Come on Scott - it sounds pretty hollow demanding new powers when you do nothing about flagrant breaches of the current laws.
Cut through the legalese and rhetoric and it is apparent that the Morrison government’s rebooted workplace agenda is designed to give the Coalition more power to deregister unions, disqualify union officials, torpedo union mergers and reduce the multi-million-dollar revenue streams flowing to unions.
The objectives are consistent with the Coalition’s approach since Work Choices helped defeat John Howard and his government in 2007: minimise overt measures to directly cut workers’ pay and conditions and go after unions, particularly the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union.
Scott Morrison and his Attorney-General and Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter have sought to capitalise on the labour movement’s failure to kill off the career of CFMEU Victorian leader John Setka to legitimise their fresh bid to get two Fair Work amendment bills, Ensuring Integrity and Proper Use of Workers Benefits, passed by parliament.
The Prime Minister contrasts Anthony Albanese’s move to expel Setka from the Labor Party with the ALP’s refusal to support the Ensuring Integrity Bill. “How can you not vote for a bill that would see John Setka booted out of the union movement as well?” he asks.
But the bill, if passed, will not mean that Setka is automatically disqualified, as it is not retrospective. He will have to be found guilty of future law breaches and be subject to a successful Federal Court application to ban him. While Setka’s opponents might argue this is only a matter of time, there is no guarantee the bill’s passage will have him removed.
That said, union leaders remain filthy at Setka as they believe his conduct has given the Coalition momentum to have a second go at passing laws that would also make it easier to put unions in administration and scuttle union mergers based on business opposition.
One of the bill’s more contentious provisions is that it allows any person with a “sufficient interest” to apply to the Federal Court for orders to disqualify an officer or deregister a union. Unions say companies and employer groups will be able to exploit this provision and seek court orders to get union officials banned and unions deregistered.
ACTU president Michele O’Neil says the bill would allow ‘‘disgruntled employers, lobbyists and politicians to seek to deregister unions and disqualify mostly volunteer office holders for even minor civil breaches’’.
Asked whether employers in conflict with a union could potentially apply for such orders, Porter agrees “that’s one potentiality” but argues the test is “not unusual” and exists in other industrial relations law. “We’re open to engagement but that seems an entirely reasonable provision,’’ he said.
“What we are establishing is that people with serious criminal offending and serious repetitious breaches of the very industrial law they are meant to observe should not be able to be elected officials of a registered organisation. That, to me, seems a complete no-brainer.’’
Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive James Pearson says the bill “brings in a strong regime to sanction those who repeatedly break the law, act in a corrupt manner or commit serious offences”. “Without a doubt, the government is proposing a significant step up in accountability … but there must come a point at which the government, on behalf of our community, says ‘enough’,’’ Pearson says.
The bill passed the lower house this week and will now be subject to a Senate inquiry due to report by October 25. A Senate vote might not occur until November, with the government needing the support of four crossbenchers.