The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) represents 43 affiliated unions who together represent over 1.5 million members.

The ACTU and Australian Unions are strong supporters of measures to ensure that Australia’s essential services are secure and resilient. The failure to strengthen our critical supply chains and to keep workers safe during the current Omicron crisis has exacerbated a national public health crisis.

This submission draws and builds upon the ACTU Submission to the Department of Home Affairs (Home Affairs, the Department) the Exposure draft of the Security Legislation Amendment (Critical Infrastructure Protection) Bill 2022, (“the Bill”), and reiterates concerns with the Security Legislation Amendment (Critical Infrastructure) Bill 2020 the Bill is based on which have not been addressed.

The ACTU has significant concerns with this Bill and is not satisfied that the Department of Home Affairs adequately followed the instruction of this Committee, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) to ensure primary and secondary legislation have been co-designed with industry and incorporate the suggestions by, among others, trade unions.

The Bill represents a significant infringement of the right to privacy and civil liberties enjoyed by Australians today. At least three million workers are potentially covered by these changes and the Minister would gain the power to expand this even further. The Government have not provided evidence to support this significant expansion of background checks, especially in a range of industries and some named occupations.

The Union movement has further concerns that the Bill could interfere with the workplace rights of workers and their union representatives. This Committee has already heard evidence that some employers are using the spectre of this Bill in bargaining and had prepared to conduct their own background checks on employees. Under this Bill employers could frustrate the right of entry of union officials on the basis of complying with these proposed laws, and could impinge on rights afforded under work health and safety, anti-discrimination, and privacy laws.

The Bill creates substantial levels of delegated decision making to both employers and the relevant Minister on highly significant issues with limited or no worker (nor union) right to consultation, negotiation or review and limited parliamentary oversight. The concern this Committee raised of significantly delegated legislation with an unquantified impact on business and workers has not been addressed.

The submission will elaborate upon these concerns in detail.