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Wednesday, 29 February 2012
Page: 1294


Senator THISTLETHWAITE (New South Wales) (17:35): I must say that I find the opposition's hysteria on this particular issue somewhat amusing indeed, because if we did accept this motion from Senate Abetz we would find ourselves having this matter referred to a Senate inquiry not for the first time, not for the second time, not for the third time and not for the fourth time but for the fifth time. It would be the fifth time that the Senate would have looked at this particular issue. It was first looked at in 2003, then in 2005, in 2008 and in 2009 and we have done an inquiry that has just been completed and is the subject of a report before the Senate—and now Senator Abetz is asking for another inquiry into these provisions. I am all for scrutiny in this place, but this is beyond the pale. This is gilding the lily. This is an unbelievable waste of the Senate's resources, particularly in the context where in 2007 the Australian public made it very clear indeed that they had had enough of the Howard government's regime of workplace relations. They thoroughly rejected the Work Choices regime, the forcing of people to bargain as individuals, which cut rates, cut penalty entitlements and cut other entitlements, particularly for younger workers. They had had enough of the coercive powers of the building and construction industry commissioner. They said quite clearly at that election that change was required, and of course in the wake of that election the government acted on the Forward with Fairness election policies that we had taken to the 2007 election. The suite of reforms that are finally being introduced through the legislation and through the subject of this report deliver on that commitment that we made to the Australian public.

But we have also ensured that a process was undertaken in the building and construction industry to ensure that there would not be unintended consequences of the reforms. In that respect, the Hon. Murray Wilcox, QC, a former Federal Court judge, was instructed to conduct an inquiry into the transition to Fair Work Australia for the building and construction industry. He made a number of recommendations which are enshrined in the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Amendment (Transition to Fair Work) Bill 2012, which will see established the Fair Work (Building Industry) Act. We have gone through the process three or four times. We have been through the arguments when it comes to reform in this area. We have been through the arguments in respect of the coercive powers and of differential penalties, and we have found, based on the recommendations, that we are implementing a fair and balanced system.

There is no greater example of that than in the recommendations that were made and the provisions that are being enacted with regard to coercive powers. This legislation will still include the capacity for the director of the building inspectorate to obtain an examination notice authorising the use of powers to compulsorily obtain information or documents from a person who the director believes is relevant to an investigation. However, there will be a strong set of safeguards which will enshrine the principles of fairness and natural justice, and those powers will not be able to be used unless a number of safeguards have been satisfied, including a presidential member of the AAT being satisfied that the case has been made for their fair use.

In respect of the points made by Senator Abetz, the amendment will ensure that the building industry participants are not subject to multiple proceedings, that matters that have been the subject of litigation and are settled will not be reinvestigated and will not be the subject of further litigation. That is in accordance with accepted civil law principles. (Time expired)