Family First Senator Bob Day finally resigned from the Senate on November 1 “effective immediately”, in a major setback for the federal government's plan to revive the controversial, anti-union Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).
Day first announced his intention to resign on October 17, after his housing businesses were placed into liquidation. He then suggested he might stay on until November so he could vote on the ABCC bill and other legislation.
Then he changed his mind again, saying that if an investor were willing to bail out his companies, which owed a total of almost $38 million, he could stay on in the Senate indefinitely.
Day has been a compliant supporter of the government, voting with the Coalition nine times out of every 10 votes in the Senate. This is hardly surprising since he was a former member of the Liberal Party, who only joined Family First after he failed to win pre-selection for the Liberals.
In the end, Day admitted he could not find an investor to take over the debts of his insolvent company, Home Australia, and was now forced to resign from the Senate or risk being disbarred as a bankrupt.
Now, the government has asked the High Court to rule on the possibility that Day was ineligible to stand as a senator in the first place because of a potential breach of the constitution over a "direct or indirect pecuniary interest" with the Commonwealth, relating to government rental of a building Day partly owns in Adelaide. (One Nation Senator Rod Culleton also faces a test of eligibility.)
This poses a potentially catastrophic problem for the government, who were relying on Day's vote in favour of restoring the much-hated ABCC, to enable the legislation to scrape through the Senate. This unsavoury episode underlines the hypocrisy of the Coalition and Senator Day over supposed construction union "corruption" and "thuggery".
Here is a man, in the guise of putting "families first," who has wantonly left dozens of sub-contractors of his housing companies unpaid and hundreds of customers with half-built homes.
Yet he is an enthusiastic supporter of the Coalition government's diabolical witchhunt against the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) and other building unions, in the form of the star-chamber ABCC — which aims to destroy unionism in the construction and related industries and persecute ordinary workers and their families.
So much for putting families first.
The collapse of Home Australia shines a light on what is a serious and growing problem in the building industry.
CFMEU Construction and General national secretary Dave Noonan said recently that companies going into liquidation is an ever-increasing feature of the industry, with devastating consequences for small businesses, workers, families and the community.
"One in five insolvencies in Australia is in the construction industry,” said Noonan. “Following a Senate inquiry into this issue last year, the Education and Employment Committee made a raft of recommendations to protect small business and workers — that do not appear to be on the Turnbull government's agenda.
"Instead they are fixated on industrial relations and going after workers, rather than addressing the systemic issues that wreak havoc on the community and the economy.”
The mainstream media have highlighted the shock to the Turnbull government posed by the Bob Day scandal and the possibility of even greater problems getting their legislation through the Senate in future. There is even a chance that Labor may gain Day's seat in the Senate if a recount of Family First preferences is ordered by the High Court.
But the fundamental issue of the draconian, anti-worker nature of the ABCC is not being properly explained to the public. That's where Green Left Weekly comes in.
Green Left has campaigned strongly against the ABCC, and in support of union and workers' rights to organise freely. We proudly stand shoulder to shoulder with the CFMEU and other unions facing attack under the federal government's proposed industrial legislation.
However, in order to more effectively broadcast this message of solidarity with union rights, we need the support of our readers and subscribers. You can contribute by making a donation to the Green Left Weekly 2016 Fighting Fund.
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