Page 4553 - Week 14 - Wednesday, 23 November 2005
17,000 workers about what we believe is fair and right. With that, I urge you all to support this motion.
DR FOSKEY (Molonglo) (5.40): The ACT Greens will support Mr Gentleman’s motion. In responding to it, I am going to call upon the work of my federal colleague Greens senator Kerry Nettle. On 22 June 2005, Senator Nettle moved a motion of disallowance against the federal government’s guidelines in relation to the exercise of compliance powers in the building and construction industry, made under section 88AGA of the Workplace Relations Act 1996. These guidelines were the regulations relating to the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act, which came into effect around 9 March, I believe, when the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Bill was first tabled.
It is interesting to note that these regulations put the bill into effect even though the legislation was not passed until September. Senator Nettle moved her motion of disallowance in conjunction with ALP senator Gavin Marshall. The regulations were an attempt to remove hard-won rights and liberties for building and construction workers. Their right to silence, their freedom of speech, their right to privacy, their right to strike and their right to be treated as innocent until proven guilty were all undermined or removed by these regulations and the practices of the building industry task force.
The New South Wales Council of Civil Liberties president, Cameron Murphy, said of the regulations:
… new coercive powers have no parallel in democratic societies. Construction workers have been deprived of fundamental civil liberties which we all take for granted.
Why was the federal government singling out one particular group of workers? Because the federal government wanted to begin its industrial relations attack by striking the strongest union first. So it attacked a union with a history of showing solidarity with other workers and groups of workers who, through their solidarity, have ensured that support for progressive trade unionism in their workplace is strong. Just like the government’s attack on waterfront workers in the Maritime Union of Australia, these regulations are an attempt to break the back of a trade union that plays a crucial role in defending all workers’ conditions in the struggle for basic rights.
These regulations that Senator Nettle sought to dismiss increased the coercive powers of the Howard government’s industrial police force, the building industry task force—a task force that ruthlessly pursues the government’s agenda of destroying building unions across the country. These regulations enable the building industry task force to force any construction worker to answer questions. Refusal to answer questions, that is, the removal of the right to silence, for example, about what was said at a stop-work meeting, can result in a worker receiving fines of up to $3,300 for a first offence, double for a second offence or imprisonment for up to six months.
For hundreds of years the right to silence has been the bedrock of civil rights. It is recognised in the Magna Carta, which can be viewed in its original form across from the Senate chamber in the Members Hall. That is not to say that the coalition reads it very