Mackay Press Conference (1)

October 14, 2020



SUBJECT/S: Casualisation in mining industry; Morrison Government backing mining companies over workers; High Court appeal re ‘permanent casuals’ rort; Scott Morrison playing politics with Queensland’s borders; Pauline Hanson missing from Queensland election campaign; George Christensen on hydroxychloroquine 

MURRAY WATT, QUEENSLAND LABOR SENATOR: Thanks everyone for coming along. Today is the second day of our campaign to highlight the explosion of casualisation and labour hire in the mining industry across Central Queensland.

The reason we're doing this outside George Christensen's office, and we were outside Michelle Landry's office yesterday in Rockhampton, is that people like George Christensen, Michelle Landry, Matt Canavan, all of the LNP, they love to get out there and tell us how much they love coal. But what they really love is coal mining companies and coal mining bosses. They don't like coal mining workers. And if they did, they would actually fix this casualisation rort that has been going on under their own noses.
This Government has been in power for seven years, and over that seven years, we have seen a complete explosion of casualisation and labour hire in the mining industry here in Central Queensland. And these guys have done nothing about it. They've known it's been going on. They've had every opportunity to fix it.

They don't support coal mining workers like the people who are here with me today. This has real consequences for individuals, their families and local economies. I've met many casual and labour hire coal miners across Central Queensland - in Moranbah, in Middlemount, in Tieri,  here in Mackay, in Rocky and other places as well - who get paid less than a permanent worker, even after they get their casual loading. And of course, they miss out on the benefits of job security, leave, all the other benefits of permanent employment as well.

This Government has had every opportunity to fix this. They haven't done so. And now they're actually joining with the labour hire companies in a High Court appeal to entrench "permanent casuals" in the mining industry. Right now, the Government has decided to intervene in a High Court case to back the labour hire companies and the big mining companies who want to hang onto this "permanent casual" rort. That's how much these people like coal miners. They want to dance around, they want to put on their nicely-ironed high-vis shirts and get out there and pretend to care about coal mining. But they always, always line up with the coal mining companies and the labour hire firms. They're never with the actual coal miners - the people who dig the mines and get the coal out of the ground, that's the people who they should be supporting. And that's the people who Federal Labor is supporting.

JOURNALIST: In terms of, I suppose, the impact of this, Murray, it stems further than just the initial pay. The people may not be able to get mortgages because they can't prove that they've got permanent income. It could really destroy families.

WATT: Absolutely. Again, I've met many, many labour hire casual workers across Central  Queensland who can't get a home loan, can't get a car loan because they're casual employees. I've met a bloke who couldn't get a day's sick leave, even though he was incredibly crook and had to turn up to work. He would have lost his job. I met another bloke who couldn't get a day off to take his own kid to the hospital. These are the consequences of people not having those leave benefits of permanent work. And it's not that they're not working as permanents. These are people who are working the same shift, the same roster, week after week, year after year. If you actually just take a look at their work, they're permanent employees, but they're engaged as casuals so that the boss doesn't have to pay them the right rate, doesn't have to give them the leave benefits, doesn't have to give them the job security and can give them the flick whenever they want.

JOURNALIST: In terms of, I suppose, the policy itself Murray, George Christensen claims that it would ruin kind of local businesses. Are you concerned that introducing a bill like this could have a bigger effect, than just on the mining industry?

WATT: I don't accept that argument. I mean, there have been bosses and mining companies and labour hire companies who have been taking advantage of this system for a long time, who've been underpaying their workers and now they're being held to account. All that's happened here is a union and its members have taken companies to court and the courts have found that these companies have been underpaying people.

If you're getting underpaid at any other business around town, you've got a right to go to court and your employer has to pay up, and that's what's being asked for here. This is only something about the coal mining industry. It doesn't affect other types of industries. The thing that's different about the coal mining industry is that people do get engaged on the same rosters week after week, month after month. It's different if you're working at Macca's or at a local retail shop where your hours do change from week to week. That's not what happens in mining. And that's why these people should be classed as permanents.

JOURNALIST: There are a lot of legal experts who would say that this case before the High Court does have a chance to set precedents around casuals and the entitlements to them though, that could extend far beyond the mining industry?

WATT: Well, certainly that's what some of the big employer groups are saying, they've come up with some multi-billion dollar figure about what this will cost. But what they are ignoring is that this case is about the practices in the mining industry, which is where people get the same rosters year after year. You can't tell me that if you're working the same hours, week after week, month after month, year after year, that you're not a permanent employee.

JOURNALIST: In any industry though?

WATT: I just don't think that you're going to find that situation in other industries. I worked in hospitality and retail as a casual and my hours were changed from week to week. That's the nature of casual employment. No one is saying that casual employment goes altogether. What we are saying is that casual employment should be restricted to casuals. It shouldn't be used as a way to rip off people who are actually permanent employees.

JOURNALIST: Just on the back of this High Court challenge and the bill that was passed, because I know that George Christensen often points to in the previous term of Parliament there was an opportunity to guarantee these workers' rights and Labor didn't support it?

WATT: So what actually happened is that because of the pressure the union, the Labor Party and others were putting on the Government about this issue in the run up to the last federal election, in the dying days of the last term the Government rushed in a piece of legislation that they said was going to fix this problem. But it absolutely wasn't. The legislation that the Government introduced did nothing to stop employers classing people as casuals, even if they were permanents. And all it did was give someone who had been employed as a casual the right to ask to become permanent. The boss could still say no, you had no right of appeal from that decision. And it didn't do anything to stop a boss incorrectly classing you as a casual in the first place. That's the real problem, is that bosses are incorrectly classing people as casuals when they're actually permanents.

The other thing about that legislation is that if George Christensen thought it was so good, why hasn't he bothered to reintroduce it since the election? They introduced this in the dying days before the last election because they were scared of losing. And then they haven't lifted a finger to get it moving again since the election. They're not serious about this. They've let it go on for seven years and they're still letting it go on. And it's people like this who are suffering.

JOURNALIST: Are you more likely to find George Christensen in Manila than at a mine site?

WATT:  I'm not going to comment on any of that sort of stuff. I'm just focussed on George letting down people in Mackay and letting down people in this region. He and the LNP always say they're for coal mining, but they're actually for the coal bosses, not the miners themselves.

Just while I'm here, before I hand over to Julieanne, would you mind if I just make a couple of quick observations election-wise, because of state election, obviously?

At the moment, we've got Scott Morrison doing a tour of Queensland, don't know if he's going to come to Mackay or not but he's been in Rockhampton overnight. If he does come to Mackay, I think it's important that he explains to people why he has been coordinating a campaign to open Queensland's borders with Deb Frecklington. I understand Deb Frecklington is going to be in town today, and I think it's legitimate for us to ask her as well. Why has she been coordinating a campaign to open Queensland's borders with the Prime Minister? There was an article in one of the papers this week that revealed that at Deb Frecklington's own business forum only a couple of months ago, she admitted that her “Open the Borders” campaign was being coordinated with the Prime Minister of Australia. Now, you and I both know that most Queenslanders are pretty happy with the approach the Queensland Government has taken to keep us safe, to keep our borders closed. What we only learnt this week is that Deb Frecklington and Scott Morrison have been coordinating a campaign to open those borders. I think it's incredibly disappointing that the Prime Minister of our country has been playing politics with Queensland's borders and now he's in Queensland playing politics, trying to help elect Deb Frecklington so that she'll just go along with everything he says.

The other person, though, who's been pretty absent on the political scene here in Queensland is Pauline Hanson. She was making a lot of noise, and I see she's got a handful of volunteers over there today on the corner, but we haven't seen much of Pauline Hanson herself. For someone who was going to win all sorts of seats, hold the balance of power, where is Pauline Hanson? Doesn't she actually care about Central Queensland and towns like Mackay? She should be out here. She should be standing up for mine workers. They're the ones that she says she supports. Again, she's always missing in action when anything needs to be done.

JOURNALIST: That's the candidate for Mackay amongst the volunteers there.

WATT: Well, she's left the candidate stranded on their own. If she's actually serious about Mackay, she should be here in person herself.

JOURNALIST: Just to this issue of the border, Deb Frecklington would push back, that a lot of the push, coordinated or otherwise, with the Federal Government, was made before a second outbreak in Victoria which really changed the goal posts. They would say since then they've altered their position.

WATT: Well Deb Frecklington can try and say whatever she wants to get away from the fact that she called for Queensland's borders to be open 64 times. Sixty-four times she demanded and harangued and harassed the Premier-

JOURNALIST: -how many times has she done since the second outbreak?

WATT: I haven't been keeping count because once you get to 64, that's a pretty big number. It's all on video. It's all on audio. Sixty-four times Deb Frecklington called for our borders to be opened. Just imagine if we'd done that. Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister, was repeatedly calling for our borders to be open. Just imagine if Annastacia Palaszczuk had backed down? Thank God she stood her ground against Scott Morrison, Deb Frecklington and everyone else who was calling her to open the borders. That's what's kept us safe. That's what allowed our economy here in Mackay and across Queensland to keep ticking over.

JOURNALIST: I'm genuinely curious about this. Every chief health officer in every state, the federal deputy chief health officer and epidemiologist all seem to have a completely different views of what is an advisable time to have a border open, particularly New South Wales, because that's the main one that I guess people are talking about a lot and that seems like a realistic chance of opening at some point. Dr Norman Swan, perhaps the most respected health communicator in Australia, says that it is almost impossible for this 28-day limit that the Government has set, which conveniently ends the day after the election, is one that would be so hard for any jurisdiction to meet during the pandemic. Are they also playing politics on the border?

WATT: Well, all I can say is that the Queensland chief health officer has been proven right with the advice that she's given to the Queensland Government. Annastacia Palaszczuk has listened to that health advice and the results are there to see. Queenslanders have been kept largely free of COVID. We've been able to open up our economy much more quickly than other states. So to be honest, I'm not that interested in what the advice that other states are providing is. I'm interested in what's happening here in Queensland. And the Queensland Health chief health officer has done a fantastic job, as has Annastacia Palaszczuk.

JOURNALIST: Just finally on COVID, the man whose posters you're standing in front of (George Christensen) released and since distributed a letter calling for the use of hydroxychloroquine - something that the deputy chief health officer advisor to the Federal Government has said is a ridiculous notion. He’s said it’s at best, ineffective, at worst, could actually make patients worse. The World Health Organisation has echoed that, as have many other esteemed journal articles and medical journals that say hydroxychloroquine is ineffective. How dangerous then is it that someone with quite a captive audience is saying that this should be used as a treatment?

WATT: I think it's incredibly dangerous and irresponsible for political representatives to be out there spreading untrue information about COVID. The idea that George Christensen and some of his colleagues in the Liberal Party are out there spreading false cures for COVID is highly dangerous. It is only by following real health advice - rather than what George Christensen finds on the internet in the middle of the night, when he's in his basement - it's following real advice from real doctors that has kept us safe. If we were to go and do what George Christensen and his mates are saying, we'd have a lot more COVID around. It's irresponsible. It's dangerous, and it's putting lives in Mackay and other towns at risk.

JOURNALIST: Should Scott Morrison kick him out of the Coalition Government?

WATT: I think Scott Morrison should certainly take some responsibility for disciplining George Christensen and other Members of Parliament who are spreading fake cures and fake news about COVID.