Hinch and Xenophon in Labor and union sights over ABCC support

The Australian, February 16, 2017:

UPDATED: Pauline Hanson has hit back at a Labor jibe about her old fish and chip shop as the federal government’s controversial building industry watchdog sparked yet another late night debate in parliament.

Labor’s attack on the crossbench raged until 10pm, when tinkered laws to restore the building industry watchdog cleared parliament.

The amendment, passed on Wednesday night, shrinks a two-year transition period for companies to comply with a new building code to nine months after a rethink by senators Derryn Hinch and Nick Xenophon over the summer break. Legislation to restore the Howard-era watchdog passed parliament with crossbench support last year, following a series of marathon Senate debates. Senators Hinch and Xenophon bore the brunt of Labor’s attack on Wednesday, but when the opposition used Senator Hanson’s former fish and chip shop business to make a point, the One Nation leader fired up.

“You may criticise me for my fish and chip shop but that was a business I had,” she told parliament.

“I worked and I worked damn hard for myself and my four children.” She vowed not to let unions control the country.

“If they want to have a go at me, that won’t stop me. I won’t be threatened. I will not be intimidated and I’m here to do a job for the people of this country.”

Senator Xenophon says he’s taking legal action against the construction union, seeking an apology and retraction over defamatory billboards by the CFMEU. Greens senator Lee Rhiannon accused the government of running a cartel, working with the building industry to cut corners so they could increase their profits. “You’ve built your career on abusing construction workers, unions, delegates, the CFMEU,” she told Employment Minister Michaelia Cash.

“I’ve never once heard her take up the issue of safety on the job – why don’t you go after the companies who are killing people?”

Hinch, NXT under ABCC attack

Labor and the unions are extracting political vengeance on the Senate crossbench for backing measures to toughen the Australian Building and Construction Commission amid new threats to bring Australia’s $200 billion construction sector to a standstill.

The opposition vented its fury yesterday by accusing crossbench senator Derryn Hinch of breaking the terms of a secret preference deal with the Victorian ALP that helped him into parliament.

The construction union also told Nick Xenophon, who control­s three upper house votes, to “drink concrete and harden up” after he commenced legal proceed­ings against it for what he described as a “defamatory” campaign­ against him in his home state of South Australia.

The ABCC changes — passed in the Senate last night — reduce from two years to nine months the period of grace granted to companies before they must comply with a strict, new building code in order to win work on federal projects.

Ahead of the Senate vote, Labor yesterday targeted the ­integrity of Senator Hinch, who brokered the deal with the government to ­reduce the transition period to nine months, a massive backflip from his previous ­insistence on a two-year window period.

Left-wing factional war lord Kim Carr told the upper house Senator Hinch’s support for the ABCC was in breach of the terms of his secret preference deal with the Victorian ALP.

He told The Australian there was an “absolutely explicit commitment on industrial relations and workers’ rights” from Senator Hinch in exchange for Labor preferences. “I will never be supporti­ng a preference deal with Senator Hinch again,” an outraged­ Senat­or Carr said.

“The arrangement was with (then ALP Victorian secretary) Noah Carroll and it was witnessed by two interstate offic­ials. Obviously it was during the election campaign and it was reporte­d to the Victorian campaign ­committee.”

Malcolm Turnbull used the Labor assault on Senator Hinch in parliament to deflect ongoing opposition questions about the West Australian Liberal Party’s decision to preference One ­Nation over the Nationals.

“The reality is the Labor Party is using its preferences and doing it very openly in the Senate to threaten independent senators,” the Prime Minister said. Senator Xenophon, the other key crossbencher to back the govern­ment’s changes to the building code, said the CFMEU’s billboards in ­Adelaide, and newspaper and TV advertisements, had misrepresent­ed his track recor­d on issues such as worker safety and local job creation­.

He revealed his lawyers had written to the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union seeking an apology and a “retract­ion of the defamatory material in the billboard”.

But the national secretary of the CFMEU’s construction division, Dave Noonan, said he was undeterred by Senator Xenophon’s stance and went on to threaten industry-wide stoppages across Australian building sites at a rally on the steps of the South Australian parliament.

“Right across Australia, the industry­ will stop and workers will go to rallies and they will say: ‘Enough is enough’,” Mr Noonan told the crowd. “We are going to the streets. This is the first rally. This is not the last rally.”

Speaking to The Australian, he said: “What Senator Xenophon needs to understand is that it’s not all about Nick. This is about the working lives of hundreds of thousands of Australians. As for the letter from his lawyers, we’ll file it with the rest of them.”