finish what Labor promised but did not deliver; what Labor espoused but did not support; what Labor envisioned but would not see through.
Finally, my argument is based on the common good—the common good of individual employees and employers; the common good of small, medium and large businesses and enterprises; the common good of the economy; and the common good of Australia. These amendments will increase the common weal of our Commonwealth.
The act which this government proposes to amend is called the Fair Work Act. It is therefore only appropriate that the act itself be fair. The current act legislated by the previous Labor government is, however, not fair. It is unfairly biased against one group while being unfairly biased towards another. It is unfair to employers and employees and it provides unassailable rights to unions—rights which are to the detriment of employers and employees, of apprentices and trainees and those entering the workforce, of mature and willing job seekers, and of investors and entrepreneurs. Unions now have the right of entry, which has seen many businesses suffer excessive, disruptive and costly workplace visits from unions, even when their employees were not union members and did not ask for the unions’ presence. The former Labor government’s own Fair Work review panel, commissioned in 2012 by the now Leader of the Opposition, found that the Pluto LNG project and BHP Billiton’s Worsely alumina plant faced unreasonable, harassing and disruptive right-of-entry visits by unions.
The Pluto LNG project received over 200 right-of-entry visits in only three months, and BHP Billiton’s plant faced 676 right-of-entry visits in a single year. Such attitudes and behaviour unfairly and improperly delay the investment and the development that is essential for economic growth and prosperity for all. Furthermore, employers also have rights—including the right to go about their business—