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Wednesday, 15 February 2012
Page: 1457

Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (18:16): My contribution to this debate on the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Amendment (Transition to Fair Work) Bill 2011 will be brief. I have to observe that the contributions from those on the other side have been really revealing about what lies in their hearts and their obsessions when it comes to industrial relations. The bill has a long history, dating back to at least 2001, when in the lead-up to an election the then Prime Minister, John Howard, established the Cole Royal Commission into the Building and Construction Industry, whose singular purpose was to demonise the union movement in general and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union in particular. The government never really made any secret that this was its singular objective in commissioning the Cole royal commission. Unfortunately, the government's real objective was to ensure that the evidence would be horrifying and that it would assist it in moving through its next raft of industrial relations changes after the 2001 election. Unfortunately for the government, the evidence before the commission was at times unhelpful to that cause.

The evidence before the commission found that by world standards we have a very efficient construction industry, and in some respects we are leading by way of world's best practice.

Ms O'Dwyer interjecting

Mr STEPHEN JONES: My friend in the chamber makes the observation that there were no convictions arising out of the royal commission. It did find that there was corruption in the industry and a significant amount of corruption by certain employers within the industry. It was a tough and rough industry and from time to time some practices went on that would be condemned by all members of this House. But to say that poor practice was solely the result of union activity is a complete furphy and a misrepresentation of any of the evidence that was put before the Cole royal commission.

It also found—and this never got much attention and certainly never got any action from the Howard government—that there were systemic breaches and systemic failures in adhering to occupational health and safety standards and regulations within the building industry. If the Howard government had put as much energy into chasing that rabbit down that hole, then there would probably be a few more workers in this industry and workplaces who had not suffered the terrible injuries that occur on an all too often basis within the building and construction industry.

The debate in this chamber today shows the obsession of the Liberal Party and the coalition with harsh industrial relations laws, union bashing and their love of Work Choices. Whilst they have attempted to put them in the closet from time to time, when debates like this come before the House they cannot help themselves. We have seen that from the frantic, if not hysterical, debate from the member for Wannon. What is absolutely astounding is that the loudest voices and the most ill-informed comments, I wager, have come most often from those members of the House who have never been anywhere near a building site and who do not know what it is like to work in the building and construction industry—which, as I have said, is a tough industry.

I am pleased to be speaking in favour of the legislation before this House, but I will make one qualification to that. The legislation abolishes the Australian Building and Construction Commission and absorbs those functions into the functions of Fair Work Australia. It ensures that there will still be a tough cop on the beat. It ensures that there will still be strong regulatory arrangements in the building and construction industry, extending beyond the obsessions of those on the other side but going directly to issues of health and safety and to issues of employer breaches and scams that regularly affect subcontractors within the industry. The legislation ensures these practices are wiped out as well.

If I have a reservation, it stems from my background in the law. My concern is that the bill does not yet deal with the issue of compelled evidence. I understand that this is the result of commitments that we made in the lead-up to the 2010 election and, as a member of this place and this party, I stand squarely behind the policy commitments and the provisions of this bill. But I do raise the reservation—and it stems from hundreds of years of legal practice—that courts should be very wary indeed about accepting the probity and the availability of compelled evidence. If we have learnt anything over hundreds of years of legal practice, there are deep concerns within the legal community of accepting the probative value of compelled evidence. I am hoping that some time in the future, with the experience of the new functions being absorbed within Fair Work Australia, and improved practices within the building and construction industry, we may be able to revisit this matter in this place in the interests of all. I commend the legislation to the House.