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Thursday, 4 February 2010
Page: 470

Senator ABETZ (12:37 PM) —The minister is quite right: the Senate does now have a speaker who is able to highlight the problems with this legislation. I indicate at the outset that we as a coalition will continue to oppose this legislation, which is designed to remove the key means for achieving that which the Building and Construction Commission was initially set up for. It is vitally important that the Australian people be reminded why the Australian Building and Construction Commission was set up: corruption, illegality, and thuggery were rife throughout the building and construction sector in Australia.

Indeed, in my home state of Tasmania, having listened to the plight of small business contractors, who have to try to do deals with trade unions and big builders so that they could come on site, I was convinced—as were many other Australians—that a royal commission into this sort of behaviour was necessary. That royal commission was held. It was the Cole royal commission. When I read its findings, I was horrified to learn that that which I thought was horrific in my home state of Tasmania was in fact like a Sunday school picnic in comparison to what was occurring elsewhere, especially in Victoria and Western Australia.

The people of Australia, quite rightly, fully supported the Howard government’s establishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission. We said we needed somebody to enforce law and order so that law-abiding citizens could actually get onto building and construction sites all around Australia. The Labor Party were shamed into basically saying at the last election: ‘Well, yeah, somehow, sort of, we’ll keep that legislation; we’ll keep a tough cop on the beat.’ But it is very interesting to have a look at some of the donations made to the Australian Labor Party before the last election. We had the CFMEU meeting with the now Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, with them believing that they had walked away with an assurance that the ABCC would be emasculated. As a result, it is interesting to learn, $500,000—half a million dollars—went from that union’s kitty to the Australian Labor Party to help fund those dishonest advertisements about the Howard government. Of course, this bill before the Senate today, the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Amendment (Transition to Fair Work) Bill 2009 is the reward to the CFMEU for that payment and support at the last election.

Ms Gillard and Mr Rudd are past masters at this. The Prime Minister says one day, ‘I’ve never been a socialist,’ and then the next day is able to say, ‘Well, I’m a Christian socialist.’ In his very first speech to the parliament he said that Margaret Thatcher’s economic policies were horrific and then a few years later appeared on pay-TV advertisements, hand on heart, saying, ‘Guess what—I’ve always been an economic conservative.’ The man will do anything for the sake of power. The man who promised the Australian people he would retain the Australian Building and Construction Commission as a tough cop on the beat quietly, behind the scenes, accepted the invitation for a meeting from the CFMEU—

Senator Fierravanti-Wells —And took their money.

Senator ABETZ —and took their money—Senator Fierravanti-Wells, you are quite right—and we are now seeing the legislation. So I suppose anybody around Australia can now buy this government for half a million dollars—

Senator Fierravanti-Wells —Or less.

Senator ABETZ —or less, indeed, Senator Fierravanti-Wells—for a change in legislation.

Having said all that, this bill is designed to restrain the activities of the Australian Building and Construction Commission. Indeed, there are senators in this place that have little posters up in their windows condemning the ABCC. Let us just put it on the record: the man that is in charge of the ABCC has had to put up with people spitting at him in public, and I do not hear many public statements from those opposite condemning that sort of behaviour. They have to be asked; it has to be probed out of them. They do not voluntarily say, ‘This is the sort of activity which we want to outlaw and get rid of.’ My view is that that sort of behaviour has no place in Australian society. In particular, the thuggery, the vandalism and the assaults—you name it—that occur on building and construction sites in Australia, especially in Western Australia and Victoria, need a tough cop on the beat.

So what does Labor want to do? Instead of having an independent body administering these laws, an independent policeman, or an independent, tough cop on the beat—listen to this—the independence is going to be removed by giving the minister the capacity to issue directions to the director about the policies, the programs, the priorities and the manner in which the powers and functions of the building industry inspectorate are exercised and performed. Would that be acceptable for any other police force in the Western world, for a police force that exists in a society where the rule of law should be in prime position? Just imagine it: halfway through an investigation, the minister could say, ‘Well, I’m sorry, Mr Building Industry Inspectorate, but I’m going to change your priorities and the way you exercise your powers and functions.’ That is the rule of law, that is the tough cop on the beat according to Mr Rudd, the economic conservative—say one thing and do another, and this is a classic case.

The Australian people have just recently witnessed what the trade union movement is willing to do in Western Australia with the Maritime Union of Australia.

Debate interrupted.