Tuesday 8 August 2017
Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (13:54): This bill is based on a lie. It's a scam from a government that couldn't lie straight in bed. The Turnbull government peddles the lie that corruption only happens in the industrial setting. Obviously, that raises many questions. Why would they go with such a scam? Why? Because they have certain interests to uphold—the interests of their constituency, and their constituency is corporate Australia. What does corporate Australia want? What do they have to do, according to the law? Work out how to increase their profits. What is one of the easiest ways to increase your profits? Go after unions—and that is what this bill effectively does.
Again, if you were serious about fighting corruption then you would go for it across the board. You would come in here with a bill that would deal with corruption wherever it rears its ugly head, whether it be in the industrial sphere—as this government has suddenly discovered—in the corporate board rooms, in the public sector, or in this parliament. Do we really think that there is no corruption at the federal level? We have heard that time and time again from the government. The government is showing us how biased it is. It is not taking on corruption wherever it appears, which is clearly the responsibility of any federal government, but is using corruption as a cover to continue its agenda to weaken the union movement. It is doing this even to the point where it will make it difficult for employers. You will find, when you dig into this bill, that, because of how broadly this bill has been drafted, it will become very difficult for employers and employees to engage in what are often normal practices.
What the government should do—because it really is so blind to where corruption appears—is apply the famous pub test it often trots out when it is hard-up for an argument. It should go and ask the regular punters what they think about corruption and where they think corruption is. I think even it would know, in its heart, that the answer it will get back is: politicians, corporate board rooms and, maybe, the public sector. That is what the regular punter would say if you went and asked: what do you think about corruption? But, looking at this bill, the government must be thinking, 'We can probably get away with it; we'll just go hard on the union movement again.'
What we've got here is a pathetic bill that would have been an embarrassment to draft. If passed, this is what would happen: it will only be the industrial sphere that will be targeted. Corrupt activities elsewhere have been ignored. The message coming from the government to areas other than the industrial sphere is: 'No worries. You can get away with it. There is no corruption in the federal parliament, or the corporate board rooms, or government agencies. No legislation is needed. You'll be right; you'll be able to get away with it.' That is effectively the message that's coming from this government when it brings in a bill like this. It is a bill that should be withdrawn.
Senator McKenzie: Oh, come on!
Senator RHIANNON: I'm happy to take that interjection. Again, it was a National Party MP defending a pretty dodgy bill. The bill was brought forward by the Liberal Party, but the Liberals and Nationals are in cahoots together—and they're not helping the country out at all.
What the government should do is come in here and, with some courage, admit that it's been outed and that it's been wrong, show it's committed to fighting corruption and bring in a national corruption watchdog. Every state has one, and they do a good job. There are MPs—and a lot of Liberal MPs, by the way—falling over like ninepins in state parliaments, particularly New South Wales and Victoria, because there are corruption watchdogs that can look at and check these things. But what do we get at a federal level? We get: 'Oh, no, we don't have a problem.' We've heard MPs in this parliament say that we don't need a federal corruption watchdog because we don't have corruption at this level. That's not what should be happening now. That's the bill we should be debating, if this government was sincere, rather than covering the backs of the government's mates and not doing the real job that needs to be done.
What you also see with this bill is that the government doesn't care about fighting corruption, because it is only targeting people with a blue collar. Let's be frank: that's what's going on here. If you're a traditional blue-collar worker, look out! The government's after you, in one way or another. It's after you; it's after your union. But, when it comes to fighting corruption across the board, if you're a white-collar worker, hanging out in corporate boardrooms, everything's okay. If you're in the upper echelons of society, nobody's going to go after you while this government is in power. How long will it keep turning its back on what is so clearly needed?
What is clearly needed is a national anti-corruption watchdog. It should have been introduced long before now. We've had them for such a long time, and done some important work in our state governments, exposing the depth of the problem. It's also worth putting on the record that the Liberal-Nationals around the country are getting a real name for themselves of working together to water down anticorruption measures. In New South Wales, where 10 or 11 Liberal MPs have fallen over because they were caught out by the investigations of the anticorruption watchdog, what does the Liberal government do? The Liberal-National government in NSW turns up and weakens the law.
The PRESIDENT: Order! It being 2 pm, we move to questions without notice.