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Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Page: 2319


Senator EDWARDS (South Australia) (17:51): I rise to speak about the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Amendment (Transition to Fair Work) Bill 2011. This bill is really about abolishing the Australian building and construction commission. Labor is giving the green light to militant unionists to return to the bad old days of illegal standover tactics, thuggery and sabotage. The Prime Minister has caved in to those on the left of the Labor Party led by the shrewd Senator Cameron. The union movement is flexing its muscle here in parliament and is forcing its backward vision upon the Australian economy. Abolishing the Australian building and construction commission is another ideological crusade for this Labor-Green government that will only damage Australia's productivity. Australians must understand just how successful the ABCC has been in grabbing those militant unionists by the scruff of the neck and dragging the construction industry out of the Wild West and into the modern era. I am not too young to remember the dark days of the BLF.

The Labor Party has never seen an Australian success story that it has not tried to sabotage. Under Labor's legislation the responsibility for investigations into the construction sector will lie with the Fair Work regime. This sad parade is, for turning a lion for the Australian people into a lamb for the militant unions. Labor's new legacy will be an agency that will roll out the red carpet to the old days of taking Australia's productivity hostage—days that Senator Cameron yearns for.

This is the very essence of appeasement. Just as the Prime Minister promised before the 2010 election, 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead,' so in 2007 Prime Minister Gillard also promised to keep 'a strong cop on the beat' in the building and construction sector. The Prime Minister has broken her word once again. Again and again I stand up in this place with my colleagues holding Prime Minister Gillard to account over her now plethora of broken promises. If it takes a Fair Work agency over three years to manage one single investigation into the activities of one union, how on earth are they going to manage multiple investigations into complex issues in sectors which are populated by some of the toughest employers and most militant unions in this country?

This bill leaves a vacuum in which workers will have little protection from the biggest bullies in the school yard. The Cole royal commission recommended the creation of the ABCC but this Labor government wants to return to the mob rule of the bad old days. How fickle and shallow this bill is! As Labor parliamentarians in this place rushed to pay homage to the faceless powerbrokers outside this place who put them there, even Labor's ideological ally, the honourable Murray Wilcox QC, was shocked by the ongoing violence and intimidation by unions. His report was commissioned to give a veneer of respectability to Labor's cave-in to the demands of militant unions. This Labor-commissioned report states that between 1 October 2005 and 3 February 2009 the ABCC conducted 128 compulsory interrogations and launched 36 court proceedings seeking the imposition of a civil penalty upon one or more building industry participants. The report went on:

Most of the completed proceedings have been successful, many because of information acquired by the ABCC at compulsory interrogations.

Also, the Law Council has been critical of this green-wash Labor amendment. Labor love to wax lyrical about the national interest. They often accuse us of not acting in the national interest but here we have a Labor amendment that relegates the national interest to a mere footnote on the vaulting ambition that burns bright within the militant union bosses.

Breaches of the law should be dealt with by a prosecutor without fear or favour and irrespective of private parties coming to private arrangements. Labor's bill means that, depending on the size of your wallet, you can avoid investigation and prosecution from the relevant authority. Big unions and big business will benefit, at the expense of individual workers and contractors. A cacophony of building industry advocates' voices have bellowed their strong opposition to the government's bill. They are best summarised by the Housing Industry Association, which states:

The bill now opens the door for perpetrators of illegal workplace behaviour to buy or coerce their way out of prosecution.

As I acquiesce to my Senate colleague from South Australia, Senator Xenophon, I say that the work of the Australian building and construction commission is as important today as when it was established in 2005. The coalition will restore the ABCC at its first available opportunity.