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Thursday, 18 September 2003
Page: 20503

Mr CADMAN (2:13 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. Would the minister update the House on action the government is taking to implement the findings of the Cole royal commission? How will a better building industry benefit the Australian economy?

Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service) —I thank the member for Mitchell for his question and I know—

The SPEAKER —The member for Rankin!

Mr ABBOTT —how seriously he takes the concerns of people in this industry, particularly the subcontractors living in his electorate. I can inform the House that today I released an exposure draft of legislation designed to implement the principal recommendations—

The SPEAKER —The member for Rankin!

Mr ABBOTT —of the Cole royal commission. It is important to restore the rule of law in this industry because industrial bloody-mindedness is imposing much higher costs on the Australian public than are necessary. This is a $40 billion industry. It employs 700,000 people. It is six per cent of the Australian economy and it is important that the rule of law be restored to it.

Because of restrictive practices and frequent stoppages the respected analyst Econtech estimates that doing the same job in the same way costs 10 per cent more on average in the commercial construction industry than it would in the housing industry.

Econtech estimates that, if labour productivity in the commercial construction industry matched that in the housing industry, our CPI would be one per cent lower, our GDP would be one per cent higher and there would be $2.3 billion a year in economic benefits to Australian consumers. If there was just a one per cent saving in the Commonwealth's $5 billion-a-year construction bill, that would liberate $50 million a year more to be spent on things like schools, roads, hospitals and national security. As the royal commission found, the industry's problems mostly stem from the insistence of some unionists on a `no ticket, no start' culture and the consequent coercion and intimidation which denies ordinary Australian workers their rights at law.

Most importantly, the draft legislation establishes an Australian building and construction commission, a new industry watchdog—a cop on the beat, if you like—with powers to gather evidence, prosecute offences and enforce judgments. I want to make it very clear that this industry does not need more negotiations; what it needs are new institutional arrangements to ensure that breaking the law has serious consequences. The government will be taking public submissions on the exposure draft for the next month, and I want to assure all members of the House, on the government side and on the opposition side, that we welcome all submissions from people who are seriously trying to ensure that the honest workers and the honest businesses of Australia get the clean construction industry they deserve.