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Wednesday, 15 February 2012
Page: 1383


Mr TONY SMITH (Casey) (13:29): I rise to briefly contribute to this important debate. In doing so I follow a number of speakers on my side of the House who have made the key points about how damaging this legislation is. It is always an interesting thing to follow the member for Melbourne, and it is no exception in this debate. It does transport us to another galaxy, which he inhabits. It is not a galaxy in the future, it is a place in the past.

When you cut through everything the member for Melbourne just said in this debate, it is quite clear that he wants to transport us back to a place of lawlessness in the construction industry. The member for Melbourne is disappointed that the government's broken promise is not good enough. Whilst he very fleetingly made reference to the possibility that there might have been bad behaviour in the building industry, as some kind of cover, there is no doubt that he saw no problem with the way things were a decade and a half ago. The member for Melbourne saw no problem with the sort of conduct we saw in our construction industry.

As the member for Mayo pointed out in this debate last week, the building commission that this legislation seeks to abolish was not something the former Howard government simply dreamt up. If you listen to the member for Melbourne, you would think that was the case, that there was no problem that needed solving, and that the legislation of the former Howard government was simply brought into this place for no necessary reason. As the member for Mayo rightly pointed out in this House a little under a week ago, the Cole royal commission spoke volumes about the state of our building industry. The commission's findings were that it was an industry plagued, as the member for Mayo said, by 'unacceptable behaviour, violence, corruption, threats and standover tactics' and, as he eloquently put it, it was 'the law of the jungle'.

It was directly as a result of that royal commission that the legislation by the Howard government was introduced. Once it was introduced, its effect was there for all to see. Productivity improved and the savings to the national economy improved. It was not just the lawlessness—the member for Melbourne talks about the rule of law—there was the law of the jungle, as the member for Mayo said, prior to the introduction of the Howard government legislation. This legislation, which is designed to neuter that, to abolish it, is something that Labor always had in mind because unfortunately, in a choice between the national good with this policy and their demanding friends in the union movement, there is no choice for those opposite—the national interest runs a poor second.

We have before us today another example of what those opposite view as their absolute priority, namely, the value of their word before an election. Unfortunately, what we are witnessing in this House is a situation where, if this legislation is passed, we can look into the future and know what will occur because it will be a repeat of the past, the past failure that was dealt with effectively and which those opposite will be happy to see a re-run of. As the Leader of the Opposition pointed out last Friday in a keynote address to the Master Builders Association, we need to be very clear what we will see a return of and the sort of work that will not be done in the future.

I have mentioned the member for Mayo's contribution and his detailing of the Cole royal commission. As the Leader of the Opposition outlined, the productivity improvement was of the order of $6 billion a year as a result of getting the industry under control and out of the jungle, and removing, limiting and reducing, where possible, the sort of conduct that everyday Australians find unacceptable and, more to the point, do not want to pay for. It is not just a question of those involved in the industry and the law of the jungle. This affects every single Australian. It cascades through the price and cost chain. It affects businesses and their capacity to be profitable and to employ people. All of those points have been very adequately made by speakers on our side of the House.

As the Leader of the Opposition pointed out, an example is the Epping Markets dispute, just 18 months ago, which resulted in locks being superglued, entrances being blocked and fires being lit. This was a dispute out of control. The watchdog took action over the illegalities at the Epping markets and fines and costs of over half a million dollars were imposed on the people involved. In the past, all those activities would have occurred without the adequate capacity to stop it or to take remedial action. Those opposite know exactly what they are doing with the legislation that they have brought before the House today. They know they are turning the clock back and opening the way to the sorts of abuses that the royal commission uncovered. They know exactly what they are doing. This is not a question of naivety on behalf of those opposite. The Australian public ought to know it. They will certainly know it by the time of the next election. As the Leader of the Opposition said, we will fight this legislation and if we fail in both houses we will restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission at the first available opportunity. We will, as he said, restore it with new vigour, because of the necessity for it. This legislation is bad legislation. The government knows it is so, but it is legislating at the behest of the union movement to the cost of the wider Australian community.