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Wednesday, 15 February 2012
Page: 1464

Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (18:46): There was a good reason the coalition established the Australian Building and Construction Commission in 2005. As with most things the Howard government did, it was based on solid evidence, a community and industry need, as well as on facts. That was the way of the Howard administration: clear, careful and considered policies thought through and implemented in the national interest.

In the past four-and-a-bit years, and certainly since the current Prime Minister took over, we have seen the complete opposite. Ill-conceived, knee-jerk decision making at the behest of minorities are anything but in the national interest. The Building and Construction Industry Improvement Amendment (Transition to Fair Work) Bill 2011 falls into this typical Labor category. The coalition strongly opposes this bill. We believe that every Australian, whether an employer or an employee, deserves to be able to go to their workplace and operate in an atmosphere where basic law and order is enforced. That goes without saying, and I take exception to the member for Shortland having a go at the coalition, saying that we do not believe in fairness or in safety. Those issues are paramount. We do not distort facts and we do not betray people.

The bill abolishes the body that ensures that law and order is enforced in the building and construction industry. We know why Labor is so keen to bring about an end to the ABCC, and that is because they are beholden to their union mates. They are beholden to the union hierarchy who use hard earned union fees to go on to work sites and into workplaces, close down productivity and put red tape and bureaucracy in front of employers.

Mr Laurie Ferguson: Why would they do that?

Mr McCORMACK: You can yell all you like but this is a fact. I was speaking to a Wagga Wagga builder tonight and he said: 'We don't need the thuggery of unions on our work sites. Unions are fine but everything should be in moderation. We want to be able to get on with doing what we do best and that is building homes, constructing buildings and doing it with good productivity and the ability to hire apprentices.' But this bill will not enable that productivity and will not enable builders to continue to hire workers in the sorts of ways that they are with the construction commission in place as it is now.

The commission was introduced in 2005 in response to the Cole royal commission, which found that the building and construction industry was rife with a complete disregard for the law. It catalogued more than 100 types of unlawful and inappropriate conduct. In today's workplaces and in this day and age we cannot have that. The member opposite might want that but the building industry cannot afford it and the national interest does not need it. The commission also found that existing regulatory bodies had insufficient powers and resources to enforce the law. That is why the Howard government introduced the Australian Building and Construction Commission. But Labor would demolish all that; the Prime Minister would demolish all that.

It is so interesting that the Prime Minister wants to do that. We have heard only today how the Prime Minister, when she was the shadow minister for health, said that insurance rebates were part of the family's budget, yet today we see the private health insurance rebate thrown straight out the window. When the Prime Minister was the education minister she took away independent youth allowance. And now the Prime Minister and the Labor Party want to take away the Australian Building and Construction Commission, which is doing its job and doing a very good job.

This bill will strip away the protections that enable workers to work in a safe and lawful environment. The replacement agency will, unfortunately, be a toothless tiger which will again roll out the red carpet to lawlessness, thuggery and violence. The new body that has been established within Fair Work Australia to replace the very successful office of the Australian Building and Construction Commissioner will not be, and is not, an independent body. It is controlled by the minister. It is not going to be what we would call a strong cop on the beat.

We need to have measures in place that enable fairness and safety. That is why we have the Australian Building and Construction Commission. It is doing its job; it is doing a good job. There are examples upon examples of what happened prior to 2005, before the coalition took the tough decision to return the building and construction industry to law and order. In August 2001, the Howard government established the Cole royal commission to look into what was in fact happening in the building industry. Commissioner Cole reported in March 2003, and the report catalogued, as I said, more than 100 different types of unlawful conduct in that sector. The Cole royal commission examples included payments being made to the CFMEU in Western Australia of more than $1½ million for so-called casual tickets, which is basically money paid in return for industrial peace on sites where not all workers were members of the union. What a disgrace! The Cole commission found that, of the $1½ million that had been paid, only $500,000 could be traced. So $1 million of this money paid to the CFMEU had just disappeared. That would be of no surprise to those opposite because money that is in the budget for all sorts of things just disappears. This is a government with—

Mr Laurie Ferguson: You weren't too vocal on the Wheat Board.

Mr McCORMACK: You mention the Wheat Board. We will not start about the Wheat Board, because let me tell you that has been an absolute disaster. You can speak to any wheat grower in my electorate of Riverina and they will tell you how bad the wheat situation is going following deregulation. I would not start on that if I were you.

If you want to take a sneak peek at what is about to be unleashed, have a look at the Wonthaggi desalination plant in Victoria. I am a little bit dubious about desalination plants at the best of times, because we have more water than we need, but we tend to want to turn sea water back into fresh water so we can use it. Every time I go to Sydney it rains, but we have no policies to build new dams. Every time I go to Sydney it rains, it pours out to the ocean, and at the desalination plant put there at the behest of the Labor government they try to turn it back into useable water. Go-slows at Wonthaggi desalination plant have delayed the project by up to four months. It lost 193 days due to industrial action—this was an example that the Cole royal commission came up with. This is what happens when the cop on the beat is not doing his job or does not have the powers to be able to do his job. Imagine this replicated right across the country.

Regional Australia is doing it tough enough, and builders in regional Australia are doing it tough enough, because investment is on hold. In the city of Griffith in my electorate of Riverina, since the Murray-Darling Basin Authority brought out its infamous and ill-fated guide to the Basin Plan, a company which had sold 62 homes in the 12 months leading up to the release of that report in October 2010 has not sold or built one house since. The builders of that company have had either to shift or to move town, or they are just out of a job.

It is tough enough for the building industry, and this is replicated right across regional Australia, yet builders in those towns who are actually working on homes and buildings for businesses are once more going to be at the behest of unions. They are going to be at the behest of union bosses—these thugs who are going to come onto their worksites and tell them what to do and how to do it. There will be stop work meetings, and you can see it happening all over again. The CFMEU will be up to its old tricks, with a weakened regulator still in place. Just imagine what is going to happen on building sites when the construction police tie up the hands of employers and companies to the point where it will be, 'Hammers and screwdrivers down!' We are going to be seeing union thuggery at its worst in this country again.

This bill is a ploy by the Prime Minister to bring the unions and the Labor Left onside to save her leadership—nothing more, nothing less. Employers right across my electorate of Riverina are worried about this. They have written letters to me. Workers are going to be worried about it, too—

Mr Neumann interjecting

Mr McCORMACK: You can complain all you like, but workers are worried about it, too. Workers in regional Australia just want a job. They just want a job as an apprentice, they just want a job on a working site, and they want to be paid fairly. They want fair conditions. They want safe conditions. That is imperative, and that is possible under the current commission. What they do not want is to always be told to put down tools. They do not want some union thug telling them that they cannot do this and they cannot do that.

In most places, as even the member for Shortland admitted, many employers are very good employers in very good companies. A lot of them are family owned and they treat their workers like their own. You are going to get bad workers in any environment, and bad employers too—that is just the nature of the beast—but the ABCC is doing its job. It is doing a good regulatory job and it is stopping those unions from having their way with companies, bringing down productivity and putting in place negative factors which would stop otherwise reputable companies and employers from hiring people.

That is why the coalition is dead against the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Amendment (Transition to Fair Work) Bill 2011. Even the wording of the bill is a little bit like the Fairer Private Health Insurance Incentives Bill this morning, with the word 'fairness' in it. Here we have the word 'improvement' and the phrase 'transition to fair work' in the name of the bill. It is almost editorialising at its worst. That bill was not about fairness in private health insurance, just like this bill is not about improvement. This is a bill which shows that the Prime Minister is beholden to the Greens. It shows that the Prime Minister is beholden to the unions, who we know pay her way and pay Labor's way to keeping their flimsy government intact.

This bill is not in the national interest. If it were in the national interest, then it would have been done many years ago. It is not in the national interest; it is only in the unions' interest. That is why the coalition opposes the bill and that is why it should not be passed.