As punishment for voting last week to correct (in part) his damaging job-destroying two year legislated delay in fully implementing the coalition’s restoration of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, the CFMEU erected a tent outside Senator Derryn Hinch’s Melbourne office. Marking his 73rd birthday with placards ‘Shame, Hinch, Shame’ and ‘Hinch sells out workers’, it was an unwelcome element in a broader ‘lying and despicable’ media and phone CFMEU campaign against him, including a threat to his re-election. Senator Nick Xenophon, who joined Hinch in speeding up implementation of the ABCC’s code for government contracting to nine months rather than two years, received similar CFMEU public bullying. Naturally, the Shorten Labor Party, appropriately bowing to the union dictate, joined in the denigration: Left faction heavyweight Kim Carr told the Senate that Hinch had breached the preference swap deal with Labor that got him elected under which he ‘gave an absolutely explicit commitment on industrial relations and workers’ rights’ and threatened Hinch with not getting Labor preferences again.
Welcome to the world of real politics, Senator. After belatedly doing the groundwork of properly informing himself of what he should have known before intervening in the ABCC bill last December, Hinch has recognised that, having been ‘conned by the union’ into using his deciding vote to force the government to delay the ABCC’s full impact, he was actually hurting the workers he ‘genuinely believed’ he was helping. Acting on the advice of many builders and subcontractors who told him they would go broke if forced to wait two years before the reforms kicked in, he changed his mind. Nevertheless, he is still ignoring the views of those he admits also told him they ‘hated the nine months delay’ he has imposed by continuing to reject the government’s original (and still preferred) intention to operate from its stated commencement in 2014; any delay from then simply benefits what Michaelia Cash describes as the cartel of bigger builders who defied the government by entering into non-conforming pattern-bargaining agreements with the CFMEU that add enormously to the costs of taxpayer-funded public works. To Lendlease, Probuild and other ‘big-end of town’ builders she warns: ‘The reason we are doing this [the building code] is to stop your cartel-like behaviour… between head contractors and unions… that seek to mandate the pay and conditions of all contractors on site’.
Hinch always supported the necessary reform, but (wrongly) believed its original form offended his strong objection to retrospective legislation by disadvantaging those who had signed non-conforming agreements before the legislation eventually passed. But his rejection of retrospectivity was not evident in his joining all but one of his fellow parliamentary incumbents in their populist support for last week’s agreement to remove retrospectively from former parliamentarians, one of the conditions of their past employment that had existed for 99 years. As is customary these days, those in office are ready and able to arrange sacrifices for the public good that are entirely required to be met by others than themselves. When MPs five years ago sensibly agreed with the independent recommendation that it was in the public interest for their remuneration to become more transparent by depending less on an array of ‘perks’ and more on a clearly evident salary, they removed some (not all) of the perks and were compensated with a $60,000 (43 per cent) pay rise. But there was no thought of any similar offsetting compensation when it came to removing from the relatively very few former members (myself included) their ‘perk’ of a gold pass for 10 internal flights a year; sauce for the still-serving gander did not extend to the retired goose. The current basic salary of $200,000 is 10 times the $20.000 a year when, as a 45-year-old director of two listed public companies, I entered parliament intent on fixing up Whitlam’s mess. Apart from Senator Ian Macdonald who was publicly savaged for adhering to his principled objection to retrospective legislation, there were no other heroes prepared to cop the flack by opposing a politically popular cause that clearly offended a principle that so many, like Senator Hinch, profess to hold dear – until they are really tested.
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