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Education and Employment Legislation Committee
(Senate-Thursday, 21 November 2013)
Fair Work Commission
Fair Work Ombudsman
Safe Work Australia
Office of the Fair Work Building and Industry Inspectorate
Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency
Workplace Gender Equality Agency
Department of Employment
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Content WindowEducation and Employment Legislation Committee - 21/11/2013 - Estimates - EMPLOYMENT PORTFOLIO - Office of the Fair Work Building and Industry Inspectorate
Office of the Fair Work Building and Industry Inspectorate
CHAIR: I welcome back the minister and I welcome officers from the Office of the Fair Work Building and Industry Inspectorate. The committee was ready to hear evidence from the agency at 12.40 today. However, not all officers were available to appear, despite a specific request from the secretariat. I remind officers that the program is subject to change on the day and requires constant monitoring by all those involved. The committee expects witnesses to monitor proceedings and ensure that they are available to appear when called. Are there any opening statements?
Mr Hadgkiss : No.
Senator CAMERON: Mr Hadgkiss, do you consider yourself one of the luckiest executives in the public service, given the judicial criticism that was placed on ABCC when you were a senior executive, the lack of training that was in place for officers, the criticism of officers in the ABCC by judges in terms of bias, the legal incompetence of the ABCC under your guidance, and the lower productivity in the ABCC during the period of your management? Do you think you are really lucky to be where you are?
Mr Hadgkiss : Firstly, I am totally unaware of what you are talking about.
Senator CAMERON: You are? Let us go to it. Are you saying that there was no judicial criticism under your previous reign at the ABCC?
Mr Hadgkiss : You really need to be specific.
Senator CAMERON: Are you saying that you do not know of any judicial criticism? I am asking you—
Mr Hadgkiss : I do not recall any judicial criticism when I was deputy commissioner, up to and including October 2008.
Senator CAMERON: When did you commence at the ABCC?
Mr Hadgkiss : At the commencement of the ABCC in 2005.
Senator CAMERON: So you are not aware of any judicial criticism. What about—
Mr Hadgkiss : You would have to refresh my memory.
Senator CAMERON: Obviously. What about the criticism by Justice Spender in Steven Lovewell versus Bradley O'Carroll and others.
Mr Hadgkiss : You will have to refresh my memory.
Senator CAMERON: You are not aware of it?
Mr Hadgkiss : I do not recall it.
Senator CAMERON: This is why I am concerned that you are in the position that you are in. You do not seem to even accept or understand that there was a problem.
Senator Abetz: The normal circumstance in these situations is that the senator making the allegation should identify and then refer to the quotes that he might be relating his comments to.
Senator CAMERON: In this case Justice Spender said:
The promotion of industrial harmony and the ensuring of lawfulness of conduct of those engaged in the industry of building and construction is extremely important, but as one which requires an even-handed investigation and an even-handed view as to resort to civil or criminal proceedings, and that seems very much to be missing in this case.
So Justice Spender is saying that when you were 2IC of the ABCC the ABCC was not even handed. And you cannot remember that.
Mr Hadgkiss : I deny that. We were very even handed. We prosecuted employers; we prosecuted trade unions and employees et cetera. In that particular case, like all prosecutions mounted by the ABCC, we would have received independent legal advice prior to proceeding.
Senator CAMERON: It is not about the independent legal advice. It is about what the judge found to be a lack of even-handedness on the part of the ABCC. That is the issue, not whether you got legal advice.
Mr Hadgkiss : I disagree with those sentiments.
Senator CAMERON: So the judge got it wrong?
Senator Abetz: Possibly the senator could table the case so that we can see what he is referring to, and whether the criticism of the judge was directed to Mr Hadgkiss personally, to an investigator individually, to a law firm or the prosecution of the case. How many years ago was this decision?
Senator CAMERON: 2007.
Senator Abetz: So the decision was six years ago and the activities would have occurred before that, so I think it is fair—
Senator CAMERON: No, the activities were activities of the ABCC and not in an even-handed way.
Senator Abetz: Yes, but when? The case was 2007?
Senator CAMERON: Yes.
Senator Abetz: And there would have been activity before 2007, so clearly it is a situation, I would have thought, where the witness is entitled to refresh their memory.
CHAIR: Excuse me, Senator Cameron. Senator Ruston.
Senator RUSTON: I am just wondering if you have documentation that could be tabled.
Senator CAMERON: I have given the case. The case is—
Senator Abetz: That is not good enough.
Senator CAMERON: Of course it is good enough.
CHAIR: Senator Cameron, Senator Ruston has requested that the document be tabled, which is her right as a member of the committee.
Senator CAMERON: This is not a document for tabling; it is my notes.
Senator RUSTON: Earlier you referred to a newspaper article.
Senator CAMERON: No, I did not.
Senator RUSTON: You were referring to a public document.
Senator CAMERON: I am not going to have an argument with you. Is your memory refreshed about the case?
Senator Abetz: Chair, many a time, when on the other side of the table I referred to a media report, I was asked whether I could table it and make it available for the witnesses at the table so that they could read through—
Senator CAMERON: You are not listening, Senator Abetz. It is not a media report.
Senator Abetz: It is any document, be it a media report, a court judgment—
Senator CAMERON: I am not referring to a document.
Senator Abetz: You are asserting—
Senator CAMERON: I am not referring to a document; I am referring to a court case and the court case is on the record.
Senator Abetz: And do they provide them in writing?
CHAIR: Senator Cameron, would you be clear for the secretariat. Given that you will not table the document you are referring to, the secretariat can provide the committee with documents on the court case you are referring to.
Senator CAMERON: It is Steven Lovewell v Bradley O'Carroll and others.
Senator Abetz: While Senator Cameron is going through his notes, as I understand it there were numerous prosecutions—I think in the tens—at the time and Mr Hadgkiss, of course, was not the commissioner at the time.
Senator CAMERON: There is also Duffy versus CFMEU 2008, FCA 1804, 28 November, where it was alleged the union breached section 38 of the BCII Act by engaging in unlawful industrial action.
Senator Abetz: Was there one where the CFMEU agreed by consent to pay $1.35 million in fines and costs?
Senator CAMERON: If you would let me finish my question.
Senator Abetz: I am just wondering as we refresh our minds—
Senator CAMERON: Don't wonder.
Senator Abetz: about cases by the ABCC. I am just wondering if that was one of them.
Senator CAMERON: Chair, can you bring him to order, please.
Senator Abetz: Excuse me. A minister is entitled to respond. You are producing cases—
Senator CAMERON: I did not get to finish—
Senator Abetz: Can I finish, Chair?
Senator CAMERON: No, you did not let me finish.
Senator Abetz: Clearly not.
CHAIR: Minister! Senator!
Senator Abetz: This is not a trade union meeting, Senator Cameron. This is not Trades Hall.
Senator CAMERON: You should behave as a minister.
CHAIR: Senators all. We will move on to another line of questioning and maybe return to this once—
Senator Abetz: You are making assertions about cases, which you are entitled to do. The minister is entitled to also indicate where cases have been brought, and the CFMEU have gone down spectacularly on their own plea of guilty, agreeing to pay fines in excess of $1 million. So let us get, as you are calling it, a fair and balanced approach to this—
Senator CAMERON: That is what I am trying to do.
Senator Abetz: which you were so critical of the ABCC not providing.
Senator CAMERON: Justice Marshall was the judge in that hearing. He described an inspector for the building industry watchdog as 'avidly anti-union' and 'biased against the construction union'. Evidence produced from an interview was 'inherently unreliable'. That was under your watch as 2IC.
Mr Hadgkiss : It was not; I left in 2008. I am not familiar with the case.
Senator CAMERON: It was 28 November.
Mr Hadgkiss : I left prior to that.
Senator CAMERON: What do you intend doing to ensure that there is a balance within the ABCC if it goes through both houses of parliament. Is it your understanding that you would head ABCC?
Mr Hadgkiss : That is yet to be decided, Senator.
Senator CAMERON: Minister?
Senator Abetz: Sorry?
Senator CAMERON: Would Mr Hadgkiss be appointed to head to the ABCC if—
Senator Abetz: Look, this is a very methodical government. We take things step by step. Mr Hadgkiss has been appointed as the Director of the Fair Work Building Industry Inspectorate, and whether the legislation gets passed is still up in the air. We take it step by step. In the event that the legislation gets passed, a new position of Commissioner of the ABCC will be created, and we will consider appropriate personnel at that time.
Senator CAMERON: Will there be a public call for interested parties to apply?
Senator Abetz: Look, not necessarily so. But once again, we will take these matters step by step.
Senator CAMERON: What would happen to Mr Hadgkiss, on a five-year contract, if he was not appointed. Would you have to pay him out?
Senator Abetz: That is a very good question. If the legislation creating his position as Director were to be abolished by the parliament— just a moment, I think the department might be able to assist us with that detail and we might have an answer now: I have just had a reminder that, in fact, there is a transitional bill, and that transitional bill will allow for the appointment of the Director as the Commissioner.
Senator CAMERON: That is what I was trying to establish earlier.
Senator Abetz: Yes. So we do have that transitional bill in place.
Senator CAMERON: So Mr Hadgkiss, by deed of his appointment to the position he is in now, will automatically become the Commissioner, or whatever the title is—
Senator Abetz: If he is the Director at the time the legislation passes, that would stand to reason.
Senator CAMERON: So this makes it even more important that we have Mr Hadgkiss, who was partly involved in many of these cases that were judicial criticism, who has now got a job for five years—
Senator Abetz: Senator Cameron, you were partly involved in the re-endorsement of Ian McDonald in New South Wales—but we do not seek to visit all that on you. So, you know—
Senator CAMERON: That is—
Senator Abetz: Let's not draw the long bow here. Just because somebody is associated with a business—
Senator CAMERON: No, no. When you are in trouble, Senator Abetz—
Senator Abetz: Can I finish?
Senator CAMERON: Once you are on point.
CHAIR: Senator Cameron, let the minister answer the question.
Senator Abetz: When somebody is associated with an organisation, they can act within the best interests and do so quite appropriately but nevertheless have things go on around them of which they are not necessarily fully aware. I would have thought, with your personal situation, you would be well and truly attuned to that.
Senator CAMERON: I don't have a personal situation!
Senator Abetz: Well, you got the members of the AMWU to pay your legal costs for it, despite being on a parliamentary salary.
Senator CAMERON: Look this is—Chair, are we going to be on point here, or are we just going to let Senator Abetz go down this track?
CHAIR: Senator Cameron, do you have a question before the chair?
Senator CAMERON: Yes. Mr Hadgkiss, can you then have a look at the judicial criticism in the case of: Lovewell v O'Carroll, and in other cases: Duffy v—
Senator Abetz: Sorry, the judicial criticism of what?
Senator CAMERON: Of the ABCC.
Senator Abetz: Oh.
Senator CAMERON: Duffy v CFMEU 2008 FCA 1804 of 28 November 2008—
Senator Abetz: Yes, but how is this relevant?
Senator CAMERON: and the Setka prosecution; ABCC v Stevenson and Ors;—
Senator Abetz: I am not sure that we are going to—
Senator CAMERON: and Cozadinos v CFMEU—
Senator Abetz: Sorry, how is any of this relevant to the FWBC?
Senator CAMERON: Because it is all relevant to how this organisation is going to operate. There has been judicial criticism in relation to the ABCC's operation—criticism about lack of balance, lack of fairness, incompetence in bringing evidence. Can you have a look at that, and can you take on notice and advise what you will be doing to make sure that this type of incompetence does not continue under your leadership of the organisation?
Mr Hadgkiss : I can answer that now, Chair. If criticism is made by the bench of officers of the organisation, that is immediately investigated, policies are examined and re-examined and new policies, if necessary, would be brought to bear. If the criticism were such that the officers concerned had behaved abhorrently, obviously disciplinary action would be undertaken, but I do not—
Senator CAMERON: Abhorrently?
Mr Hadgkiss : But I do not recall, during my time at the ABCC, criticism being such that we were required to undertake disciplinary action or even investigate the officer's conduct.
Senator CAMERON: Is that the test for discipline under your leadership—that people have to behave abhorrently?
Mr Hadgkiss : It is a case-by-case basis.
Senator CAMERON: What do you define as abhorrent behaviour?
Mr Hadgkiss : If they had acted unethically, for instance. If they lied on oath, for instance. Those are matters obviously of great importance to the organisation and they would be dealt with accordingly.
Senator CAMERON: What if they are incompetent?
Mr Hadgkiss : If they are incompetent we would look at their conduct, whether it needed remedial skills, education or training to overcome it.
Senator CAMERON: What if they are biased?
Mr Hadgkiss : I am not aware of any bias during my time, quite frankly.
Senator CAMERON: You should have a look at these judicial decisions and then come back to me on notice in relation to the bias allegations against the ABCC. I would like to know what you are going to do to make sure that does not happen again.
Senator Abetz: Minister, Senator Cameron might like to go away and consider the High Court judgment and criticism of Minister Shorten in the Barclay case, where he was seen as being a partisan rather than an intervener and very harsh criticism was made. What has Senator Doug Cameron done about that in relation to the administration of the Labor Party, and how did Mr Shorten become leader? People, in all walks of life and their organisation—
CHAIR: Senator Cameron is asking the questions.
Senator CAMERON: On a point of order: we are here to deal with the future ABCC and the current organisation. Senator Abetz seems to have wildly run away from the issues. It is about more of the secrecy that surrounds the government—do not want to talk about the issues—and he really should be kept on a point.
CHAIR: What is your point of order, Senator Cameron?
Senator CAMERON: He should be kept on point and not allowed to divert away from what we are here for.
CHAIR: Thank you Senator Cameron. You have the call.
Senator Abetz: Chair, can I quickly indicate: I fully support Senator Cameron's point of order, which was that we should be concentrating on the future ABCC and the current FWBC. But what Senator Cameron has done is trawled through a history, and, when I touch on history, all of a sudden he becomes touchy and says, 'Oh no, let's only look at the future,' and I agree with him.
CHAIR: Minister, I hear what you are saying and, in the spirit of bipartisanship, we should get on with the actual questioning of the officials before us. Senator Cameron.
Senator CAMERON: If you take that on notice, have a look at those cases and advise the committee of what you propose to do to make sure the ABCC do not behave in the same way, do not make the same mistakes—
Senator Abetz: History, history, history.
Senator CAMERON: But it is important history. Mr Hadgkiss, was it the minister who approached you to offer you the appointment?
Senator Abetz: Yes, I make no apology for saying that I asked Mr Hadgkiss whether he would be interested in serving the nation in the position of director of the FWBC when a vacancy arose.
Senator CAMERON: Minister, did you give any consideration to publicly seeking other applicants for the position?
Senator Abetz: Yes, I did and decided against it on the basis of considering some other people and the wealth of experience embodied in Mr Hadgkiss and his excellent track record—that, if he were willing to serve the Australian people in this role, we as a government would be very pleased. So, yes, I did ask Mr Hadgkiss whether he would accept the position.
Senator CAMERON: Obviously we disagree about the track record. Did you consult with the department in relation to the appointment?
Senator Abetz: I believe I did. Yes, in relation to process and due diligence. I make no apology for saying that, after consideration and given that the predecessor had resigned, we as a government had gone to the election with a very strong policy in this area and I wanted somebody in that role as soon and quickly as possible to undertake the role of the somewhat diminished organisation—courtesy of the previous government. I did seek to fill that position quickly, and when Mr Hadgkiss was available I was delighted.
Senator CAMERON: I am not asking you what the advice was, but did you receive advice from the department on the appointment?
Senator Abetz: Yes.
Senator CAMERON: When did you offer Mr Hadgkiss the appointment?
Senator Abetz: I would have to check in relation to that. But it was after the existing director offered me his resignation.
Senator CAMERON: Did you have discussions with any of the other people you were considering?
Senator Abetz: I did not.
Senator CAMERON: You did not?
Senator Abetz: No.
Senator CAMERON: But you had discussions with Mr Hadgkiss?
Senator Abetz: Yes, that is right.
Senator CAMERON: So you had discussions with one person and none of the others?
Senator Abetz: Yes.
Senator CAMERON: Why was that?
Senator Abetz: I believed that Nigel Clive Hadgkiss APM has a huge amount of experience: 1994-96, Director, Operations, New South Wales Police royal commission; 1996-2000, Assistant Commissioner, Australian Federal Police; 2000-02, National Director Intelligence, Australian Crime Commission: 2002-08, Director, Building Industry Taskforce in the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations; 2005-08, Deputy Commission, Australian Building and Construction Commission; 2008-12, Executive Director, Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, New South Wales; and 2012-13, Director, Construction Code Compliance, Department of Treasury and Finance, Victoria. He is also a former board member of the Australian Institute of Criminology. So he has a wealth of experience of public service in the area of law enforcement, and I had in fact seen his capacities at these very estimates committees previously whilst I had the privilege of representing workplace relations ministers under a former government.
Senator CAMERON: And you are well aware of the judicial criticisms and the problems that were there under Mr Lloyd and Mr Hadgkiss?
Senator Abetz: Yes.
Senator CAMERON: And despite those problems—
Senator Abetz: And you were well aware of the judicial criticism of Mr Shorten and yet you voted for him.
Senator CAMERON: I am asking the questions. Knowing these problems that were there under Mr Hadgkiss's 2IC tenure with the ABCC, why did you not look elsewhere? Why did you only talk to one candidate?
Senator Abetz: Because I do not take the churlish approach that you have just taken: that any shortcomings and faults that may have been found of an organisation with 150 plus people in it should all be personally visited upon Mr Hadgkiss. If we were to play that game, Senator, we can go back to Ian Macdonald in New South Wales.
Senator CAMERON: That has nothing to do with it.
Senator Abetz: So let us be very clear on this. As far as I am concerned, the due diligence was done and he has an excellent record. If there had been a convoluted, expensive merit selection process in this case, I am sure that Mr Hadgkiss would have come up on top very easily and quickly and I wanted to ensure that we got somebody in the position as soon as possible.
Senator CAMERON: Did the department provide you with a list of names?
Senator Abetz: I do not believe they did and I do not believe I asked for one.
Senator CAMERON: So where did the list of names that you considered come from?
Senator Abetz: I did not say 'a list of names', but a number of names did come to my mind and I considered them and, in considering them personally, I thought that Mr Hadgkiss was clearly the outstanding individual for the position.
Senator CAMERON: Mr Hadgkiss, what was your position last time?
Mr Hadgkiss : I was Director of Construction Code Compliance in Department of Treasury and Finance in the Victorian government.
Senator CAMERON: No, when you were with ABCC.
Senator Abetz: We do want to go into past history, all right: Director, Building Industry Task Force and then Deputy Commissioner, Australian Building and Construction Commissioner.
Senator CAMERON: That is fine. You actually met me once when I was the secretary of the AMWU—remember?
Mr Hadgkiss : I remember it vividly, Senator.
Senator CAMERON: That is good. It was in relation to what you were describing as a zero-tolerance policy by the ABCC—is that correct?
Mr Hadgkiss : When there was overwhelming evidence, yes.
Senator CAMERON: When there was overwhelming evidence—that is a new twist to the zero-tolerance position you put to me.
Mr Hadgkiss : We would never take action in my experience. In all my law enforcement career you would not take action unless you got legal advice to the effect that you had sufficient evidence to proceed. It was on that basis that term was used.
Senator CAMERON: Do you remember the case that the AMWU was involved in?
Mr Hadgkiss : I vaguely remember it; it was a New South Wales matter from memory.
Senator CAMERON: ACT, actually.
Mr Hadgkiss : I am sorry.
Senator CAMERON: You indicated there would be zero tolerance. I indicated to you that there had been a change of name of the company in the ACT—it was an air-conditioning company. We had logged the previous company with the previous name. They had changed the name, and we were technically in breach of the act—can you remember that?
Mr Hadgkiss : It was the excuse given by the AMWU, yes,
Senator CAMERON: What do you mean it was the excuse given?
Mr Hadgkiss : That was the excuse provided to the court, but the court ultimately found in favour of the prosecution.
Senator CAMERON: The court found a technical breach.
Mr Hadgkiss : Going through a red light is a technical breach of speeding but it is still a contravention, Senator.
Senator CAMERON: So the trade union movement are now faced with this position where, if there is a technical breach, then it will be a zero-tolerance policy.
Mr Hadgkiss : I am not saying that.
Senator CAMERON: Why did you say it was years ago?
Mr Hadgkiss : I am saying that that was an excuse provided and I considered the excuse wasn't sufficient and it warranted prosecution.
Senator CAMERON: The judge found a technical—so if there is a technical—
Mr Hadgkiss : He found for the Commonwealth against the AMWU.
Senator CAMERON: So where does this zero-tolerance approach come from? Is that used anywhere else in law enforcement in Australia?
Mr Hadgkiss : Zero tolerance is a common term when there is sufficient evidence to proceed and there is a discretion but, whether it is legal advice that the prospects are good of a successful prosecution, we rely on it. It is very much on a case-by-case basis, with respect.
Senator CAMERON: So in future, what process does a union or even an employer have to work through an agreed position? Will you simply prosecute?
Mr Hadgkiss : We give all parties the opportunity as we did, as you recall. I personally flew to Sydney. I made a point of coming to visit you, hearing your side of the story, weighing up the evidence and I proceeded accordingly. I could not have been more reasonable than that in the circumstances.
Senator CAMERON: That is your view: you could not have been more reasonable.
Senator Abetz: It sounds pretty good to me.
Senator CAMERON: It wasn't very good.
Senator Abetz: You were personally involved and you should not be relitigating matters from ancient history.
Senator CAMERON: I am not trying to relitigate—if you listen carefully, Senator Abetz, instead of going off on all your little tangents, you would understand what I am raising are matters of principle.
Senator Abetz: When it comes to you, it is always a matter of principle, isn't it?
Senator CAMERON: Mr Hadgkiss—
Senator Abetz: The word 'personal' comes before 'principle' in the dictionary, and I think that it is for you as well.
Senator CAMERON: Mr Hadgkiss, compulsory interrogations—have you read the Wilcox report?
Mr Hadgkiss : I familiarised myself with it at the time; I have not read it of late.
Senator CAMERON: What is your view on the checks and balances that Justice Wilcox argued for in terms of compulsory interrogations?
Mr Hadgkiss : Firstly, I am not aware of what a compulsory interrogation is.
Senator CAMERON: How did you describe interrogations under the ABCC? What was the technical term?
Mr Hadgkiss : I have never been involved in interrogations in my life.
Senator CAMERON: What were they described as when people had to front the ABCC?
Mr Hadgkiss : Where witnesses invariably elected to cooperate—
Senator CAMERON: When did they did not elect to cooperate, what was that described as?
Mr Hadgkiss : The compulsory powers were brought into play, and they were called into a hearing.
Senator CAMERON: So, compulsory hearings?
Mr Hadgkiss : A hearing is probably a better description.
Senator CAMERON: So a compulsory hearing. Are you aware of any other legislation that applies in law enforcement comparable to the ABCC's powers?
Senator Abetz: Mr Hadgkiss's role is to implement the law. He is not responsible for the policy. The government is responsible for the policy, and our policy is very clear. We announced it four months before the election. In relation to these powers, there will be oversight, if our legislation gets passed unamended, by the Commonwealth Ombudsman. Might I add that these are powers that I understand Medicare has. The powers will be that a person is given 14 days notice of the hearing, and they can be accompanied by a lawyer. I have heard Labor criticism that this is somehow akin to a police state. I am not sure that police states say to citizens, 'You have 14 days to front and, when you do, there will be a lawyer available to you, should you wish to avail yourself of a lawyer,' and, what is more, 'We will ensure that you have conduct money.' I do not think that happens in police states, but let me also say to you that Medicare and, I think, the ACCC and ASIC also have powers to say to citizens, 'We believe that there are matters of concern here and we require you to come in for a compulsory hearing or a compulsory interview.'
Senator CAMERON: Matters of fraud.
Senator RUSTON: Taking the advice of Senator Cameron, let us look forward and talk about the good things we can do. There has been some suggestion that there has been duplication between investigation of wage compliance between you and the FWO. Could you explain if anything has been put in place, or is intended to be put in place, to try and transfer wage compliance to the Fair Work Ombudsman?
Mr Hadgkiss : Yes. In correspondence and discussions with the Fair Work Ombudsman, it has been decided to move the wages and entitlements function back to that agency. Steps are being taken as we speak to bring that about.
Senator RUSTON: In addition to that action to reduce duplication and overregulation, are there any other actions that you have taken, or are intending to take, to try and reduce further red-tape duplication within your agency?
Mr Hadgkiss : I have removed complaint forms as the means of communicating with Fair Work Building and Construction, to reduce red tape and also encourage people to actually interact with the agency rather than fill out elaborate forms.
Senator RUSTON: This is probably a big question in terms of the broadness and the scope of it, but could you outline briefly and generally the strategic direction that you see this agency progressing from here?
Mr Hadgkiss : If I had a vision, it would be to bring about safe and productive building sites. To achieve that, we have to actually introduce a rule of law on building sites. To my mind, to do that we have to involve all stakeholders, and that has already commenced in recent times. I see a lot of education being required—education of my own staff internally, and also externally, as to the new direction of the organisation. From an organisational point of view, I would like to see an agency that is responsive to stakeholder requirements, demands and complaints. I see the organisation being more visible and present on building sites, where they are seen and can, again, interact with workers and other stakeholders. Above all, I see a return to enforcing the law to its fullest extent. Those who breach the law must face the consequences. Finally, I see us continually seeking feedback from industry stakeholders as to what they think the organisation should be doing and how we can do things better to help them be more productive, more safe and more harmonious in their workplaces.
Senator RUSTON: Not being able to help myself, I have to have one retrospective question. When you were appointed, did you come across any outstanding cases that you think still require further attention?
Mr Hadgkiss : It has been agreed that the wages and entitlement matters that are on foot would be completed by my agency rather than hand everything holus-bolus to FWO. But there are a number of investigations that require potential litigation and will be litigated.
Senator RUSTON: That is obviously the attention that you will give to them. Generally, what is the level of compliance with the law in the building and construction sector? Can you see any changes in the level of compliance over history? Obviously, you have had quite a reasonable history with this organisation, so can you paint a bit of a picture about compliance then and compliance now and what has happened in between?
Mr Hadgkiss : As you are aware, when I was at the then National Crime Authority, now the Australian Crime Commission, I was the liaison officer with the then Cole royal commission which was a federal royal commission into the building and construction industry. It is fair to say that His Honour Justice Cole painted a fairly sordid picture of unlawfulness on building and construction sites. I was there to liaise for the purposes of organised crime that existed in the industry. Shortly thereafter, upon his recommendation that there be an ABCC, as the minister has outlined, I headed the Building Industry Taskforce and then became the deputy commissioner. At the time of my departure in 2008, it would be fair to say that feedback from the industry was that there had been an improvement. Certainly, I still saw elements of organised crime appearing in the industry, but it is fair to say that since my return in recent times or returning 18 months ago, in March last year, there has been a regression in unlawful activity. I am afraid to say that I have grave concerns about the elements of organised crime active in the industry.
Senator RUSTON: So, by the sounds of things, you have a reasonably big job ahead of you. Did you, or the former director, make any recommendations to the government in relation to the bill to establish the ABCC?
Mr Hadgkiss : Yes, feedback was provided to the department during the drafting stage.
Senator Abetz: I have a further answer to matters raised previously about the coercive powers to which Senator Cameron was referring. I forget which organisations I referred to at the time, but the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, the Australian Securities and Investment Commission, the Australian Taxation Office, Centrelink and Medicare all have similar powers. In reference to the Wilcox report and inquiry—and that is why it is so important that when questioners refer to a document they make the document available—Mr Wilcox, who, if I might say, made fairly partisan comments against the Howard government and was appointed by the previous government to review the ABCC legislation, specifically found in relation to these coercive powers that:
It is understandable that workers in the building industry resent being subjected to an interrogation process, that does not apply to other workers…I sympathise with that feeling and would gladly recommend against grant of the power. However, that would not be a responsible course. I am satisfied there is still such a level of industrial unlawfulness in the building and construction industry, especially in Victoria and Western Australia, that it would be inadvisable not to empower the BCD to undertake compulsory interrogation. The reality is that, without such a power, some types of contravention would be almost impossible to prove.
That was from the Wilcox report Transition to Fair Work Australia for the building and construction industry, March 2009, page 3.
CHAIR: I note that there are media in the room. I want to check with witnesses that you are comfortable with that. Okay.
Senator CAMERON: Mr Hadgkiss, you say that you are concerned about organised crime in the industry.
Mr Hadgkiss : That is so.
Senator CAMERON: Have you spoken to the Federal Police?
Mr Hadgkiss : I have spoken to the Victoria Police and the Australian Crime Commission at quite senior levels.
Senator CAMERON: Are you aware of any court action against any individual or organisation?
Mr Hadgkiss : I am aware of impending prosecutions and active investigations.
Senator CAMERON: Are there employers involved in that?
Mr Hadgkiss : There are employers and senior union officials. There are—I will leave it at that.
Senator CAMERON: You raised the Cole inquiry, which cost something like $60 million of public money, and you indicated that you were overseeing the organised crime area. Is that correct?
Mr Hadgkiss : I was National Director of Intelligence at the Crime Commission, and one of my roles was to liaise with the Cole royal commission.
Senator CAMERON: Were there any prosecutions of anyone in relation to organised crime arising from the Cole royal commission?
Mr Hadgkiss : As you are aware, royal commissions do not prosecute, they merely—
Senator CAMERON: I am saying 'arising from'.
Mr Hadgkiss : Certain people who were named in the royal commission were subsequently prosecuted.
Senator CAMERON: Was anyone in the union movement found guilty of a crime?
Mr Hadgkiss : In the union movement, I do not recall.
Senator CAMERON: You do not recall. That is quite convenient, isn't it? If I put it to you that there was no successful prosecution of any union official arising out of the Cole commission—I thought that was a well-known fact.
Mr Hadgkiss : There have certainly been several union officials prosecuted since, but whether or not—
Senator CAMERON: I am asking you about the Cole royal commission.
Mr Hadgkiss : I do not recall.
Senator CAMERON: Well, there you go. Selective memory as well.
Senator Abetz: Mr Wilcox, all those years later in March 2009 when appointed by your government—and, if I might say, somebody who was not known for his predisposition to the coalition—found that there was still such a level of industrial unlawfulness in the building and construction sector that it required this sort of body to remain in place with the sorts of powers that previously existed.
Senator CAMERON: Mr Hadgkiss, there was a case of sham contracting that we discussed earlier. I am not going to ask you about any aspects of that individual case, but I would like your comments in relation to what Judge Rolph Driver said, who is a federal circuit court judge sitting in Sydney. This is what he indicated about sham contracting:
The Court regards the sham contracting contraventions as particularly serious and recognises the damage that sham contracting can have to the Australian economy and other employers generally.
Would you agree with that comment that, generally, sham contracting inflicts problems on the economy?
Senator Abetz: Chair, once again, this is a policy position, seeking opinion from a witness, and irrespective of what the witness's views might be on sham contracting—
Senator CAMERON: Let me come at it another way.
Senator Abetz: the law that he administers requires him to pursue certain matters. But, if he wants to know from the government's point of view, of course sham contracting and any illegality is to be condemned and, the worse the case, the more it is to be condemned.
CHAIR: Thank you for clarifying that, Minister.
Senator CAMERON: In relation to the activities of the Fair Work Building Industry Inspectorate and Fair Work Building and Construction, what emphasis will you put on ensuring that sham contracting is dealt with effectively in the building and construction industry?
Mr Hadgkiss : If my investigators were to come across allegations, evidence or whatever of sham contracting, obviously they would take note of it and they would refer it to the appropriate authority. I have already made clear that if the compulsory powers could be of assistance to the Fair Work Ombudsman I would be happy to make them available to ensure that we gather evidence of these kinds of unlawful activities.
Senator CAMERON: How can you make your powers available to the Fair Work Ombudsman?
Mr Hadgkiss : Where they are relevant to the offence. Certainly, if sham contracting—
Senator CAMERON: I am just trying to be clear here: you cannot make your powers available; you have to exercise your powers?
Mr Hadgkiss : Yes.
Senator CAMERON: So you cannot make your powers available to anyone, can you?
Senator Abetz: I think that is a fair clarification.
Senator CAMERON: So you would exercise your powers?
Mr Hadgkiss : Yes.
Senator CAMERON: If there was evidence, including evidence coming from the Fair Work Ombudsman?
Mr Hadgkiss : Yes.
Senator CAMERON: I am not okay with the compulsory conferences and the like. Have you made any significant changes to the operation of Fair Work Building and Construction since you have been appointed?
Mr Hadgkiss : I am sorry?
Senator CAMERON: Have you made any changes as to how it operates?
Mr Hadgkiss : As I say, there will be a new focus.
Senator CAMERON: What is the new focus?
Mr Hadgkiss : The new focus will be to go back to the elements of breaches of the act, discrimination, freedom of association, coercion, adverse action, which was core business when I was at the ABCC before.
Senator CAMERON: The core business is what the act provides, isn't it?
Mr Hadgkiss : Yes.
Senator CAMERON: When you were there, you chose to ignore elements of the act?
Senator Abetz: That is an outrageous statement to put to anybody.
Senator CAMERON: It is true.
Senator Abetz: It is not true.
Senator CAMERON: It is true.
Senator Abetz: It is a very cheap allegation.
Senator CAMERON: It is not a cheap allegation.
Senator Abetz: You have no basis for making such allegation.
Senator CAMERON: It is certainly not a cheap allegation when under Mr Hadgkiss and Mr Lloyd the question of sham contracting was ignored.
Senator Abetz: No, it was not.
Senator CAMERON: It was ignored; in fact, it was handed—
Senator Abetz: Repeating a false assertion does not make it correct, Senator Cameron.
CHAIR: It is very clear how that particular issue has been handled. Please move on to another question.
Senator CAMERON: No, I will move onto the question I want to move on to, thank you very much. I will maintain this question. In relation to the areas that the FWBC operate at the moment, they do operate in those areas that you say are core business. They also deal with wages and entitlements and they deal with sham contracting. In fact, some millions of dollars have been recovered for workers, by the FWBC, by focusing on workers being ripped off, and wages and conditions, and workers being forced into sham contracting. Are you saying you will not now be dealing with that as a core aspect of your operation?
Mr Hadgkiss : I am not saying that.
Senator CAMERON: You did not include it in the list that you just put through.
Mr Hadgkiss : I am saying that if those matters arose in conjunction with coercion and there is action, freedom of association et cetera, obviously we would not segment it and give part of it; we would investigate it.
Senator CAMERON: So you are qualifying—
Senator Abetz: No—
Senator CAMERON: That is a qualification, Senator.
Senator Abetz: can I just assist here? You may not have heard, and that is fair enough, but Senator Ruston did previously ask about wages and matters of that nature and the director has previously given evidence, which is on the record, that they do treat that seriously, that we do have a specialist body in pursuing and obtaining owed wages—namely, the Fair Work Ombudsman—and that they are cooperating with the Fair Work Ombudsman in that regard. So rather than having two bodies doing the same thing, we will just have the one. That will ensure that the taxpayer gets better value for money—to have one specialist body. Previous evidence from a former director, Mr Leigh Johns, was that there was no criticism of the way the Fair Work Ombudsman pursued back wages, that they did it well; they did it effectively. But Mr Johns thought it should be undertaken by the new directorate. That was fine, but Mr Hadgkiss—might I add, with my full support—this has gone back to the Fair Work Ombudsman.
Senator CAMERON: So you made a determination it was back?
Senator Abetz: No, full support though of pursuing that approach. It just seems to me that if you have a specialist body like the Fair Work Ombudsman, that knows how to pursue back pay and has been in that business for a long time, is specialist and has great staff doing it, there is no need in duplicating all that in the directorate here. If you have a good understanding with the Fair Work Ombudsman, as soon as there is a sniff of underpayment you flick-pass it to the specialist body for which it was set up; namely, the Fair Work Ombudsman.
Senator CAMERON: Mr Hadgkiss, how much was recovered in relation to sham contracting for workers and in relation to sham contracting in wages and entitlements by the FWBC?
Mr Hadgkiss : Altogether, between March 2011 and 13th of this month, a sum of $2.4 million was recovered in sham contracting and other wages and entitlements.
Senator CAMERON: So $2.4 million for—
Senator Abetz: As I understand it, for 1,919 workers.
Mr Hadgkiss : Nearly 2,000 workers, yes.
Senator CAMERON: Why would that not be core business for the ABCC or FWBC?
Mr Hadgkiss : As the minister pointed out, there is a perfectly good organisation that carries out that function, that has the skills and the wherewithal. It is fair to say, my organisation—both then and now—has never really had the skill base that FWO possesses.
Senator CAMERON: But $2.4 million worth of skill base—so, if you are saying you do not have the skill base, are you expecting the Fair Work Ombudsman to be able to recover more than $2.4 million out of the building and construction industry?
Mr Hadgkiss : That is a matter you should pose to the Fair Work Ombudsman—
Senator CAMERON: I am asking you, because you are making the decision, and I am asking the minister.
Senator Abetz: I would imagine that the Fair Work Ombudsman would collect just as much, if not more. As they have this specialist expertise in the area of collecting back wages and in sham contracting and determining wages and conditions, if every case—as we have been assured, where there is the suggestion that there has been an underpayment or sham contracting—is flicked to the specialist body, the Fair Work Ombudsman, and they then pursue it. And there is no suggestion, not even by Mr Hadgkiss's predecessors, that the Fair Work Ombudsman in any way, shape or form, is less qualified to undertake that task. Indeed, some would argue as I do that the Fair Work Ombudsman is in fact more qualified to do so.
Senator CAMERON: Unfortunately, I was unaware of this decision when the Fair Work Ombudsman was before this estimates hearing today. It would have been nice to know, so that I could have satisfied myself about resources and capacity in the Fair Work Ombudsman. When was the decision made?
Mr Hadgkiss : Only in recent days.
Senator CAMERON: The last time this was done, there was a letter—
Senator Abetz: The memorandum of understanding.
Senator CAMERON: I thought it was letters that were exchanged. I am not sure if it was—
Senator Abetz: I think it was an MOU but I understand that is currently being—
Senator CAMERON: I do not think it was an MOU.
Mr Hadgkiss : You are right, Senator. It was an exchange of letters between the then Hon. John Lloyd and Mr Nick Wilson, the Fair Work Ombudsman.
Senator CAMERON: Has an exchange of letters been done?
Mr Hadgkiss : In this case we are looking at a memorandum of understanding—
Senator CAMERON: Okay. I do not suppose there is anything to hear from the Fair Work Ombudsman, but it is a fair amount of work that is being carried out by FWBC in this area to recover $2.4 million. Will there be resources moving from FWBC to the Fair Work Ombudsman?
Mr Hadgkiss : No, Senator. There were no resources that came from the Fair Work Ombudsman to FWBC when we took over that function.
Senator CAMERON: Given that the Fair Work Ombudsman is pretty busy—they are not sitting around doing nothing—doesn't that obviously mean that there will be less investigations? If you try to do a significantly bigger amount of work—
Senator Abetz: This is asking the FWBC as to what the FWO might do. Mr Hadgkiss cannot answer that, but can I suggest that you do put the questions on the record and we will take them on notice for the Fair Work Ombudsman. I think that is the fairest way of proceeding.
Senator CAMERON: I appreciate that. It is unfortunately that we were not made aware—no public statement—about this change of operation from the FWBC. It is another example, Mr Hadgkiss, of an unprofessional approach.
Senator Abetz: That is outrageous.
Senator CAMERON: People should be entitled to know what you are doing in such a fundamental area.
Senator Abetz: And anybody who has a wages claim—
Senator CAMERON: Minister, you should suffer some criticism on this as well. You came here, you knew this was happening, and you said nothing on that issue. No public statement, no nothing.
Senator Abetz: I do not have to feed you questions so that you can conduct yourself professionally at Senate estimates, but possibly I should, given your performance. But the people who might be concerned—namely, the underpaid workers or those who may have been forced into sham contracting—would have been advised that their case is being referred to the Fair Work Ombudsman. Is that correct?
Senator CAMERON: Is that the case?
Mr Hadgkiss : On the contrary, we will complete the current investigations.
Senator CAMERON: That is not what you said, Senator Abetz.
Senator Abetz: No, the current ones—
Senator CAMERON: So you were wrong, were you?
Senator Abetz: No.
Senator CAMERON: You were wrong.
Senator Abetz: No.
Senator CAMERON: You were.
Senator Abetz: This is not trades hall, Senator Cameron. Ongoing matters are being concluded and the fresh cases will be undertaken, as explained. There is no inconsistency. It is very clear.
Senator CAMERON: Given you made the offer to me to put it on record, I do not want to spend too much time with the Fair Work Ombudsman. I will indicate that there will be significant numbers of questions on notice to the Fair Work Ombudsman on this issue and to Mr Hadgkiss.
Senator Abetz: That is fair.
Senator CAMERON: With these extra resources that you will have, given that you will not be pursuing something like $2.4 million worth of ripped-off money from workers, how much in extra resources is this freeing up for you?
Mr Hadgkiss : None, Senator. In fact, I think it is fair to say that other matters are worthy of investigation. Coercion, discrimination, right of entry et cetera are begging for attention, in my humble opinion
Senator CAMERON: Yes, but the point I am putting to you is that when FWBC was pursuing these sham contractors, when they were pursuing workers who have had entitlements and money ripped off them illegally, that consumed resources of the FWBC, didn't it?
Mr Hadgkiss : It did, Senator.
Senator CAMERON: What was the allocation of resources to that work?
Mr Hadgkiss : It was about 10 per cent of the inquiries. I do not know about it in terms of man hours or whatever. In terms of investigations it would be about 10 per cent.
Senator CAMERON: How many investigators do you have?
Mr Hadgkiss : Out of 123 people we have 83 in operations. It is about three-quarters or two-thirds.
Senator CAMERON: Can I take you to page 29 of the FWBC's annual report, to table 2.11. Under wages and entitlements, it says that 97 contraventions were investigated between 1 June and 30 June 2012, surely. Is that correct?
Mr Hadgkiss : It is just one month.
Senator CAMERON: Is 97 the figure?
Mr Hadgkiss : That was the first month.
Senator Abetz: It was only one month, not one year.
Senator CAMERON: I am just trying to confirm that.
Mr Hadgkiss : I think that was the creation of the FWBC.
Senator CAMERON: In the year after that there were 351 investigations, not an insignificant number, just on wage entitlements alone. On sham contracting, there were 40 investigations in that one-month period in 2012 and 109 from July 2012 to June 2013. In your discussions with the Fair Work Ombudsman did you make them aware of the scope of the problem in the industry and the number of investigations that you had undertaken?
Mr Hadgkiss : Considering we only took over the function from the Fair Work Ombudsman in recent times, I would imagine, or I imagined, I should say, that that organisation was aware of what was involved.
Senator CAMERON: What you mean, 'in recent times'?
Mr Hadgkiss : We only really got involved in wages and entitlements, as I say, in recent times.
Senator CAMERON: What do you mean by 'in recent times', I am asking?
Mr Hadgkiss : I think it was 2010.
Senator Abetz: Yes, under Mr—
Senator CAMERON: So three years ago is 'recent times', six years ago is 'an age away'?
Senator Abetz: Yes, six years ago the Howard government was still in power.
Senator CAMERON: And so was Work Choices. It seems that is where we are heading now. But the issue is capacity. This really means significant extra capacity for your organisation. There has been no discussion that you will be downsized, people will be sacked, as a result of government cost-cutting?
Mr Hadgkiss : On the contrary, Senator—on the contrary.
Senator CAMERON: So what commitments have you had from the government in relation to resources?
Senator Abetz: They are all on the public record, so they are not personal commitments to Mr Hadgkiss. They are on the public record.
Senator CAMERON: They are on the public record. What are they? Just remind me.
Senator Abetz: I would have thought you would know our policy off by heart, but allow me to try to direct you to it. I will try and direct you to a page. We committed, in the Fiscal budget impact of federal coalition policies, to provide an additional $5 billion to the re-established ABCC in 2013-14, rising to an additional $10 million per annum in subsequent years.
Senator CAMERON: What does that make the full allocation to the ABCC when it is in full attack-dog mode?
Senator Abetz: You may recall that, when the FWBC was created, the then Labor government promised not to diminish its resources—
Senator CAMERON: That is not what I am asking you. I am asking you—
Senator Abetz: and they did, by millions and millions of dollars—
Senator CAMERON: I am simply asking you: how much was the total?
Senator Abetz: and we are simply—
Senator CAMERON: If you don't know, just tell me.
Senator Abetz: We are simply restoring the funding which Labor cut out.
Senator CAMERON: Well, how much is that? How much is that? It is a simple question.
Senator Abetz: Around $34 million.
Senator CAMERON: $34 million for the ABCC. Okay.
CHAIR: Just on that point, can somebody step me through the reduction in resourcing, too, please?
Mr Mihelyi : Yes. Over the past two financial years, there were reductions of $3 million and then $6 million. So, from a base of around $34 million, that then dropped down in the current year to just under $24 million at present.
CHAIR: Thank you very much.
Senator CAMERON: With that reduction, there was still increased productivity in the industry; that is correct? Is that correct?
Mr Hadgkiss : I would have to take that on notice.
Senator CAMERON: You are not sure. So you are there to improve productivity and you do not know. Are you really telling me you have been appointed to this position and you cannot even answer a simple question on productivity in the building and construction industry? No wonder I am cynical about your appointment. No wonder.
Mr Hadgkiss : In fact, for the period in question—let me just find it.
Senator Abetz: I refer you to an excellent speech by Mr Pyne in the House of Representatives on 14 November 2013, where he referred to an Independent Economics report on the state of the sector during the period of the ABCC; consumers were better off by around $7.5 billion annually. For an investment of $34 million, giving a $7.5 billion dividend is great value for money.
Senator CAMERON: Senator Abetz, you are well aware that that report has been roundly criticised—
Senator Abetz: By Senator Doug Cameron.
Senator CAMERON: No, no—yes, I have, but so have others, and there has been analysis done of the report. Senator Abetz, has the government asked the department or anyone else to give you independent analysis of that report?
Senator Abetz: Not in the last two months or so that I have been in the chair.
Senator CAMERON: Do you intend getting an independent analysis of that report, because you bandy these figures around and they are certainly criticised roundly?
Senator Abetz: Independent Economics was a firm that your government used to use on a regular basis for its public advocacy, and when you do not like it, all of a sudden you denigrate. You cannot cherry-pick these reports. We happen to accept the Independent Economics assessment. If you do not that is your business, but do not expect me to find some economist who will seek to contradict what is a very robust report. I am not going to spend taxpayers money on that.
CHAIR: Senator Cameron and Minister, I think Mr Hadgkiss is ready to answer your question, and in the interests of time, as we are going to another agency at a quarter past three, we will go to Mr Hadgkiss.
Mr Hadgkiss : Productivity growth in the market sector between 1998 to 2004 grew by 2.4.
Senator CAMERON: Why are you taking me to 2004?
Mr Hadgkiss : Because I am going to compare this—
Senator CAMERON: Because Senator Abetz was telling me that 2007 was ancient history.
Mr Hadgkiss : Well that is the latest statistic. Sorry, it dropped.
Senator CAMERON: That is the latest statistics!
Mr Hadgkiss : They dropped to 2008 to 1.1. So it halved.
Senator CAMERON: Why don't I help you. Why don't you take it on notice and give me the ABS statistics for productivity in the building and construction industry. Get the committee as wide a range as possible. You are responsible for productivity in the industry.
Mr Hadgkiss : In fairness, I am responsible for workplace relations in the industry.
Senator CAMERON: But you claim that the workplace relations that you are responsible for produces all this increased productivity?
Mr Hadgkiss : No, I am not saying that.
Senator Abetz: No, that is what the government claims. As I have tried to indicate before, right, wrong or indifferent, Mr Hadgkiss's role is to apply the law as legislated by the parliament. You might think it is a good law, a bad law or and an different law. That is his task.
Senator CAMERON: It is a shocking law.
Senator Abetz: Well, it is your legislation, Senator Cameron.
Senator CAMERON: The ABCC is not.
Senator Abetz: You voted for the legislation. That is what Mr Hadgkiss is charged with implementing, and if there are policy arguments then they should be held with me rather than with Mr Hadgkiss.
Senator CAMERON: I am just asking him about statistics in the industry. That is all I am asking.
Senator Abetz: Well, the statistics are there for all to see.
Senator CAMERON: Yes, ABS statistics which show that under the ABCC the productivity growth was less than under FWBC and its previous entity.
Senator Abetz: I am not sure that that is correct.
Senator CAMERON: I am sure it is correct.
Senator Abetz: You would call black white, but that is fine.
Senator CAMERON: I think that is more about you calling black white.
Senator Abetz: We have had the Econtech report. We have had the Independent Economics report. I think it was the Econtech report that you previously criticised. The Independent Economics report of 2013, an organisation that your government used on a very regular basis, found that building and construction industry productivity grew by more than nine per cent, consumers were better off by around $7.5 billion annually and fewer working days were lost through industrial action.
Senator CAMERON: You are saying this is all as a result of the ABCC?
Senator Abetz: While the ABCC existed, the economic and industrial performance of the building and construction industry significantly improved. It is not me saying it, it is Independent Economics saying it, an organisation that your government used to engage to ascertain whether public policy was going in the right or wrong direction.
Senator CAMERON: What I am asking is whether you are claiming that the total improvement in productivity under the ABCC is all assignable to the ABCC. Is that what you are saying?
Senator Abetz: It would stand to reason that there was a substantial increase in productivity. There was that $7.45 billion economic dividend, less days lost through industrial action and it might be that the sector became more moderate or for some other reason. But I think most of us agree and accept that it was as a result of the legislation and once the ABCC legislation was pulled courtesy of you we got the ugly scenes very quickly of police forces being punched at the Myer Emporium—
Senator CAMERON: I asked a simple question—
CHAIR: Minister, Senator Cameron has one last question. It would be great if you could let him ask it.
Senator CAMERON: The question I am putting to you is—I will let your adviser advise you—are you claiming that the total productivity increase under the term of the ABCC is all attributable to the ABCC?
Senator Abetz: Overwhelmingly there was a huge change in productivity. Projects actually came in on time and on budget.
Senator CAMERON: If you do not know the answer, why don't you just say it?
Senator Abetz: I am sorry, Independent Economics, an organisation engaged by your former government, came to that conclusion.
Senator CAMERON: Let us be clear—
CHAIR: Okay, we have asked the same question three times. I thank the Office of Fair Work Building and Construction and I now call the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency.