Despite having much to address as a Government, the Coalition is unwaveringly focused on enacting its Ensuring Integrity Bill, writes William Olson.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL Christian Porter is committed to bringing back and welcoming the passage of the Ensuring Integrity Bill (EI Bill)– the divisive piece of anti-union legislation that keeps coming back into the halls of Federal Parliament in the same way a very spicy meal promotes acid reflux.
And with pretty much similar feelings of uneasiness, on both sides.
Undeterred from the defeat of the EI Bill late last year, Porter – who doubles as the Industrial Relations Minister within the Morrison Government – seeks passage of the Government’s pet project by courting those senators whose eleventh-hour about-faces led to its defeat last November.
While the union movement – whose actions and rights to operate still sits squarely in the crosshairs of Morrison’s and Porter’s sights – would argue that a watered-down version of the EI Bill introduced in the Senate no more than a week after its defeat is still worse than the status quo, Porter has stated his plans to seek the input of the likes of Jacqui Lambie and Pauline Hanson to gain compromises. He also hopes to maintain Rex Patrick’s support and influence for the measure.
And with the Government’s determination to push the revised Bill through the Senate quite evident, the agenda behind it remains the same: go after the Construction, Forestry, Mining, Maritime and Energy Unions (CFMMEU) and John Setka – its controversial secretarial leader in its Victorian and Tasmanian chapters.
In December of 2019, Porter told Perth radio station 6PR:
“This is a problem that's not going away. And so the Bill’s not going to go away, but particularly in the construction sector, the CFMMEU behave deplorably they break laws to, you know, the scale of three to four a week.”
Porter went on to clarify the Morrison Government’s position on the revised Bill late last month to the same radio station, in his home state.
Porter told 6PR’s Gareth Parker:
“It's a very important legislation, the lawlessness on Australian construction sites is out of control and the CFMMEU just seem to take massive fines as the cost of doing business – that’s the cost of their business model. So this is very important legislation.”
So in essence, Porter alleges that the CFMMEU – from a monetary and budgetary perspective – factors workplace fines on its construction sites into its business model the same way businesses, and hospitality businesses in particular, have proven to factor wage theft into their individual business models.
The strategy of businesses in hospitality is to make the wage shortfall payments to their own staff knowing that the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) punishments equate to nothing more than a virtual slap on the wrist.
Not only has Porter cited that the fines to wage theft offenders are grossly inadequate and inappropriate, but the FWO has also resigned itself to admit that they are powerless to issue stiffer penalties.
And yet, while no schematic formulas for punishing those guilty of wage theft exist, amid promises from Porter’s office to have accomplished that by the time of the next Federal Budget in May, it is that very same office that remains determined to undermine the union movement in Australia, and how it operates, thereby hurting the working class in the process.
A lot has happened since that late November afternoon in the Senate last year when the Ensuring Integrity Bill was defeated against the odds – or, as some within the union movement and the Labor Party would contend, as the beneficial product of hard work and righteous campaigning to consign it to the scrap heap.
Quite simply, the 2019-20 Australian summer has been marked by one scandal after another:
- Governmental actions, inactions and bureaucracies surrounding the bushfires crisis and epidemic;
- Rorting and pork-barrelling associated with the selective grants to community sporting clubs within marginal electorates ahead of last May’s federal election;
- Conspiracies to undermine political opponents at state and federal levels alike;
- Attempted – and failed – spills within parties in the halls of Government;
- Continued economic mismanagement and the failure so far to bring about a resolution to the wage theft scandals via legislation – especially where another big-name celebrity chef’s high-profile establishment is concerned; and
- Allowing the Department of Human Services and Centrelink to proceed with the controversial Robodebt scheme, even though government officials knew it was illegal.
These examples name but a few episodes that scratch the surface, each of these all suggesting breaches in ethics as well as shortfalls in achievements.
Amid all of these, and referencing the sporting club rorts specifically, Lambie herself has given some very pointed advice for a Government seeking her vote on the EI Bill.
She said with her trademark sardonic shoot-from-the-hip style:
“I’d hope to think we’re close but … after what’s happened with the sports fiasco over the last few weeks, you’d like to think they’d put a bit of integrity on themselves.”
With a well-placed play on words over the word “integrity”, Lambie may or may not have been referencing the need for a Federal Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) – as opposed to the current National Integrity Commission – in the manner or volume that the public has been for months on end now, but at the very least she is alluding to her peers and colleagues needing to hold themselves to higher standards.
And with these scandals, crimes and misbehaviours now occurring in multiple fashions on a weekly basis, perhaps establishing and adhering to an internal code of ethics should be of greater priority than punishing unions and working people through rehashing tired legislation.
Support independent journalism Subscribe to IA.