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Tuesday, 3 June 2003
Page: 15752

Mr RANDALL (3:03 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. Would the minister advise the House of what Australia can gain from reforming workplace relations practices in the building and construction industry?

Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service) —I thank the member for Canning for his question and for the interest he has taken in the work of the Cole royal commission, which found that significant sections of this $40 billion a year industry were marked by widespread illegal and improper payments, regular failure to adhere to agreements, chronic disrespect for court and commission orders, and an underlying culture of coercion and intimidation. This failure to respect the rule of law imposes very significant costs on the rest of the community. For instance, plastering the same wall in the same way costs 40 per cent more in the commercial construction industry than it does in the domestic housing industry and laying a slab of concrete costs 10 per cent more in the commercial construction industry than it does in the domestic housing industry—mostly due to frequent work stoppages and chronic overmanning.

In the commercial construction industry, some 7½ per cent of the Australian work force is responsible for just 5½ per cent of Australia's GDP. Econtech has estimated that productivity growth in the commercial construction industry, matching that in the rest of the economy, between now and 2010, would produce a boost to Australia's GDP of $12 billion. Econtech further estimates that, if labour productivity in the commercial construction industry matched labour productivity in the domestic housing industry, our CPI would be one per cent lower, our GDP would be one per cent greater, and Australian consumers would enjoy benefits of $2.3 billion a year. This is a potentially great industry, but it has a dark side. That is why the government are determined to clean up the industry: not because we are against big business, not because we are against unions, but because we want the ordinary workers and the ordinary consumers of Australia to enjoy lower costs and better products.