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Wednesday, 15 February 2012
Page: 1462

Ms HALL (ShortlandGovernment Whip) (18:36): It is easy to see that the member for Higgins is a strong advocate for Work Choices. If there is any reason that we should doubt the sincerity of those on the other side of this House, it is the contribution by the member for Higgins. Firstly, she made a point of saying that there will be no review, and it is in the legislation that there will be a review. That is not being completely up-front or honest with the people of Australia or with this House. She also made a statement that the member for Melbourne received a highly inflated amount of money from unions. Not true. Is it right that a person can come into this House and make statements that really are not true?

I believe this legislation is overdue. It will repeal the excesses of the Howard government's extreme industrial relations agenda. The Howard government's agenda was to crush unions and remove the right of workers, and the ABCC was the draconian body it established to do that in the construction industry. The ABCC legislation was the brainchild of Peter Reith, the industrial relations minister who used dogs and armed guards on the wharves of Australia in his government's efforts to crush the MUA.

The Labor government appreciates the role unions play in protecting the rights of workers in Australia, just as we appreciate the role employers play. Both parties are important. On this side of the House we know that unions provide protection for workers just as employer bodies protect the rights of employers. It is about balance—both sides make an enormous contribution.

I have listened to speakers on the other side of the House talk about increases in productivity: 10 per cent, the previous speaker said. Productivity increase is important. But over the same period of time there has been over a four per cent increase in the rate of death on construction sites. Is productivity to be gained at the price of lives? That is the question I have for the member for Higgins, who has now left the chamber. The Howard government did not recognise that there was a need for balance, and that is why it introduced its Work Choices law—which the member for Higgins is so supportive of—which attacked all workers' rights and was harsh and oppressive. It was the zealots in this parliament who sought to squash workers in the building industry and take away their basic rights.

The Howard government's ABCC saw workers like Ark Tribe dragged before the courts with a strong prospect of being imprisoned, simply because he refused to attend an interview in what was nothing more than an inquisition, whilst employers were given a slap over the wrist for breaching occupational health and safety laws. So it was really a double standard that was created under the ABCC. We had an increase in unsafe practices in workplaces, an increase in deaths and injuries. Everyone in this parliament knows that the construction industry is one of the four most dangerous industries, along with agriculture, forestry and mining. When you have a dangerous industry you really need to make sure that occupational health and safety laws are adhered to. Under the ABCC, safety practices were allowed to deteriorate. More workers were injured as a consequence. We on this side of the House realise that you need a balanced approach, and the changes we have before us today are about balance. However, on the other side of the chamber they only listen to the employers. They make no mention of safety; it is all about productivity. If they do mention safety they mention it not for the workers but as a way of denigrating workers in the construction industry. On this side of the House we value safety, we value workers and we value employers.

I will need to shorten my contribution to this debate to ensure that everybody has an opportunity to speak. I would like to briefly put before the House that this legislation is at the heart of the Labor Party's new workplace relations system. We understand that there are unique challenges within the construction industry and we think that this will balance those issues. The ABCC needs to be replaced. Any body that is as oppressive as the ABCC, any body that looks at only one side of the equation and any body that has led to workers ending up in court with the prospect of being jailed simply because they do not attend an interview is not a fair body. We are about fairness—we are about making sure that both employers' and workers' rights are respected.

The position that has been adopted by the government and incorporated in the legislation has been examined by independent legal expert Murray Wilcox QC, and his recommendations have been taken into account in the development of the legislation. There is a sunset clause that will come into play after three years, allowing time for the legislation to take effect. The opposition are not at all interested in a fair workplace. They are not interested in a workplace that has appropriate regulations, where all parties in the building industry have rights. They are interested in work sites in an industry in which it is a one-sided equation, where only the employers—the big companies—have a say; they are the only ones who have a right to be heard. Whilst we respect and appreciate the role that builders and employers play in the construction industry, we know that the construction industry is a very important part of our economy. We want to see it thrive. In my own electorate, it is a very important industry. But we also know that workers in that industry need protection. We know that, in any industry, laws that are so draconian that they are oppressive—in the way that those introduced by the Howard government, which established the ABCC, are—are bad laws.

You only have to come to this chamber and listen to members on the other side of the House distorting facts, not being totally truthful about what the legislation includes and not really portraying the true picture. To have a strong industry, a vibrant industry, you have to respect your workers. You have to have work sites that are safe. If you have an industry that knows it does not have to value its workers, if you have a construction industry where safety can be bypassed and if you have an industry in which workers are constantly in fear of retribution if they speak up, then you do not have things working properly. In saying that, I acknowledge that there are some very good employers who do not cut any corners.

I will leave my contribution there. I recommend and support the legislation before the parliament today and I will be very pleased to see the end of the ABCC.