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Monday, 3 November 2003
Page: 21740

Mr PEARCE (3:01 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. Will the minister inform the House of any developments in the vital building and construction industry?

Mr ANDREWS (Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service) —I thank the member for Aston for his question. I can inform him and the House that the Melbourne Magistrates Court today found a senior CFMEU official guilty of threatening or intimidating an employee of a major construction company because that employee had proposed to give evidence in another matter before the Australian Industrial Relations Commission. This successful prosecution is one of nine matters that the interim building industry task force has pursued and that are before various courts around the country. It is the first on which a verdict has been reached. It confirms the need for the reform of the building and construction industry. The Cole royal commission presented a compelling case for reform, and today's judgment in the Melbourne Magistrates Court adds further weight to that.

The problems in the building and construction industry mean fewer jobs and lower standards of living for all Australians. That is why this government is committed to reform of that industry. Reform equals more jobs and higher standards of living. This sector of the economy is worth some $40 billion. It is a $40 billion industry employing some 700,000 Australians, yet this sector has Australia's worst record of industrial disputes; it has seven times the number of strikes of all other industries in Australia. Indeed, the Cole royal commission found that improving the industry's workplace practices would boost Australia's economy by some $2.3 billion a year. At the core of what Mr Justice Cole found in his commission's report was an industry that is characterised by lawlessness, by illegal and improper payments, by chronic failure to honour legally binding agreements, by regular flouting of court and Industrial Relations Commission orders and by a culture of coercion and intimidation.

The interim building industry task force, which was established after the royal commission, has, as I said, nine matters before Australian courts—six involving union officials and three involving employers. The government is committed to reform. I will shortly be introducing legislation into this House to reform the building and construction industry. The question now for the Labor Party is whether it is prepared to support this legislation and whether it is prepared to support the government and do away with lawlessness in the building and construction industry. Will the Labor Party support the legislation which the government will shortly bring in, or will it show once again that it is simply a captive of an unrepresentative vested minority group—namely, the big union bosses in Australia?