6 December, 2019
On the 5th of December 2019, on the last sitting day of 2019, the Fair Work Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2019, also known as the ‘Union Busting Bill’, was controversially rushed through the House of Reps.
The bill was being reintroduced after a number of amendments were agreed to in the Senate.
There has been a lot of scare tactics and misleading statements from both major parties in respect to unions, this bill and its effects. Unions play an essential part in protecting the rights of workers, especially in nursing and education.
This bill enables actions to be taken only when there has been repeated unlawful behaviour by union officials and disregard to that behaviour by an organisation. This bill conveys powers of last resort. Any move to use these powers against an organisation or individual will have to be considered by the Court and found to be just.
I agree with the broad principles of the bill, to hold to account union organisations and individuals that are repeatedly being found by Courts to have breached the law. I welcomed the Senate amendments negotiated by the Greens, Centre Alliance and One Nation and note that all Parties had the opportunity to debate the amendments in the Senate.
I am satisfied that the amendments passed in the Senate establish a fair and adequate process to judge possible contraventions. In particular, the Green’s amendment which requires the Bill be reviewed in two years after commencement.
I received and considered representations both for and against the bill from community members and organisations within Warringah. I understood the concerns and the potential effect to the nurses and teachers but was ultimately satisfied it would not affect their right to representation through a union.
I was extremely concerned with the way in which the Government went about pushing the Bill through the lower house though.
It is democratic and good governance to debate proposed legislation in both Houses and yet the Government used its numbers to force the Amended Bill to a vote in the House of Reps without any further opportunity for debate by Labor. No one from the cross bench sought leave to speak on the legislation so I do not know if they would have been gagged as Labor was. I voted against the Government on all gag motions.
I had to weigh up the bill on its own merits against my concerns as to the process. Whilst I didn’t agree with the process, on balance, I ultimately supported the bill.
Whilst it is not possible to please everyone with every vote, I believe in consultative representation, accountability and transparency. Accordingly, as an independent, my process of consideration of legislation includes:
- Drafting or technical aspects of proposed legislation - Asking is it good at law and does it represent good governance? Is it constitutionally sound?
- Intended effects and the evidence in support of legislation - Asking what does this seek to do? Is the evidence base rigorous? Is this legislation necessary?
- Effect on Warringah – How will the legislation affect Warringah and Australia? Is this good for the future of the community?
- Community views and feedback – What views and submissions from individuals and groups/organisations have been received? What are the experts in the area saying? What does relevant business think? What is the legal profession’s position?
- Ethics of the bill – Is it ethical? Is it compatible with human rights? And finally;
- Process – Has there been consultation? Drafts circulated? Briefings? Has the bill had proper time for debate? Has it been properly scrutinised? What are the politics behind the bill?