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Wednesday, 11 February 2015
Page: 544

Senator McKENZIE (Victoria) (19:46): Two of the very first actions—and I have spoken already in the chamber today on this—of the new Victorian Labor government have been to abolish the state's safety- and efficiency-enhancing Victorian Code of Practice for the Building and Construction Industry and to take steps to repeal new police move-on powers that protect honest Victorian workers from the sort of ugly union pickets and violence seen during the 2012 Grocon blockade in the Melbourne CBD. These actions are an ominous sign of things to come.

In 2012, the then Victorian coalition government established a Construction Code Compliance Unit and Implementation Guidelines to the Victorian Code of Practice for the Building and Construction Industry. The code applied certain safety standards and obligations on construction projects carried out using taxpayer funds. Organisations that did not comply with the code faced penalties, including the possibility of a ban on tendering for government work. The premise was simple: if you want to do taxpayer funded work for the government, the government expects a high standard of conduct from you in respect of safety, efficiency, productivity and compliance with the law. It is hardly controversial.

In July 2014, the code was expanded to require random drug and alcohol testing on all major Victorian government projects. In October 2014, a new, stronger code was created to better promote safe and productive construction sites. Surprisingly, the CFMEU in Victoria actively opposed medical drug and alcohol testing on construction sites. If there is one workplace in which it is incredibly unsafe for a worker to be affected by drugs and alcohol, it must be on constructions sites.

In March 2014, the Productivity Commission published a draft inquiry report on public infrastructure. The report found that Victoria's code and guidelines were 'the most influential' of the codes, and that codes and guidelines linking government procurement to contractors' workplace arrangements were 'the most powerful instruments for state influence of workplace relations'. It also found that the most promising policy approach to countering high costs, sweetheart deals and coercion would be for governments to use their purchasing power to leverage good behaviour and that this could be achieved by adopting guidelines similar to those that existed in Victoria. The report concluded by recommending that:

Australian, State and Territory governments should adopt codes and guidelines with an essentially similar framework to the Victorian Code of Practice for the Building and Construction Industry for their own major infrastructure purchases.

The Australian Government should require compliance with these guidelines as a precondition for any infrastructure funds it provides to State and Territory Governments.

But Premier Daniel Andrews—sorry, it is Dan now—has scrapped it all. The abolition of the construction code will cost Victorians hundreds of millions of dollars in higher construction costs, money which could otherwise have been spent on new hospital beds, classrooms or, indeed, ambulance stations. Its abolition will also remove the requirement for drug and alcohol testing on building sites. The fact that Daniel Andrews is prepared to compromise the safety of Victorian workers shows just how far he will go to gratify his favourite union. Premier Andrews knows this is all too true, and that is exactly why he snuck this announcement into the last line of a press release on whooping cough.

In late 2013, the state coalition government introduced laws to expand the move-on powers of police to prevent the most serious forms of inappropriate protest. Contrary to exaggerated Labor and union claims that the laws are an attack on peaceful protest and freedom of speech, the expansion of these laws merely allowed police to move on protestors where a person has committed an offence in the public place within the last 12 hours, is causing 'a reasonable apprehension of violence in another person', is causing or likely to cause 'an undue obstruction' to people or traffic, is in the place to unlawfully procure or supply a drug of dependence, or is impeding or attempting to impede another person from lawfully entering or leaving premises. These laws were not directed to people engaged in appropriate lawful protests, those that were exercising their rights to communicate their ideas. They remained free to do so. The move-on laws addressed those that went too far.

To see the value of these laws, one only needs to think back to the protest by the CFMEU of Grocon in which CFMEU officials and construction workers were seen on TV pushing and punching police horses. In that protest the CFMEU prevented workers who wanted to work from getting onto a construction site, and when the workers were escorted by police into their workplace through a back door the protesters were taking their photos and calling out to them, 'Show us your face, scab!' and 'Die, scab, die!' It would be great to hear the Greens commenting on the violence perpetrated on those police horses during that particular protest, but there has been silence from Senator Rhiannon. Please get on board. Giving the police move-on powers in these circumstances is hardly the overreach trumpeted by Labor and their union mates. If the CFMEU had its way, unions would be a law unto themselves.

At that same Grocon blockade CFMEU official Derek Christopher said: 'There are 11,000 coppers in this country or in Victoria and there are 30,000 members of the CFMEU, and greater amongst the other unions when we call on their support. We are up around the 50,000 mark. So bring it on. We're ready to rumble.' Is that the sort of behaviour that Premier Andrews condones? Former judge and Royal Commissioner Terence Cole has said, 'Only a political party in thrall to the building unions would contemplate abolishing a state's building code.' Yet it seems Premier Andrews is more concerned about retaining good relations with the CFMEU than he is about the workers who want to get the job done, Victorians who want to be kept safe, or taxpayers who foot the bill for construction projects delivered over time and over budget over and over again. Maybe he is influenced by the hundreds of thousands of dollars donated to the Victorian ALP since Andrews took over the leadership. What is certain is that Premier Andrews is dancing to the tune of the unions.

And what has Premier Andrews agreed to? He has left the Victorian taxpayer open to taking Victoria back to the bad old days of delays, cost blow-outs and union militancy. This just shows that the new Victorian government are beholden to the militant CFMEU and their other union mates. Without an effective building and construction watchdog, Premier Andrews risks sending Victoria back to the bad old days, identified in the 2003 Cole royal commission, where the rule of law no longer had any significant application. There was significant misuse of rights of entry and a significant misuse of safety issues in order to advance industrial demands. This simply leads to delays and cost blow-outs which are passed on to the consumer and the taxpayer.

The unions have been campaigning for these regressive steps ever since the former Victorian coalition government announced that it would introduce a construction code compliance unit and the new move-on powers. In early 2014, Trades Hall orchestrated a protest against the move-on powers and then reported their plan to run an ongoing campaign against the laws. The council still reports that its agenda was to run the very campaign that Premier Andrews has taken up. Brian Boyd reports that this is about the anti-move-on powers rally. It was stated by a number of speakers that this was an important issue, especially in an election year. It was agreed the campaign would continue to oppose these new laws and, if passed, to see them repealed at the earliest opportunity. I tell you what: on their first day on the job they were fulfilling their promises to their union bosses. The CFMEU similarly reported about the rally on its website. Trades Hall secretary Brian Boyd closed the rally by promising a campaign of protests and civil disobedience right up until the November election. And their campaign succeeded, thanks to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews.

The Premier who was happy to slug taxpayers a potentially multibillion-dollar compensation bill for not building a road in order to get a Green vote did not even pretend to be acting in the interests of Victorian people at the election. Instead, the aspirant premier said: 'There are some that wanted the election to be all about unions and workers, and that is exactly what it was.' Anyone concerned about maintaining safe, productive and law-abiding construction sites should be seriously concerned about the industrial policy of Premier Andrews and the Victorian Labor government.

Senate adjourned at 19:56