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Thursday, 23 June 1994
Page: 1957

Senator BURNS —My question is directed to the Minister for Small Business, Customs and Construction. Is the minister aware of a report in last Monday's Australian Financial Review which highlighted aspects of the government's construction industry reform strategy and the potential for this strategy to falter if there is not strong, continuing industry-wide support for such reform? Is the minister able to provide any information on results to date from the construction industry reform strategy? Can the minister tell the Senate how the government will ensure that construction industry reform continues, particularly in the period after the Construction Industry Development Agency ceases on 30 June 1995?

Senator SCHACHT —Last week the Construction Industry Development Agency held a major conference in Brisbane attended by nearly 500 representatives of the Australian building industry, government, unions and employers. One of the major matters for discussion was the future of CIDA, the Construction Industry Development Agency, which was established in 1991 as a tripartite arrangement funded by the Australian government but with the support of the construction industry. When it was established, a sunset clause of June next year was included. It was always the view of the government, and it still is, that the industry has to take charge of its own reform process after the government has given it its initial start. That was the view discussed at the conference. One of the major themes of the conference was around that particular issue.

  What came out of the discussion was that most of the industry believes that there has to be a continuing reform process, but it should not be run by the government. The industry council will be holding a meeting later this year. At that we hope to have key options put before it about how the reform process should continue, so that well before the sunset clause of June of next year the industry itself knows about its own future.

   I point out to the Senate that since 1991 the CIDA process has been extremely successful in showing that there are ways in which this industry, despite its long history of conflict, can achieve outstanding success. There have been a number of major construction projects in Australia under this process that have been brought in under budget under time, such as the nearly completed third runway project in Sydney, the Glebe Island bridge and the Stanwell electricity power plant in central Queensland. All have been brought to fruition because both employers and employees have worked together to carry out reform on the labour side, including the introduction of multiskilling, building regulations and general improvement in the running of the industry.

  This industry generates about $40 billion worth of turnover, or about 10 per cent of GDP. This is a very important development which will result in major improvements in cost structure and in skill levels. We hope we can make a major effort in exporting these skills through the recently announced Asian infrastructure initiative whereby Australian companies will be encouraged to form consortiums to go into Asia and be more successful in winning the major infrastructure developments in that region. So it was a very successful conference. It was pleasing to see both employers' and employees' representatives realising that the reform process must continue. They are committed to it.

Senator Gareth Evans —Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.