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Thursday, 9 February 2012
Page: 572

Mr BRIGGS (Mayo) (11:44): I rise to speak against this bill before the chamber, the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Amendment (Transition to Fair Work) Bill 2011, which is another broken promise from this Labor government. Worse than that, it reflects more about the internal machinations of the prime ministership of our country than it does about a genuine attempt to bring about good reform and productivity-increasing changes to our economy. This is a deal with the Left of the Labor Party and the Greens party to ensure that this Prime Minister is propped up for just a little bit longer to hold the Minister for Foreign Affairs at bay. It was promised before the 2007 election that this would not be changed, but we know and we knew then that the powers within the union movement, the millions of dollars of donations they receive from these unions, would eventually hold sway and this bill would be introduced and the powers of the ABCC would be gutted absolutely.

The ABCC has actually been effective. It has done what the royal commission sought it to do when it handed down its report in February 2003, some nine years ago now. It did take some time for the Howard government to get the necessary reforms in place, and in 2005 they were able to get through these reforms, and they were good reforms. They sought to bring the rule of law back into an industry which had been marked by complete disregard for the normal laws of our country for too long. That had an effect not just on the operators in that industry but also on the prices of properties that Australians had to pay for, which of course impacts on the economy and reduces the amount of money that people are able to spend on other productive things. It impacts on inflation and impacts on the employment prospects of many Australians.

The royal commission found that this industry was plagued by behaviour that was just unacceptable in a modern society. It was plagued by violence, by corruption, by the use of threats to stand over contractors, to stand over companies. It has to be said that the royal commission found some of the same behaviour by some of those companies involved also. This industry had operated like a jungle with the rule of the jungle for too long and it took extraordinary laws, absolutely extraordinary powers, for this industry to be brought back under control.

What we have now seen is that this Labor government is desperate to hang on, obsessed with itself, obsessed with one job, the job of the person who sits next to the dispatch box. The current occupant, the member for Blaxland, hopes to be there one day too, it must be noted. This is a deal with the Greens, a deal with the Left of the Labor Party, to ensure the stability of this Prime Minister for just a little bit longer. This is something the Labor Party very clearly said they would not do. They said that they would not change the ABCC. They said they would not gut this important cop on the beat. They said they would not bow to the millions of dollars they get from these trade unions to influence this policy, to change this policy which has changed behaviour in this industry, which has ensured that this industry is once again competitive, is once again able to produce high quality at lower cost, reducing the pressure on consumers and reducing the pressure on the taxpayers, it must be said. Someone not often spoken about that in this place anymore is the taxpayer and their money being used properly.

We know that the government is not all that interested in spending money properly or wisely. That is why we have seen a deterioration in the Australian Commonwealth finances from a $20 billion surplus in 2006-07 to now nearly $140 billion in net debt, $300 billion in gross debt, and blowing out day after day. This is part of the problem we see, this reregulation in this area. We have seen this day after day over the Christmas period and most of last year—and some people have been making this point for a while—that the changes made in the workplace relations area, including in this particular area, are doing enormous damage to our future prospects as a nation, to our future productive capacity as a nation.

The member for McEwen may shake his head, but I do not think Marius Kloppers lies. I do not think there is any need for Marius Kloppers to lie. I do not think the head of Toyota lies. We hear much about the car industry from those on the other side. We hear much about how great the car industry is, how it must be saved, that we have to keep co-investing to ensure we save it. But we knew nothing about the microeconomic reforms which actually would ensure its survival, ensuring that people can be employed at reasonable rates of pay and reasonable conditions—but not in the position where the union movement in this country is given such power that it is able to bring massive corporations to their knees. That is what we are seeing with BHP with the coking-coal dispute in Queensland. We are seeing a massive global corporation employing hundreds of thousands of people, one of Australia's great prosperity drivers—

Mr Mitchell: You can't even keep a straight face when you say that, Jamie.

Mr BRIGGS: Being sledged by the member for McEwen is an interesting experience.

Mr Mitchell interjecting

Mr BRIGGS: This sort of gutter behaviour of the member for McEwen and the language he uses in this place reflect exactly where they are. We saw that on Australia Day and we see it with the member for McEwen and his behaviour today. I think the voters will see it very soon, Mr Deputy Speaker.

The reregulation, the changes that the Labor Party have made to Australian workplace law, driven by people like the member for McEwen, are impacting enormously on the disputation in our nation. They are impacting enormously on the employment capacity of thousands of small businesses, and now we are seeing it with our biggest employers. The people these people pretend they stand for are being affected by the laws that they put in place. We will see it no worse than what we see with this bill, which is again a broken promise—from a government you cannot trust and a Prime Minister who said 'There would be no carbon tax under a government I lead.' This is exactly the same broken promise—the same as the broken promise that the member for Denison has gone through in the last few weeks with the pokies change, which we always said they would never go ahead with.

Mr Laurie Ferguson interjecting

Mr BRIGGS: We always said they would not go ahead with it, Laurie. You know that, mate. We always said that. All was promised to ensure that one job in this country. The chair the minister currently at the table is sitting in is all the Labor Party is interested in. This bill is a backdown on a promise because of a demand of the Greens and a demand of the Left of the Labor Party. Reflecting back on the building industry royal commission, I will remind the House of some of the key findings it handed down in 2003. It found:

… structural changes are necessary to ensure that bargaining at the enterprise level occurs. At present, it does not. Pattern bargaining in this industry should be prohibited by statute.

It was prohibited by those changes. It will be undone by these changes. It also said:

… mechanisms should be in place to ensure that any participant in the industry causing loss to other participants as a result of unlawful industrial action is held responsible for that loss.

They were by the Building Commission reforms. They will not be by these changes. It further said:

… mechanisms must be in place to ensure that where disputes occur within the industry, such disputes are resolved in accordance with legislated or agreed dispute resolution mechanisms rather than by the application of industrial and commercial pressure. The 'rule of law' must replace industrial might.

That is exactly what the building industry reforms in 2005 were about. It is what they have achieved since 2005 in this industry. They brought back into the normal practice of rule of law the normal behaviour expected by ordinary Australians and by other industries across this nation. These changes will reintroduce the behaviour where contractors were stood over and contracts demanded union participation on sites. These are the sorts of provisions we will see again when this is all removed. The cost will be borne by Australians. It will not be borne by the Australian Labor Party; it will be borne by Australians.

The royal commission recommendations went on to say:

… there needs to be an independent body, free of the pressures on the participants in the industry, which will ensure that participants comply with industrial, civil and criminal laws applicable to all Australians, and thus operating on building and construction sites, as well as industry specific laws applicable to this industry only.

These are very specific provisions. What the royal commission found was so shocking that these eminent people decided that there had to be specific provisions to deal with this industry because it was in such a bad state. It was costing Australians so much more because of the behaviour of participants in the industry.

The findings highlight exactly what it was trying to achieve and exactly what the Howard government's bills did in 2005, which was to bring back the rule of law and bring in an independent body with a specific group of people looking at the law to ensure that this industry once again was brought back to productiveness and was governed by acceptable community standards of behaviour in industrial relations in this country. It was a cultural issue as well as a legal issue and it needed and continues to need specific attention.

Removing the watchdog, the cop on the beat, in this industry, as we see in this bill, will do untold damage to the productive capacity of this industry at a time when we should be looking at how we can become more productive. We should be looking at how we can free up our economy. This measure will again encourage the worst of the behaviours, as we are now seeing on worksites around this country, whether it be BHP, Toyota or the thousands of small businesses that every day face increased activity by the union movement. That puts untold pressure on thousands of businesses and jobs and on our economy when we need to be finding ways to be more competitive.

The reforms at the broader workplace relations level were always going to be a disaster from the very moment they were put in place. We know that because we see it every day now on the front page of the Financial Reviewand the Australian and as we move around our country. There is immense fear in the eyes of Australians over their job security, because of the changes this government is putting in place. It is a real and genuine concern for the future of our country. These laws are continually being made more union-friendly and friendly to specific interests rather than being for the broader economic goals of all Australians. This is exactly what we are seeing with this bill. It is more about the Labor Party and its internal machinations and about rewarding its mates. It is about rewarding those who have donated millions of dollars over time to ensure that they get to write policies for the Australian Labor Party.

What it is not about is finding ways to ensure that this industry can continue to be competitive in a modern economy and in a flat world. Instead what these people are trying to do is create a circumstance—

Mr Laurie Ferguson: Flat world?

Mr BRIGGS: The members opposite seem to think that you can just continue to apply standards to industry that are far above what is affordable in the future, and the building industry is a perfect example of that. If you let unions run rampant, if you let unlawful behaviour run rampant, as it has historically—and the royal commission found this—you will find that there will be fewer Australians employed, it will cost more and our productivity will continue to go down, as we are seeing right now.

This is an important bill. If it passes, this industry will go back to the bad old days of the past. It will go back to where people could not go to work to achieve good outcomes and a fair day's work for a fair day's pay. They will go to work and be bullied and intimidated and exposed to the worst excesses of an industry that has been guided by lawlessness in the past. This bill should not be allowed to pass for that reason.

The agency has done an excellent job, firstly under the leadership of John Lloyd, who was an outstanding Australian and an outstanding thinker in these areas. He did an outstanding job in bringing this industry back from the very worst excesses we had seen for so long.

You have to ask yourself what the motive is for this bill. Is it about making a better industry or is it about rewarding mates? Is it about rewarding those who have donated so much for so long, rewarding those who sit on the back benches of the Australian Labor Party and rewarding those who help prop the government up? The answer to all those questions is that it is about the Labor Party and the prime ministership; it is not about the good productive capacity of our economy for the future. It should be opposed in the strongest terms.