Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 15 February 2012
Page: 1367

Mr RANDALL (Canning) (12:15): I am very pleased to speak on the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Amendment (Transition to Fair Work) Bill 2011. 'Improvement' is a bit of an Orwellian title. It is not actually improving anything; it is making it go backwards. Let me point out why we are here today. We are here today because the Labor Party want to water down the ability of the cop on the beat in the construction industry to do its job properly. Let us have a look at why there had to be an Office of the Australian Building and Construction Commissioner, or ABCC, in the first place. The Cole Royal Commission into the Building and Construction Industry, as many speakers have mentioned, was initiated in 2003, and Justice Cole came down with a report which found widespread inappropriate conduct and disregard of the rule of law.

If you listened to the member for Fraser, you would think that the CFMEU were a benevolent fund, a league of gentlemen having afternoon picnics with people in parks. That is not the case at all. Let us go back to why this militant union and its militant behaviour on worksites first had to be looked at. Who remembers Norm Gallagher from the BLF? They had to outlaw the BLF because of its illegal activities. Then it morphed into the CFMEU. In my state, Western Australia, you only have to mention the names Kevin Reynolds and Joe McDonald to understand that they are not a league of gentlemen but are a bunch of rampant thugs and spivs on the worksite. If they were the mafia, they would be done for extortion. They should be brought into line with the rule of law, as Justice Cole found.

Let us have a look at some of the inappropriate behaviour. I refer to the case of the Woodman Point Wastewater Treatment Plant, on page 237 of volume 21 of the Cole royal commission report. The commission again found abuse on a worksite in this case, including:

(a) disregard of the Workplace Relations Act … and the common law by a union and its officers and organisers;

(b) abuse of right of entry provisions by officers and organisers of a union;

(c) disregard of occupational health and safety considerations when exercising rights of entry by officers and organisers of a union;

(d) the preparedness of officers and organisers of a union to make threats of unlawful conduct to attempt to achieve industrial objectives;

(e) disregard of directions of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission by a union and its officers and organisers;

It goes on and on. Basically the union were willing to break or thwart the law in any way they could to get their own way. You will hear the Labor Party members in this chamber saying: 'This was a terrible finding by the royal commission. It was a disgraceful finding because it was set up by the previous government.' Can I say that the work of the Cole royal commission and the ABCC was remarkable in bringing peace and productivity to the building sites of Australia. It helped the building and construction industry increase its productivity by 10 per cent. It provided an economic gain of $5.5 billion per annum. It reduced inflation by 1.2 per cent. It increased GDP by 1.5 per cent. In 2004, before the royal commission, the number of working days lost annually was 224 per thousand employees. In 2006, after the commission began its work, it was 24. So it was reduced to 10 per cent of what it was before. That just shows that the commission worked.

Some people have a problem with a cop on the beat, in any jurisdiction, whether you are walking down the street or whatever. The only people who have to worry about the law enforcement of this country are people who are breaking the law, dare I say. If you are defrauding someone, if you are engaging in criminal activity, if you are speeding, of course you are going to worry about the law. But, if you are not doing anything wrong, you will not have to worry about the law.

We heard extraordinary claims in this place that people were being taken off the streets by the ABCC, as though it were some sort of Stasi group from Romania. That is absolute garbage. Of course you get picked up and arrested if you have been breaking the law. I get pulled over by the police if I have been breaking the law. I have people in my electorate who have been subject to burglaries et cetera, and when the police find the perpetrators they pick them up and they arrest them and they deal with them because they have broken the law. Of course in the case where the ABCC was doing its job it had to go and apprehend people. It is just a ludicrous claim, an overstretched claim.

Why do we have this position in this House? Because the members on the other side are joined at the hip to the union movement. They are the product of the union movement. They have to come in here and show their hairy-chested behaviour to the union movement because, firstly, they get preselected by them and, secondly, they get funded by them. The CFMEU, for example, has put millions of dollars into Labor Party campaigns. It is well documented that, before the 2007 election, something like $30 million was put into the Australian Labor Party's campaign by the unions, and the CFMEU was a major contributor.

Let us look at why. On the front bench of the Labor Party, the member for Batman is a former ACTU president. Sitting next to him is the member for Hotham, a former ACTU president. We move along. The member for Rankin was a union organiser. We know the former role of the member for Charlton very well: ACTU secretary. The member for Gorton is ACTU born and bred. The member for Maribyrnong is the dog in the manger in this whole arrangement. He is the former head of the Australian Workers Union, and now he has been put in charge as the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. That is like putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank. You have got the ACTU all along the front bench. Their mates in the union movement are saying: 'We don't want the cop on the beat anymore. We're worried about what they're going to do to us in terms of making us comply with the rule of law and industrial law. So you've either got to change the laws or you've got to get them off our backs. So defund them, put sunset clauses on them, but we don't want them anymore as part of the people that are going to keep an eye on us. We want to stay militant. We want to stay outside of the rule of law. If the cop on the beat has got any say, we can't do that. So you've got to help us.' So dutifully those on the other side, the Labor Party members, are falling in line and helping them.

One of the great things that came out of the Cole royal commission was about the bogus safety issues being used as the reason to enter worksites to intimidate people to get them to join up and belong to the union. In fact, I had an occasion when from a site in Forrestdale one of my constituents, an electrician, rang me and said, 'Don, you've got to help us. We've just had Joe McDonald come into our workplace and crash through our crib room. He didn't seek any permission to be here. He's come in here and threatened us all and said that if we didn't comply he was coming back tomorrow to deal with us all.' You would have seen all that footage on the TV where Joe McDonald was abusing people and threatening people. This is not Fantasyland stuff, this is as plain as the day is and I intend to read out his conviction sheet shortly just to show you that he is still currently getting up to it. So it is about bogus safety issues.

I will quote from page 281 of volume 12 of the Cole report:

… in an industry where the risk of injury is significant the misuse of occupational health and safety issues as an industrial tool is common. Those union officials who so abuse occupational health and safety directly undermine the pre-eminence that such issues ought to have. Safety issues are exploited to provide a justification for the employment of persons named on lists maintained by the union. Safety is exploited as an industrial tool to bring pressure to bear on head contractors, subcontractors and others to achieve desired, non-safety related outcomes or simply to reinforce the power of the union. Safety issues are often raised by union officials in attempts to coerce subcontractors to sign EBAs and to pressure subcontractors not to engage non-union workers at a site.

It says they are abandoned when an EBA is signed or an amount is paid on the account of casual tickets and specialised training. On that point, remember the 'no ticket, no start' signs all over the building sites in Perth. In this democracy with freedom of association there we had, while this union was running its lawless actions, 'no ticket, no start'. How un-Australian is that! You cannot have a job unless you get a ticket off the union. It is not the boss you go to see to join the worksite and it is not the person employing you; it is the union, which wants to control the worksite. We saw this on the Perth to Mandurah line that was being built and the federal government came to the rescue of the then Labor state government by putting a ban on strikes, so that they could finally build the line because it was all blowing out unbelievably because the union had been abusing the situation. In fact, there was some guy, a union official, who had declared it, of all things, 'holy ground' and said that they were going to strike on a daily basis and also when they felt like it.

This law is proposed to bring greater harmony. It was so under us. But now, as I have said—watered down with 30 amendments and a defunding mechanism and a lack of authority for those running it—it is going to see the cop on the beat emasculated. I know the other side hate John Lloyd, the former head of the ABCC, but I note that, in a speech that he made, he made a few observations: that the conduct of the industry had improved since the ABCC was established, that the incidence of unlawful conduct had been reduced and that industrial disputation had fallen to historically low levels—although we do know now that they are increasing under this government because the unions are being giving a wink and nod by this government that they can do what they like and it would not make sure that they did their job—but, however, that culture of exploiting any complacency in regulation was still intact. The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry—remember that they are the terrible people who actually employ people—praised the ABCC in a submission to the Senate committee. This submission stated that the only effective response had come from the establishment of the ABCC and it went on to say:

Whilst the industry is still in some areas a tough and demanding one to operate in, it is also one that is now characterised by a much greater sense of predictability and certainty than was the case prior to the establishment of the ABCC. The ACCI is very concerned about any changes that would put its hard-won position at risk and create the potential for a return to the past.

While I have been sitting in here and listening to contributions I have heard—and I am sure we will all hear them again in a moment—that the words 'flexibility' and 'productivity' are dirty words on the other side of the House because they say—and if you read the Hansard you will see they have been saying this—that 'flexibility' and 'productivity' are about another way of reducing working conditions and terms for workers. They are not. In fact, for us to keep in any way competitive with countries off our northern shores that have cheap labour, we have to remain productive and competitive because that is about our competitive edge in terms of pricing et cetera. There is nothing wrong with what productivity and flexibility lead to, as I have said. Senator Sinodinos, in a recent piece, says:

The Review of the Fair Work Act should be revamped to include an assessment by the Productivity Commission of the implications of the act for productivity, flexibility and nurturing direct employer-employee workplace relations. Flexibility is not code for cutting wages; it is code for encouraging work practices that stimulate innovation, and win-win productivity deals that are tailored to the preferences of workers on such matters as work-life balance.

In coming to a conclusion, I note that in last weekend's Australian Financial Review an editorial belled the cat on this issue. I will read as much of it as I can before we finish:

As former vice-president of the ACTU, Anna Booth says, Australia's industrial relations system is outdated and adversarial, and aims to institutionalise conflicts between workers and their bosses, rather than build productive workplaces.

When a former stalwart of the union movement describes our industrial relations system in such scathing terms, the Labor government and the union movement should pay attention.

We need a more modern, simpler system which emphasises flexibility, where workers can strike individual bargains with their employers over wages, working hours and other conditions.

Fairfax newspapers are no friend of those on this side of the House, yet this is the Australian Financial Review of last weekend saying that a former union boss, a former ACTU vice-president—Anna Booth—has said you have got to do something about the industrial relations climate in this country because it is getting out of hand. Of course, those on the other side of the House laugh, as that is their way of dismissing it. So they laugh when one of their own finally comes to see the light! It says that while Prime Minister Gillard 'speaks of the New Economy' she has got to deal with the rigidities— (Time expired)