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Thursday, 9 February 2012
Page: 599

Mr EWEN JONES (Herbert) (13:39): Before I start to speak on the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Amendment (Transition to Fair Work) Bill 2011, I would like to respond to the diatribe that we just heard. In my 18 months as the member for Herbert, not one worker has come into my office telling me that they have been done over by the ABCC. What I have had is a lot of builders coming to me and telling me that the red tape that this government and the state government are imposing on the industry is killing the industry. What I see in the industry is people being paid above award wages because employers want to keep good workers. The ABCC is not anti-worker; it is pro-work.

I rise to speak on the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Amendment (Transition to Fair Work) Bill 2011. The purpose of this bill is to abolish the successful Australian Building and Construction Commissioner, the ABCC, and replace it with a new agency, the Office of the Fair Work Building Industry Inspectorate. It also provides for a new independent assessor's office, which will be able to determine what examination notice papers should apply to specific projects. It also removes laws related to the building industry that provide for higher penalties on those found to have breached industrial law and a wider set of conditions that attract these penalties.

The coalition established the ABCC back in 2005 in response to the Cole royal commission's findings of rampant unlawful and inappropriate industrial conduct in the construction industry. Part of those findings emphasised the lack of powers and resources that the regulatory body had at the time and the consequences of this. The ABCC has been the policeman of the industry, dealing with these problems in a tough but fair and balanced manner so that heavy-handed tactics are no longer what the industry is known for. The industry cannot afford to return to the days when unlawful tactics became rife as a result of weak oversight bodies.

It is clear that this bill is another example of the Labor Party giving in to the unions, their lords and masters. The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union does not like the ABCC because it has been effective at holding militant industrial relations antics to account. The government does not want to scrap this for the good of the construction industry; they want to scrap it for the good of the union, regardless of the outcome.

Mr Lyons: You want to put workers under threat.

Mr EWEN JONES: Member for Bass, how many people in Tasmania have a job, mate? Over the past year, we have seen a raft of industrial action in which people have not played by the rules. The last thing that we need right now is to abolish the watchdog responsible for ensuring that either side in an industrial dispute does not get away with underhanded tactics. The construction industry has a bleak history in this area in Australia. A tough commissioner was needed to clean this up and the ABCC has done that. Under their watch, productivity in the construction industry has increased by 10 per cent and inflation has reduced by 1.2 per cent. Replacing this with a new weaker inspectorate threatens to return the industry to the bad old days of devious union activity that hurts business and the economy.

On top of that, unlike the independent ABCC the new building inspectorate will be controlled by the minister. Everybody knows that independence is critical to ensuring that any workplace relations body is fair and balanced. That has played a big part in why the ABCC has been so successful. This bill will also allow for ABCC powers to be switched off on specific work sites. Absurd as it sounds, this means that unions will be able to try and have the law simply not apply to that workplace.

Townsville is a rapidly growing city and as such its construction industry is a key part of the local economy and the local community. The city is continuously expanding as new homes and new suburbs are built to cater for the population growth while the opportunities in the North Queensland economy have led to a number of business construction projects as well. Changes that threaten the construction industry have big consequences for the city. I have been speaking to builders across Townsville and I have heard their concerns about these changes.

Darrell Gribble of Liveconstruction lamented the burden of overregulation on the industry and the effect that it has on their ability to their job. I have listened to people express concerns about the risk that a weaker industry watchdog poses in terms of expanding the access of unions to workplaces and the impact that this will have on their work and on their productivity. Adrian Gabrielli of Gabrielli Constructions told me how worried he and other builders are about the consequences for their workplaces and about the impact that these changes will have on construction costs. Only trouble can come when you do not have a policeman on the watch. As he pointed out, all big businesses have had to bend to unreasonable demands issued by unions and this change will just give them more scope to wield their power, leaving building companies at their mercy. The system that we have at the moment has kept fairness in the building industry while allowing businesses to do their jobs instead of coming up against unions intent on stirring up trouble rather than raising genuine issues.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ): Order! The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour.