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Thursday, 18 September 2003
Page: 20543


Mrs MOYLAN (4:54 PM) —I would like to draw attention to some deep concerns about practices in the Western Australian building industry. The former Court government in Western Australia did a great deal to redress some of the worst practices on Western Australian construction sites. Sadly, the Gallop Labor government has overturned many of those reforms, and this has allowed anarchy to reign once again on Western Australian building sites. The Western Australian public should be deeply concerned about the findings of the Cole royal commission, which was called by our federal government. They should be very concerned as they learn about the kinds of practices that have been exposed by the commission.

In a country that highly values the `fair go' philosophy, denying a man or woman the right to work because they do not wish to be a member of a particular industry organisation runs counter to that fair go principle. While, technically, freedom of association is enshrined in law, the problem is that people are being bullied and threatened on Western Australian building sites if they are not members of a particular union. This sort of thuggery has prevailed for far too long on Perth building sites, and the deliberate flouting of court and commission orders has given rise to the dangerous principle of one rule for the union organisation and another for the rest of the population.

One man in Western Australia has had the courage to take on the unions in Western Australia. While he and, indeed, many of us on this side of the House believe that responsible unionism has a very important role to play in any industry work force, people should not be compelled to join an organisation or be brutalised and denied work because of that choice. We are talking about bricklayers, tilers, carpenters, plasterers, painters, suppliers—a whole range of small businesspeople and individuals who service the building industry. There are times when these people are denied the right to work simply because they have chosen not to be part of the union organisation. It seems that everyone except the union wants things to change, but the fact is that few have had the courage to take on the worst of these practices and take on the powerful unions in Western Australia.

But there is one man, Gerry Hanssen, who has. Despite the personal cost, he is determined to allow workers on his sites freedom of choice—he is happy to take people if they belong to a union, but he is also happy to take them if they do not. The only measure is the quality of the work they do, and that is how it ought to be. Many of us take those freedoms for granted, and I do not see why we should be putting up with the kind of thuggery and terrible behaviour that goes on in the industry to deny these people work. Australia in the 21st century must free itself from blatant acts of industrial thuggery, industrial racketeering, illegal and improper demands for payments, and lack of respect for the rule of law. When you talk to people in the Western Australian building industry, it seems like the law is unable to act. I am told that, when union members enter construction sites in Western Australia without good cause and create problems, the police in Western Australia appear to be powerless to act. It is a bit like domestic violence: they just do not want to get involved.

So we owe a great debt of gratitude to Gerry Hanssen for continuing his very courageous battle on WA building sites, because to allow these practices to go on unchallenged undermines and costs tradespeople, businesses and the public a great deal. You can imagine how much these practices add to the cost of construction. Many in Western Australia will welcome the minister's statement in the parliament today and the ensuing debate. I congratulate the minister for the considerable work he has done to uncover the unsavoury and costly problems undermining legitimate construction industry work and, indeed, for establishing the Cole royal commission, which has demonstrated to us that there are indeed some very unsavoury practices going on in work sites all over the country.