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Tuesday, 9 August 2005
Page: 100

Mr RANDALL (8:44 PM) —I am very delighted to speak on this historic day in the Australian parliament as today, 9 August 2005, is not only the day that the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Bill 2005 was introduced but also the day that the government gained a majority in the Senate, which will ensure that this legislation will be passed to the benefit of all Australians, particularly the workers of Australia, through better productivity.

Unfortunately, the member for Batman has fled the chamber, but in listening to the member for Batman one understands why the industrial relations climate in this country is as it is—in a malaise. It was like listening to the dinosaurs thrashing around the bogs of Jurassic Park in their last throes before finally being put to the sword. In their death throes the Labor Party are gasping for some relevance in this debate, yet they have objected to and opposed any reform in the building industry and the area of workplace relations since the coalition came to government. I find it very interesting that the member for Batman was trotting out his working-class credentials. We can all do that. I doubt whether he has actually ever got his hands dirty, but the fact is my dad was a builder. I know a bit about the building trade and the tough times they go through, so let us not have this claptrap from the other side about being part of ideological trench warfare. I am no silvertail; I come to this House from a working-class background. Probably unlike the member for Batman, I have washed my hands in Solvol, so I know what it is like to do a bit of work and so did my dad. So let us not go on about this.

At the end of the day, this legislation was introduced because of people like the member for Batman and the other ACTU presidents, from Bob Hawke onwards, who have come here to use this place as a retirement village. All it has brought to the opposition is the ideological time warp in which they are now suffering. The legislation seeks to make certain forms of industrial action in the building and construction industry unlawful and to provide for additional sanctions against such actions in the form of injunctions, financial penalties and compensation. I will largely speak about the problems in the construction industry in Western Australia because I am a member of parliament from Western Australia. We know that the Cole Royal Commission into the Building and Construction Industry found that Western Australia, along with Victoria, was the hot spot of industrial anarchy in this country, led by the CFMEU.

The bill was introduced in response to the intense industrial pressure being applied by the building industry unions to force contractors to sign up to union-friendly agreements. I will outline some of these. I am pleased that Sky Channel now broadcasts federal parliament. The issues that are current in Western Australia have probably only been exposed in Western Australia, but tonight the rest of Australia has the opportunity to hear some of the outlandish and absolutely extortive claims that are being made by the CFMEU in Western Australia.

To combat this extortion, thuggery and anarchy in the building and construction industry there will be the establishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission—or the ABCC—and, I might add, the Federal Safety Commissioner. I am pleased that there will be a Federal Safety Commissioner, because the Cole royal commission showed us that the unions use safety issues in a bogus fashion to stop work and cause industrial unrest. I take the point of the member for Batman that nobody wants deaths in the construction industry, but when you cry wolf by using safety issues on the work sites to stop work and cause mayhem in the industry you are actually diluting the seriousness of industrial accidents and problems on building sites.

In Western Australia at the moment the CFMEU, led by Kevin Reynolds and his sidekick, Joe McDonald, have made this claim. The claim is extortive, as I said. By way of explanation, to try and force companies to involve themselves in this litany of claims, they are carrying out what is called a ‘blue flu’ campaign. In the last few weeks on the southern rail line in Perth we have found that the whole work force—or 200 of the work force, or 50 of a particular part of the work force, which then cripples the whole project—all catch the flu on the same day. When Kevin Reynolds, the CFMEU state secretary in Western Australia, was asked how so many people could get sick on the same day he said, ‘Well, they’re all sick; they’re all entitled to be sick on the same day.’ That might be fine, but does anyone actually believe it?

I will be writing to the federal Minister for Health and Ageing to ask him to check on the medical certificates, because I believe there is the potential here for doctors who have signed these certificates to have entered into some form of fraud. If a doctor has signed medical certificates for 50 or 100 people from one group of workers, you would have to ask, ‘Is this man engaging in Medicare fraud?’ I will be writing to seek information on that because, if I were the doctor who did that, I would be pretty concerned about what I had done.

Mr Deputy Speaker, just listen to this log of claims that the CFMEU have released. This is what they are extorting with the blue flu on the construction sites in Perth at the moment. They demand that workers do not actually have to be sick to receive sick leave—they get 10 days sick leave a year—and that sick leave can be converted to cash if it is not taken. They want one paid rostered day off every second week—in other words, 26 each year. They demand a reduction in the standard working week from 38 hours to 36 hours, at the same time receiving a 12½ per cent pay rise, and for all shift work to be paid at double time. Under these claims an employer will not have the right to sack an employee who is affected by drugs or alcohol if the employee agrees to counselling, regardless of how many times the employee attends the work site affected by drugs or alcohol. They want a productivity allowance of $1.20 per hour to be paid regardless of whether or not productivity levels are good. Employers will be forced to pay $23.80 per day for fares and travel allowance, even if the employee lives next door to the work site. So you walk across the road and get $23.80 for it. What a lurk that is! There is more.

Mr Gavan O’Connor —Well, you got a big tax lick out of your own government! What are you complaining about?

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. IR Causley)—The member for Corio seems to think he has the right to come into this chamber and disrupt it. He will be removed if he does not restrain himself.

Mr RANDALL —Mr Deputy Speaker, how about this: the fares and travel allowance are to be paid even if the employee is on a rostered day off. So he gets a rostered day off and part of the claim is that he gets $23.80 and does not actually have to travel to work. I hope the television sets of Australia are focusing on this; it is not being broadcast enough to the rest of Australia because it seems to be a Western Australian problem. But this is what they would get away with if they could and this is what they are trying to extort out of their blue flu campaign.

The next part of the claim is that all employees finishing work after 11 pm must be provided with a hot meal—too bad if it is the middle of summer. Every subcontractor on site—in other words, brickies, glaziers, carpenters, tilers et cetera—must employ a union imposed safety representative to be issued with one fully fitted out office. Employers will be forced to apply union negotiated wages and conditions to non-union workers to prevent employers from paying them more than union members. Employers will have to grant all workers additional paid leave to attend union training courses, with no limit on the number of times leave must be granted for these purposes. No limit! In other words, it could be every day of the week.

Employers must pay $72 a week per employee for a redundancy fund to be paid to the employee on termination, even if the employee has only worked for the company for one week. Redundancy pay also applies if an employee is sacked. It goes on: three per cent for personal accident and sickness, even if they have their own insurance; site allowances of between $2.40 and $3.50 to be paid for projects worth over $570,000; trauma insurance; and employees forced to join the union preferred superannuation fund known as the construction and building union superannuation scheme, or Cbus. This is a breach of the freedom of choice provisions in the industrial act. Union officials will be given unfettered rights of entry without notice onto work sites for no reason, even if non-union employees are on that site; and a full-time qualified nurse must be employed on work sites where staffing levels reach 50. We are short of nurses in any case; now we are going to have them on every work site with over 50 employees.

You might say that that is just an ambit log of claims, that they are out there trying it on. Not true! In Western Australia we know at the moment that over 100 companies have signed up and agreed to it. A hundred out of 400 companies in Western Australia have been coerced into it, and this is one of the reasons that we have had to establish the ABCC. Beautifully, Nigel Hadgkiss, the current executive of the task force, is going to concentrate on Western Australia in particular. He said: ‘Of the complaints we received, 52 per cent were later withdrawn because of fear. A lot of people are too frightened to speak up, but they have told my investigators that if we force them to answer the questions they will.’ So this legislation gives him the power to coerce.

 Those opposite will say, ‘Oh, isn’t this terrible, isn’t this draconian, to force them to speak up’? The ATO is able to do this. The ATO and other Australian government instrumentalities and bodies have power to coerce. They force people to tell the truth—because, as we know, these people are suffering fear and intimidation. To make sure that this enforcement actually works, there will be new fines of up to $22,000 for individuals and up to $110,000 for companies and unions, and the measure will be backdated to encompass the unlawful action that occurs now. We know that in Perth at the moment the CFMEU is going around heavying companies to sign up before it comes into effect later this year. That is why we are pleased that it will be backdated to March this year.

Of course, further powers will allow the courts to demand compensation and seize assets. The royal commission, in its state and territory overviews section, volume 12, at page 299, went through quite a number of reasons for the state of lawlessness existing in Western Australia. In Western Australia there has been a disregard for or breach of the enterprise bargaining provisions and a disregard for or breach of freedom of association—it goes through them all. It is a huge volume but I recommend it to those who wish to read it.

Before the Gallop Labor government won office in Western Australia, the previous government had a task force called the WABITF—the building industry task force. It was set up in September 1994. It did not really gain teeth, such as those provided in this Commonwealth legislation, until its head became a special constable, and he then had police powers to investigate alleged charges and to prosecute. Then there was a change of government. Along came the Labor government and, in 2002, it brought in the Building Industry Special Projects Inspectorate, or BISPI. That is a toothless tiger. At page 300 of its report the Cole royal commission states that in the building industry in Perth there is a strong perception that the BISPI, in contrast to the previous WABITF, is ineffective. It goes through the reasons: the CFMEU disregards it; it has no powers of coercion; and the state government will not enforce its rulings by seeing that it actually prosecutes.

I conclude by saying that, in this legislation, we require strong affirmative action against people who would flout and ignore the rule of law. For example, Joe McDonald, the secretary of the CFMEU in Western Australia, has said: ‘Even though they realise that they are going to be on the wrong side of the law, it is anticipated that some union officials will be jailed. We’re not going to take a backward step in any way, shape or form—no matter what this legislation brings.’ So before too long we are going to have people before the courts who have broken the law. Hopefully the strength of this legislation will see them prosecuted and sanctions will come—even to the extent of seizing property and assets—by way of fines and jail for those who intimidate.

Finally, if members of the House do not think that any of this is serious, I draw their attention to an article in this weekend’s Sunday Times. A union leader entered a building site without any right of entry and threatened to recruit members on that site. When asked whether he had any legitimate right to be there, he started using abusive language, making threats and using intimidation. He is an absolute thug, who frightens decent people who want to get on and earn money for their families.

This industry needs to be cleaned up, and it will be if this legislation proceeds. I am confident that the legislation will proceed because it is in the national interest. It will bring all the benefits that it is designed to bring for the productivity of this country in future, and for better wages and conditions. I commend those involved in seeing the legislation come before the House. It is high time that this essential legislation was enacted.

Debate interrupted.