Ai Group - National Policy Influence Reform Conference

Speech
  • Minister for Small and Family Business, the Workplace and Deregulation
  • Member for Reid

Introduction

It is a pleasure to join you today at what has become one of the key workplace relations policy forums in our country.

I am both honoured and excited to be the Minister for Small and Family Business, the Workplace and Deregulation.

Many of you will know that I come from a family business background.

I spent 23 memorable years working in our family hotel business — starting out at the bottom when I was a teenager, collecting glasses and emptying ashtrays.

In the end, there was not a job in my father’s business that I could not do, or could not learn to do, other than cook!

It’s fair to say the business would have suffered if they’d let me loose in the kitchen.

And, you’ll be pleased to know, nothing has changed on that front. Even today, cooking is not one of my passions.

What I am passionate about is ensuring that the Government does its best to get the policy settings right so that businesses can grow — just like our family business did — and employ more people.

Irrespective of whether you work in a large business or a small one, you’d appreciate the importance of small and family businesses to our economy.

It’s where the jobs are generated and where a lot of innovation takes place.

What’s exciting about this portfolio is that it brings together responsibility for small and family business with regulation and workplace relations.

When you think about how businesses are affected by excessive regulation and red tape, in many instances it’s the small and family businesses that feel the most pain if the policy settings aren’t right.

Since taking up the role around four months ago, I’ve been able to get around the country and talk to small and family businesses to gain a better understanding of how the reforms this Government has been making are helping them.

I have also been meeting with larger businesses and their representatives, as well as employees and their representatives.

Trust me, I have received plenty of feedback on where we should be heading.

In the time we have together today, I’d like to elaborate on our reforms and address some of the very real concerns we should all be worriedabout should Bill Shorten win Government, with Sally McManus as Minister for Workplace Relations.

What we have achieved and where we are headed

I know that standing before an audience like this and discussing the Government’s progress in terms of reform will always result in an Oliver Twist response: “Please, Sir, I want some more.”

Well let me say this: “I hear you!"

This Government has made significant steps towards improving our system. That said, we know there is more to do.

Let me take you through some of the important workplace relations changes that we have achieved, along with some we are keen to progress.

Responding to the Trade Union Royal Commission

As promised in our 2016 election policy, we are committed to implementing the majority of the recommendations from the Trade Union Royal Commission into Union Governance and Corruption.

Already, 29 of the recommendations have been actioned and 13 more are set to be implemented by legislation currently before the Parliament.

After winning the support of the Australian people when we took this issue to a Double Dissolution election in 2016, we re-established the Australian Building and Construction Commission and put in place a tough and effective new Building Code that applies to builders and subcontractors who work on government-funded projects.

To that end, it was my pleasure in January this year to announce the appointment of Mr Stephen McBurney as Commissioner of the ABCC.

I understand that you will be hearing from Stephen next.

In addition to his outstanding legal career, Mr McBurney was one of the AFL’s most experienced and highly regarded umpires — one of four to reach the 400-game milestone.

I have no doubt he’s up to umpiring the building and construction industry.

Together, the return of the ABCC and Building Code is helping to give the construction industry an important boost, helping to grow the economy more broadly and create jobs; and enhancing Australia’s reputation as an attractive place to do business.

There is more than $743.8 billion in current and planned construction projects across Australia.

Abolishing the ABCC, as Labor has already promised to do if re-elected, will put future investment at risk.

The Coalition restored the ABCC to protect the almost 1.2 million construction workers and more than 367,000 small businesses who work in our building and construction industry from the bullying, thuggery and intimidation by CFMEU union bosses, which had become all too common on building sites.

The CFMEU has had more than $14.9 million in fines imposed on it for breaches of industrial laws in recent years.

Currently it has around 70 of its representatives before the courts, facing approximately 997 suspected contraventions.

Only last week, seven CFMEU union officials were fined $522,000 for co-ordinated conduct on multiple building sites in Queensland.

The union’s action was aimed at forcing a major contractor to only employ subcontractors who had entered into an enterprise agreement with the CFMEU or CFMEU-approved unions.

How is this behaviour supporting small business?

The bigger question is this: "Why do Bill Shorten and Sally McManus, continue to support this union and its behaviour?"

In fact, as revealed last week in The Australian, it is not just us that are worried about it. Shorten’s own frontbench are concerned about his 2013 deal with the CMFEU to secure his leadership and what he offered in return for the deal.

We had to go to a Double Dissolution election to clean up this mess and re-establish the ABCC. It is incredibly unfortunate, but it is clear the ABCC still has much more work to do.

Legislative changes

As the responsible Minister, I am determined to push ahead with reforms to do even more.

The Government remains 100 per cent committed to getting the Ensuring Integrity Bill through the Senate.

Now that the merger between the MUA and CFMEU is a grim reality, this Bill becomes more important than ever.

In particular, the Bill expands the grounds for disqualifying officials and cancelling registration, thereby increasing the prospects of a successful application going forward if officials continue to wilfully ignore the rule of law.

The Bill would also introduce more robust options to enable the Courts to better target offending parts of registered organisations or to disqualify certain officers.

The Government will also continue to pursue the Proper Use of Worker Benefits Bill, which also has passed the House and is currently in the Senate.

Of course Labor will do all it can to try and block any sort of reform, even if it’s just about cleaning up obscure procedural matters or cutting red tape.

A good example of this is a Bill currently before the House of Representatives, aiming to repeal an obligation in the Fair Work Act that says awards have to be reviewed every four years – I know that Stephen Smith of the Ai Group is particularly familiar with this one.

These reviews cost businesses and unions millions of dollars. No sooner do you finish one four-year review, you have to turn around and start all over again. It’s a bit like painting the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Even the ACTU says the review is a waste of time and money and, indeed, supports change.

Nevertheless, the Labor Party will not budge.

But the Turnbull Government will continue to fight for it.

As I mentioned, I am currently meeting with key industry stakeholders, including the ACTU about what reform is achievable in the current political landscape.

This Government will continue to proactively pursue workplace relations reform where it makes sense.

Security of Payments

Another issue I am determined to tackle is ensuring small businesses and contractors get paid on time.

Subcontractors in our building and construction industry are, on average, paid 26 days late for work they’ve completed.

This is completely unacceptable.

How does this compare with other countries?

UAE subbies get paid, on average,14 days late. In the UK, 5.8 days late.

And Japanese subbies are paid, on average, 6.5 days before the payment is due.

As Chair of the Building Minister’s Forum, last Friday I invited along John Murray AM, who was commissioned by the Government to undertake a national review of Security of Payment Laws, to brief state and territory Ministers on this important issue.

I am incredibly pleased that the BMF agreed to coordinate a response to the report when it is released by the Government next month.

People should be paid on time for work they do — it’s as simple as that.

This work will build on the range of measures we have already implemented to support small business, including a requirement for Government to pay invoices for contracts worth up to $1 million within 20 days.

The flow-on effect of waiting to be paid by those up the food chain can lead to job losses and insolvencies, not to mention the stress and anxiety this places on families and individuals.

Good and hardworking people who take a chance and run small businesses in this country should not be squeezed out of the game because of their size.

Supporting small business

I am also keen to make life easier for small and family businesses to navigate our complex industrial relations system.

We must make the system less daunting for small and family businesses, and we’ll keep talking to stakeholders in the months ahead to find the best and most sensible way forward.

Supporting workers

Ladies and gentlemen, when it comes to supporting workers, I cannot be any more clear on my position than this: there is absolutely no excuse for businesses to not pay workers their full entitlements.

The Vulnerable Workers Act we’ve passed protects workers from exploitation by unscrupulous employers and increases penalties by ten times the amount originally contained in Labor’s Fair Work Act.

I will also continue to consult with stakeholders on what further sensible reforms we can make to support employees, particularly in respect to ensuring they understand their rights and entitlements.

Our efforts to make a better, more efficient and fairer system for everyone is in stark contrast to Labor’s approach.

I will not be dictated to by the Labor Party on how to support workers. They are a party full of people who have never employed a person in their life.

Labor are so desperate to start a class war that pits bosses and staff against each other — the reality is at the coalface — employers have long understood that their staff are their most valuable asset, especially in small and family businesses.

Labor and the unions want you to believe that, if you’re an employer, the first thing on your mind as you wake up each morning is how you rip off your employees.

You and I know this is just blatantly wrong.

In fact, staff become a “quasi” part of the family.

I’ve lost count of the number of staff weddings, christenings, birthdays and funerals I was honoured to attend in my 23 years in the family business – every one of them was special.

And while Labor claims to represent workers, in reality they are only interested in protecting the union movement, which it relies upon for funding and as a place to propagate its future parliamentary representatives.

A Labor-ACTU workplace agenda

If you’ve seen the ACTU’s latest membership recruitment advertisement on TV, you’ll have some idea of the dark future our country faces if Bill Shorten and Shadow Minister for Workplace Relations, Sally McManus, get their way.

These ads paint a vision of the workplace riddled with conflict and filled with hatred.

A world where employers and workers are perpetually at loggerheads.

This pessimistic view of our workplaces put forward by Labor and the union movement fundamentally disempowers the very people they once represented.

It in no way reflects the aspirations and hopes of hardworking Australians.

It sells them short. It says you can’t achieve your goals — only the union movement can do it for you.

It’s a sad reflection of what unions have become.

A century ago, when there were very few legislated worker protections in place, unions really did play a proud and valuable role in protecting people, which is why the majority of workers were union members.

Fast forward to today. There are comprehensive protections in place and strong, effective workplace agencies there to support workers.

People have voted with their feet and union membership is at an all- time low, falling to around 10 per cent in the private sector.

The Coalition has long occupied the sensible middle ground on workplace relations, and we will continue to do so.

In contrast, the more irrelevant unions become, the more desperate they become.

And, so, their policy positions – all of which have been adopted by Labor – continue to move further and further to the extreme left.

Only last Friday, Sally McManus came out and said she wants to completely redesign the Fair Work Commission.

Frankly, I can’t keep up with the almost daily changes to her workplace policies. Which is it, Sally? Give them more power or overrule every decision they make?

But, as of last Friday, she wants it to be the umpire and the enforcer of workplace laws.

Any move to force the independent umpire to start acting as some sort of workplace law enforcer, as the ACTU advocates, would be in breach of Constitutional safeguards governing separation of powers.

Sally McManus previously advocated breaking laws that are not to the unions’ liking. Now the ACTU thinks it can simply trash our Constitution in its never-ending quest for greater power.

We already have a strong compliance agency in the Fair Work Ombudsman. The union movement wants to see an end to the Ombudsman for the simple reason that it is doing a better job at looking after workers.

Make no mistake, what we are seeing today is just a taste of what’s to come should Bill Shorten be given the chance to pursue his dangerous workplace policies on every front.

The effects would be devastating for your business and for your employees.

They like to pretend their agenda is all about protecting workers, when in fact they are about protecting unions and inefficient practices that will send our economy backwards.

Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal

A good example of this is Bill Shorten’s promise to give in to the Transport Workers’ Union demands to re-establish the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal if they win Government.

It has the word “safety” there, so you’d think it must be about protecting workers.

But if you did think that, you’d be wrong.

The Orders this Tribunal made when it existed had the effect of pushing tens of thousands of owner-drivers – many small family businesses — to the brink of collapse by rendering them uncompetitive with big trucking companies.

All because of a deal between the TWU and Labor to increase union membership.

Labor refuses to listen to the thousands of owner-drivers that were devastated by the impact of this Tribunal. We did listen.

An operator of a small family business in NSW said that when the Tribunal’s payments order commenced, his one-truck business became ‘virtually unemployable.’ He said:

I sat in Sydney for two nights and then returned empty. I don’t own the truck (few people actually own their trucks) and some of us mortgaged our homes to pay for our trucks…We couldn’t make any payments (during the time the Order was in place)’.

The manager of a small transport business in Western Australia told of how the order had forced his company into liquidation:

‘We had to let our drivers go... My son has been in trucking all his adult life. He knows no other life.

He has a wife and child, mortgage and personal debt. He now has no work and is in a state of turmoil.

It has been a very stressful time for all of us. I get to sleep only to wake at 1 or 2 in the morning with chest pain and palpitations and general feelings of anxiety… our life has been torn apart and destroyed’.

Unfortunately, the list goes on – the examples keep stacking up of Labor and the unions choosing self-interest over the interests of workers and small business owners who, at the end of the day, are workers too.

Industry-wide bargaining

Likewise, Labor’s support for industry-wide bargaining guarantees a return to the dark days of rolling stoppages that would paralyse entire industries and put jobs and living standards at risk.

It would lock up our ports, our mines and our factories.

It would cripple our hospitals, our schools and our essential services — putting lives in peril and undermining our children’s education.

It will turn back the clock to the 1970s when industrial action was more than 40 times higher than it is today.

That means industrial disputation could potentially rise to 4,000 per cent of today’s level if the ACTU and Labor’s plan becomes a reality.

Minimum wage

As well as promising an explosion in industrial disruption, the ACTU keeps trotting out a discredited plan for a massive increase in the minimum wage.

There is absolutely no doubt that this will become Labor Party policy, as has everything else the union movement has proposed in recent months.

The ironically named ‘living wage’ will mean just the reverse. That is, no wage at all for many.

It will drive hundreds of thousands of small and family businesses to the wall, and the employees who work for them will no longer have a job.

Right of Entry

Already the ACTU is boasting it’s recruiting an ‘army of organisers’.

You can be sure Labor will equip that army to trample over your business.

They will radically expand the rights of union officials to invade your workplace.

They plan to tie you up, in having to deal with endless incursions into your business.

Some union officials, most notably some in the CFMEU – I know you are surprised at that — are already systematically abusing Right of Entry.

Just the other week, the ABCC was successful in obtaining an injunction against the CFMEU in relation to seven of its officials.

The Federal Court ordered the CFMEU to show their right of entry permits after they allegedly sought to disrupt the $900 million Bruce Highway Upgrade by repeatedly turning up to site and refusing to show their permits

Instead, the officials argued under the guise of work health and safety inspections they didn’t need to, forcing the site manager to have them arrested for trespassing on numerous occasions. (This matter is still before the courts.)

Don’t underestimate Labor and the ACTU’s intentions. They are planning a full frontal attack on management prerogative — on your capacity to run your business.

Conclusion

The outcome of the next federal election, especially in terms of industrial relations, is possibly the most important in our recent history.

Australia faces a very stark choice.

Either we continue the forward-looking agenda taken by the Turnbull Government:

  • A future in which we support business to grow and create jobs.
  • A future where employees and employers work cooperatively together.
  • Where innovation is encouraged.
  • Where our exports grow and we are internationally competitive.
  • Where we remain a country where individuals can have the confidence to start up a business or re-invest in one they’ve already built.

Or, there’s the alternative: promised by Labor and the ACTU.

  • It’s backwards-looking. It wants to go back to the days of centralised wage fixing, rolling strikes and disruption.
  • It has no respect for the law. If the law gets in the way they simply ignore it – breaking the law has become the ‘cost of doing business’ for many in the union movement.
  • This is a bleak future where businesses will fail, our economy will go backwards and unemployment is rife.

Our opponents come from a background of union organising, and to give them their dues, they are very good at it.

They have perfected the art of organising as a political tool.

They are smart operators and we have let them take over the industrial relations field unchallenged.

Enough is enough.

This is a call to action from me to every one of you.

Whether you come from a large business or a small one, it does not matter - the potential outcome here is the same.

You need to organise the way the unions do.

You need to leverage the level of trust, support and friendship that exists with your employees to help them understand this: the two very different potential futures they face.

Either a more secure, positive future or one where their jobs are at risk - one where the jobs of their family and friends are at risk.

I urge you to get out there and spread the message.

Make the time to talk to your employees, talk to your family, talk to whomever you can.

Australians really need to understand the very different future they may face should they go back to Labor.

It’s a scary prospect. It’s a bleak future. As a country, we cannot afford to go there.

For more information

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