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Wednesday, 10 August 2005
Page: 117

Mr CADMAN (5:42 PM) —We have just heard a quite amazing speech on the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Bill 2005 in support of Kevin Reynolds and what is going on in WA. I cannot believe that a responsible member of the House can condone what is happening in the Western Australian building industry with the ‘blue flu’ and the claims by the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, given the reduction in productivity, the reduction in opportunity for future jobs and the work subcontractors are being denied. Just listen to the latest proposal. The honourable member may not be aware that, under the latest CFMEU enterprise bargaining agreement, employers would have no right to sack an employee affected by drugs or alcohol, regardless of how many times that reoccurred, if the employee agreed to get counselling. I cannot really think that any responsible individual in this House would encourage people to turn up to work affected by alcohol or drugs and for employers not to sack them for doing that repeatedly. Kevin Reynolds said the demands were ‘not unreasonable’. He thought that the 10 days of sick leave without being sick was a perfectly reasonable thing. He blamed it on discontent on the site and he used some colourful language to say that if people were unhappy where they were working they had every right to take a few days off to get over the problems they were confronting. In addition to the claims affecting the industry in WA, unions have demanded employees finishing work after 11 o’clock at night get a hot meal, a 12.5 per cent pay rise over three years and a $23.80 daily travel allowance even on rostered days off. They are extraordinary claims by the CFMEU and one of the reasons the government must move ahead.

One has only to look at the record of the building industry to recognise that it is different from other industries in Australia, as Commissioner Cole found when he conducted the royal commission into the building industry. For instance, as a result of industrial action in the Australian building industry in 2004, 223.7 working days were lost per 1,000 employees—almost five times the overall national average of 45.5. So the productivity and time that is lost in the building industry in Australia is five times greater than in any other industry. That is an incredibly bad record, because generally we have great weather for building compared with most countries and we have a highly skilled work force. When one compares the building and construction industry with other industries, one realises that where commercial construction takes place it is 25 per cent more costly because union involvement is higher than in the home building industry.

The domestic housing construction industry is one of the most efficient in the world and produces great products in expedient time with a great many tradesmen and workers who are happy with those arrangements. When we move to the commercial construction industry there is a completely different scene—it is 25 per cent more costly, and in addition to that small contractors are denied genuine freedoms to work. That is why the government is moving ahead with supplementary legislation around the role of contractors in Australia. That needs to be done and they need to be separated, because part of the Kevin Reynolds campaign in Western Australia has been to try to force private contractors—self-employed individuals—to sign on to the union. Even if they do not have to turn up on the site, contractors are asked to pay their membership fees.

The building industry in Australia is worth $50 billion. Independent economic research conducted by Econtech concluded that, if productivity in the construction sector matched that in the more efficient residential building sector, the level of gross domestic product would rise by 1.1 per cent, CPI would fall by one per cent and consumers would benefit by $2.3 billion. We could make a massive impact just through a change that will have the general construction industry performing in the same manner as the residential construction industry. That is not too much to ask, but evidently the attitude in Western Australia and in the CFMEU Australia-wide is such that it is too much to ask—as first identified by Commissioner Cole but subsequently demonstrated to be true in recent stoppages. The response of the Western Australian industrial relations minister, by the way, was that he would talk to the CFMEU and, ‘Hopefully, they will have a change of heart.’ The best he could do was to have a chat to them.

One of the rackets that the Cole royal commission identified was where, on one occasion on a Melbourne building site, a subcontractor paid $7,000 to the CFMEU so he could work on a particular site. The receipt he received was for T-shirts. He handed over $7,000 in order to get a start and the receipt came back saying that he had bought T-shirts. Of course, he never received any T-shirts, but that did not seem to worry the union. Another example, which was discovered by the building industry task force, involved an employer being forced to purchase $10,000 worth of raffle tickets in order to keep the building site open. And the opposition is arguing that this is harsh legislation. All we are doing is reintroducing legislation that was first introduced in 2003 but failed to pass through the Senate. This will effect the recommendations of the Cole commission. These are not a government’s harsh ideas; they are the recommendations of a royal commissioner.

Other employers have been forced to pay for temporary union membership for their employees, even when they only work for a short period on a site. Not surprisingly, in most instances the number of membership tickets they have to pay for is far in excess of the number of employees who actually have to turn up. That is another extortion racket.

Last year, under the giant front-page headline ‘Rort city’, the Herald Sun ran a story outlining reported rorts, rackets and threats on Melbourne building sites, which I will outline. Some of the worst things in this industry happen in Melbourne. I do not know what is wrong with the Master Builders Association or the CFMEU in Melbourne or in Western Australia, but they cannot seem to get things right. At the Spencer Street Station redevelopment employers paid 23 union officials to supervise the site, even though none of them did any actual work on the site—23 phantom employees were being paid not to turn up. I would be very interested to hear whether subsequent speakers condone such practices and can mount any reasonable argument as to why the federal government should not go ahead and achieve for the Australian community a drop in CPI and an increase in overall productivity. The government aims to do nothing more than bring the general construction industry in line with the residential construction industry—nothing more than that. It is the goal of this legislation and the goal of the government just to have an efficient building industry, which is already possible, as demonstrated in residential construction.

I continue with the litany of misbehaviour that caused the Herald Sun to call Melbourne ‘rort city’. Union officials extorted $500 to $10,000, or payment in beer—called a ‘big drink’—from developers and subcontractors. They wanted payment in beer, not in dollars, but the total was between $500 and $10,000, depending on who the developer or subcontractor was. Furthermore, a glazier was threatened with all his glass on-site being smashed unless he agreed to union demands.

That is thuggery; that is criminal and it should be stopped. I would be really pleased to see the Australian Labor Party being honest enough to come out and say that they do not condone this conduct and that they will move to support the government in this legislation. Instead of the half-trumped up arguments they are using, they need to say, ‘Let’s get this fixed; let’s get this over with.’ They do not need to stand with their hearts on their sleeves, their chests or anywhere else; they just need to move ahead and have reasonable behaviour in this industry—not extraordinary behaviour and not onerous behaviour, just reasonable behaviour.

Several union members working on the MCG were given free tickets to the 2005 grand final in return for not disrupting work. I do not know what they were worth—$50 or $100—but they were bribes not to disrupt work. Unions routinely use bogus claims of safety breaches to disrupt work. The unions in WA are saying that people can turn up under the influence of drugs or alcohol and it is not a worry. I cannot imagine anything being more damaging or more difficult for industrial occupational health and safety on a building site than being affected by drugs or alcohol, yet the unions routinely use bogus claims of safety breaches to disrupt work. What a dichotomy of attitudes. What a conflict of standards, values and ethics in a union that, on the one hand, can promote the use of drugs and alcohol on-site but, on the other, can claim bogus occupational health and safety issues.

In addition to this, CFMEU national secretary John Sutton admitted that organised crime elements were infiltrating his union. Despite the activities of the Senate to modify the legislation in 2003, this is enough to indicate that the legislation should pass without division, and I hope that it does pass without division. One only has to read the report of Commissioner Cole to understand that, in many instances, unions deserve to have some restrictions placed on their activities. They deserve special legislation and special attention so that the supervision of the general construction industry in Australia can be better dealt with than it has been in the past. We have tried all sorts of measures. Since I have been a member of this House the BWIU and its predecessor, the BLF, have consistently been a problem in Australia. This is one area where decent, honest, fair dinkum conduct would be beneficial to the whole nation.