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Wednesday, 10 August 2005
Page: 131

Mr SLIPPER (6:45 PM) —When one listens to the member for Werriwa one understands why many people say that the Australian Labor Party is a party of the unions, for the unions and governed by the unions. I was quite mesmerised by what he had to say. I was just astounded by the comments he made and his defence of what everybody else would consider to be entirely inappropriate industrial behaviour. Maybe the member for Werriwa ought to consider for a moment that the Cole Royal Commission into the Building and Construction Industry found that the industry was beset with corruption and unlawful practices. In my own electorate I have been approached by numerous builders who have had horrendous experiences with building industry unions, and something simply had to be done. It was this government that was prepared to stand up and be counted. I find it amazing that the ALP is marching back to the past, trying to reintroduce the principles of the class warfare of the 1890s by opposing this very positive, forward-looking initiative, the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Bill 2005.

The member for Reid made a contribution. It is interesting to note that one of his brothers works for the CFMEU. The Labor Party is a party which seems to give preference to trade unions, and whenever anyone tries to point out the inappropriate actions of trade unions and the horrible effects on the Australian economy as a result of trade union excesses we get accused of trying to trample down the rights of workers.

The Cole royal commission brought down 210 recommendations. Let us just look for a moment at the value of the building and construction industry to Australia. In 2001-02 building and construction was worth some $59.7 billion to the economy. The industry accounted for 7.5 per cent of employment. It is an important factor in the daily lives of many thousands of Australian families. The building and construction industry accounted for 5.5 per cent of Australia’s gross domestic product. This bill seeks to implement some 170 of the 210 recommendations of the Cole commission. When I read the provisions of that report, I thought there would have been a unanimous approach from all members in the parliament seeking to improve efficiencies in the building and construction industry.

The member for Werriwa seemed to spend a lot of time expressing concern about the legislative impact of the retrospective provisions contained in the bill. The government is not going to apologise for the fact that this legislation will have retrospective effect from March 2005, meaning that industrial action taken by building industry unions after the introduction of this bill is likely to be unlawful. I am someone who normally does not approve of retrospectivity, but this is a situation where the bill is introduced and everyone knows what the law is going to be. The unions, by placing excessive pressure on employers to enter into a new round of enterprise bargaining agreements before the legislation comes into effect, have been trying to circumvent what will be the law of Australia. Most EBAs expire in October this year and the unions are trying to put pressure on builders to enter into new agreements in order to escape for a further three-year period the very important impact of the reforms proposed in the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Bill 2005.

What would be the ramifications of a successful union campaign? You will find that the processes, the inefficiencies, the lack of productivity and the sheer bloody-mindedness which brought about the Cole royal commission would continue for another three years. If this continues for another three years it means that the productivity increases—and some of those were in fact identified by Commissioner Cole—would not come into being for a period of three years. Recommendation No. 4 of the report said that if wages increased by 12 per cent over a three-year period ending this year, a productivity increase of 7.6 per cent would be required during that period to maintain the building and construction industry’s competitiveness. The Cole commission believed that if this were to occur all sectors of the economy would experience a flow-on benefit: the workers would benefit from the 12 per cent pay rise, the building industry would benefit from growth of 0.6 per cent by 2010, the nation as a whole would benefit from a compounded increase in real domestic product of $11.5 billion in the next five years, exports would grow and imports would fall. The report noted impediments to improved productivity and growth. This is one of the reasons Commissioner Cole made the 210 recommendations contained in his report and it is one of the reasons this government is not apologising for bringing in this very important initiative. The industry is incredibly valuable to the Australian economy and an efficient industry means more jobs.

Independent economic research undertaken by Econtech concluded that if productivity in the construction sector matched that of the more efficient residential building sector then gross domestic product would rise by 1.1 per cent, providing a gain to consumers of $2.3 billion. So while I understand that in politics we have different points of view, one has to ask oneself why the Labor Party in this matter appears to defend the indefensible. You really only have to go to the unions’ connection with the Australian Labor Party. I believe the Australian Labor Party feels honour bound—if you can say honour bound; but they certainly feel bound—to oppose this legislation because of donations to the ALP from the union movement. Mr Deputy Speaker Causley, I suspect that you will be surprised to hear that since 1995-96 $47 million has been donated to the Australian Labor Party. Of the major building unions, the CFMEU has donated $4.9 million since 1995-96—I am pleased to see that the member for Werriwa is starting to look a little embarrassed—and the CEPU has donated over $3.3 million.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. IR Causley)—I do not think that this has anything to do with the bill. There are procedures in the House that you can adopt to put this into the record but it is really nothing to do with the bill.

Mr SLIPPER —Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I have been focusing on the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Bill 2005 and I was saying that the Labor Party is opposing the bill because of the financial donations to the ALP—but I have made my point.

The member for Werriwa also referred to the penalties that would be imposed. He may have cited a penalty of $110,000 for a body corporate or $22,000 in other cases. He also referred to compensation. You have to appreciate that these penalties will apply only in the event that the law of Australia is breached. How on earth can anyone defend breaching the law of Australia after this legislation becomes part of the statute books?

The government is determined to make sure that the building industry becomes more efficient and more productive. Therefore, it was necessary for the government to introduce the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Bill 2005 to bring about those very desirable social objectives. It is interesting that the building industry task force—and, once established, the Australian Building and Construction Commission inspectors—will be able to take action under the provisions of this bill. Another very important provision in the bill is that the Federal Court of Australia will be able to order uncapped compensation to any person who suffers damage as a result of unlawful industrial action.

The member for Werriwa would know that this was one of the recommendations of Commissioner Cole in his report. For a long time I have felt that it is absolutely appalling that you can have unlawful industrial action which can impact greatly on financial outcomes, individuals and companies. Somehow there has been some form of alternative law applicable to unions and people breaking laws in this area have not been forced to bear the financial consequences of their illegal actions.

Because of the need to get this bill to the Senate, government members are not able to speak for 20 minutes. I had a lot more to say about the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Bill 2005. It is an incredibly sensible piece of legislation. It is much overdue. I am sorry that the ALP is going back to the past and being industrial troglodytes but this legislation is important. It should pass as soon as possible and I am particularly happy to commend it to the House.