Building a Better Australia

Make Australia Great

Senator BURSTON (New South Wales) (21:22): I’m not sure whether I’m debating the right bill or not; I’m a bit confused after Senator Watt’s ramblings about penalty rates. I’m not sure it even relates to this Fair Work Amendment (Repeal of 4 Yearly Reviews and other Measures) Bill.

Senator Watt: You’ve already voted against labour hire people. What are you going to do now?

Senator BURSTON: Go back to law. That’s where you belong.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Sterle ): Order!

Senator BURSTON: I rise to speak in support of this bill. There are a lot of people who at one time or another have chucked a sickie. Sometimes there’s a personal matter that needs to be dealt with, and it’s easier to simply call in to work pretending to be sick in order to get time to deal with it. Mostly this sort of behaviour gets tolerated. If you only do it occasionally, no-one will begrudge you the odd sickie, but there’s a point where it becomes unreasonable.

In 2005 and 2016 I saw a gold medal performance with sickie chucking. Most people would lose their jobs if they didn’t show up for a week, let alone a month. Mr Michael Lawler, then the vice-president of the Fair Work Commission, took things to a whole new level. He managed to go for nearly a year, drawing a $435,000 salary without doing a day’s work. For $435,000, the average person might find time to come to work occasionally—perhaps to answer an email or two at least. But Mr Lawler was too sick—he assured us! He didn’t go to work so he could deal with all the difficult legal issues that his partner, Kathy Jackson, was involved in. He stayed at home to deal with them. The Federal Court ultimately ordered her to repay $1.4 million in union funds, some of which went into Mr Lawler himself. No wonder he felt sick. He also made illegal recordings and failed to disclose conflicts of interest. Mr Lawler was able to get away with his flagrantly corrupt behaviour because there was, astoundingly, no legal way to fire him. As a statutory officer earning a very high wage and being responsible for very important decisions, he was subject to far less scrutiny or accountability than the average fast-food worker.

This bill will prevent incidents like this happening again and for that reason I am eager to support it. But this is too little, too late. Attempts to call Mr Lawler himself to account have ultimately been unsuccessful. The parliament appointed a former judge to investigate him, and Mr Lawler resigned to avoid responding to that investigation. Today, even after his behaviour and corruption have been exposed, he faces no legal consequences. He’s not been fined or punished; he’s not even been required to give an explanation of his behaviour. The Australian people are sick and tired of this sort of blatant corruption. They are fed up with people in the upper echelons of our society taking them for a ride again and again. Normal people work hard for their money. It’s offensive and disgusting to see individuals getting rich at the expense of others.

Mr Lawler is one case but there are plenty of others. This kind of naked and corrupt self-interest is apparent everywhere amongst people who think themselves important, entitled and untouchable. We see it in the unions that take bribes to trade away their members’ wages, and we see it in the banks where directors award themselves massive fees and bonuses while facilitating criminal money laundering and foreclosing on customers who have never missed a payment. We see it in the public sector with multimillionaire posties, and with politicians taking joyrides in helicopters. One Nation will not stand for it. We owe nothing to big business, big unions or big parties. The only favours we have to repay are to the people who elected us, and to them I say we will not rest until we have cleaned out all of this corrupt dead wood. We will not be happy until those at the top in our society do an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, just like everyone else.

The Labor Party will put amendments before the Senate to this Fair Work Amendment (Repeal of 4 Yearly Reviews and Other Measures) Bill, and, despite the fact that this bill has nothing to do with penalty rates, I don’t think they should be supported either. The opposition bizarrely tried to amend this bill in the House of Representatives yesterday to undermine the independence of the Fair Work Commission on penalty rates. This was a stunt from a populist who has shown time and time again he will always obey union bosses but never listen to small business. It was a stunt from someone with a short memory. It was Mr Shorten who set the rules for the Fair Work Commission inquiry. He appointed the umpire and said he would respect the decision.

When Mr Shorten was a union leader he was happy to cut penalty rates. When he was workplace relations minister he was happy for big unions to do deals with big businesses to reduce Sunday rates. And now the Greens are trying that stunt in this place. Labor opposes tax relief for small business. Labor puts Greens ideology before affordable and reliable electricity for small businesses. Labor opposes reforms to protect small businesses from CFMEU thuggery on work sites. More recently the CFMEU in Newcastle ran attack ads attacking me for my support of the ABCC bill, running full-page advertisements in the Newcastle Herald over a week. There were prime-time television advertisements attacking me, and radio ads as well. That would have cost that union at least, in my estimation, $100,000—another waste of members’ money. It’s about time the CFMEU realised that bullying does not work, especially on me.