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Thursday, 30 September 2010
Page: 368

Ms O’DWYER (4:30 PM) —There has been a lot of talk in the last few weeks of a new paradigm of parliamentary cooperation and goodwill. Since the election the government has promised us that we will have a kinder, gentler parliament. Clearly, the Prime Minister thinks that this new paradigm will also extend to the building and construction industry. Only this week the Prime Minister released her proposed legislation for the Spring sitting of parliament. In it she proposes the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Amendment (Transition to Fair Work) Bill 2009, which will abolish the regulator of the building and construction industry, the Australian Building and Construction Commission, and replace it instead with a new weakened body within Fair Work Australia. This is a retrograde step.

The Prime Minister made a great show of stating that in government she would be drawing back the curtains and letting the sun shine in, yet so soon we have an eclipse. Far from being more transparent, this government wants to shut the curtains again on the building and construction industry, plunging it back to the dark days of unlawful behaviour including coercion, intimidation and threats. It is important to remember that the ABCC was established after an extensive and independent inquiry conducted by the Cole commission. The commissioner was perfectly clear in his conclusions stating:

These findings demonstrate an industry which departs from the standards of commercial and industrial conduct exhibited in the rest of the Australian economy. They mark the industry as singular. They indicate an urgent need for structural and cultural reform … at the heart of these findings is lawlessness.

It is clear from the inquiry that the construction industry is unique in terms of the frequency and degree of illegal and highly disruptive activity. The former commissioner of the ABCC, John Lloyd, warned only this week:

Any watered-down circumstances would see the bad practices of the past return. This would be damaging to the industry and the Australian economy.

The benefits of a strong watchdog for the construction industry as well as the wider community are clear. Research undertaken by KPMG Econtech shows that the ABCC has delivered wide-ranging economic benefits since it was established, including a 10 per cent rise in industry productivity, an annual economic welfare gain of $5.5 billion per year, a drop in the CPI of 1.2 per cent, an increase in GDP of 1.5 per cent and a significant reduction in days lost through industrial action. This Labor government plans to undo these economic and workplace improvements by shifting power away from the independent umpire back to unions. This government are not interested in maintaining law and order on worksites and improving the economic welfare of the nation. They are more interested in ensuring their political support from unions, who it seems can remove a Prime Minister, install another and now change the law.

What reason do unions propose to weaken the powers of the regulator? You probably will not be surprised to learn the reasoning of one prominent unionist, David Noonan of the CFMEU, who complains of the cost of maintaining the ABCC. In 2007 he said that the ABCC was a cost of over $30 million a year and did not create one single job. If the unions are concerned about cost and also the safety of workers, they should look no further than the government’s pink batts program. With a cost blow-out of $1 billion plus an extra $439 million to fix the problem, the government scheme was a complete disaster, not to mention the serious safety issues involved for both workers and residents. For all the money wasted on pink batts you could have funded 77 ABCCs and Australian worksites would have been much safer.

Before the last election Labor promised that they were committed to a strong cop on the beat. This legislation is an example to be added to the ever-expanding list of broken Labor promises. It is vital that the ABCC has the power to enter premises, inspect documents and summon witnesses in order to gain the information needed to prosecute cases of unlawful behaviour. We will defend it.