Local Union Heroes

Full transcript below:

I rise to speak on the disgraceful motion put forward by the member for Fisher, who I note is absent from the chamber. This motion is like an old vinyl record with a scratch in it. The Turnbull-Abbott government goes around and around and around on continuous repeat but says nothing. It's the song those opposite keep singing when the band stopped playing long ago. It's another feature of the government's ideological obsession with unions. I could talk about how unions have improved the working conditions of Australians for more than 100 years. I could tell you how unions are the reason that Australian workers have an eight-hour day, annual lave, sick pay, workers compensation and health and safety standards, which mean there's a good chance that employees will go home and see their family. I could talk about how cost-cutting by building companies keeps putting Australian workers, and those who use the buildings they sweat to make, at risk. Companies trying to bolster their bottom line are importing cheap building products that contain asbestos, putting at risk not only the workers but the eventual inhabitants of the homes and offices that they're building. Where there is illegality, it must be called out and punished, whether it is the behaviour of the employers, the unions or the employees.

I note that employers haven't got a mention in any of the speeches preceding mine. I say that individuals are responsible for their own behaviour. When individuals behave badly or even illegally, we must be careful not to visit their transgressions on the wider organisation that they are purported to represent. If we did that, it would be difficult not to tarnish all company directors or businesspeople with the behaviour of Christopher Skase or Alan Bond, or all movie producers with the behaviour of Harvey Weinstein, or all Queensland Liberal National Party politicians with the behaviour of the convicted criminal Scott Driscoll, an LNP MP who sits in a Queensland jail cell right now. All organisations, like all sectors of industry, have some rogue individuals who will besmirch the reputations of many good, hardworking people in organisations that make great contributions to our community.

Unions are crucial. Unions are made up of many hardworking, diligent and conscientious people whose sole objective is to make the working life of Australians better. But those opposite don't want to talk about these good people—that vast majority. They don't want people to know about the good work being done by unions, day after day. So I'm going to tell you about some of these people—people like Ros McLennan, the head of the Queensland Council of Unions, who spent 23 years empowering Australian workers. Ros has a particular knowledge and appreciation of the role of unions in regional Queensland. In 1998, she worked up in Townsville, and she spent 10 years as an assistant secretary of the Queensland and Northern Territory branch of the Independent Education Union. In 2014, Ros was elected to the Queensland Council of Unions as assistant general secretary, and in 2015 she was elected general secretary. Ros is a hardworking mother of two, married to Brad, and one of my constituents, and was also my campaign director.

Andrew Ramsay, a CFMEU workplace officer, is often called to building sites in Brisbane to inspect for breaches of workplace safety, including asbestos being on site. He's also chairman of the board of the Asbestos Disease Support Society. Crucially, he understands the harmful effects of asbestos and is particularly concerned that asbestos is still being found on building sites in Australia today. It was through the diligent work of Andrew and his team that asbestos was discovered on the Executive Building building site in Brisbane. The site was immediately shut down to protect workers from this insidious substance. Andrew helped me to get elected a decade ago, as part of the Your Rights at Work campaign, and he is a great advocate for the union movement. Craig Wood has previously worked for the Queensland Teachers' Union as a research officer, and is now a hardworking teacher and union activist. He is a very committed teacher. Craig is passionate about education and drama, but particularly about education. He has taught children from prep right through to university. He understands the demanding role of teachers, and that they require a strong union to support them. Craig is also one of my constituents, and has worked tirelessly to ensure that the south side of Brisbane has progressive representatives.

These are just three people. I could give you hundreds and thousands more of these unsung heroes in the union movement that I've met over the years, people who are just going about their jobs, standing up for Australian workers and their colleagues every day, and standing up for Australian workers who aren't members of their union but who get the benefits of union membership. Ros, Andrew and Craig don't deserve the constant attacks being levelled at them and their unions by the Turnbull government, a government that is devoid of vision and devoid of purpose. I do not support this motion from the member for Fisher at all.

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