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Thursday, 21 June 2007
Page: 79

Mr TICEHURST (2:27 PM) —My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Is the Prime Minister aware of any support for the government’s tough approach to the building industry? Is there evidence of this approach benefiting the economy? Is the Prime Minister aware of any alternative views?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I thank the member for Dobell for his very perceptive question. I can report to the member for Dobell that the level of industrial disputation in the building and construction industry is at an all-time low. There has been a fall from something like a factor of 35 out of 1,000 days of work, in the number of strikes, to something less than two as a result of the legislation introduced by this government. It is very interesting that, in the past 24 hours, the Leader of the Opposition has told the Australian people that he will adopt a policy of zero tolerance towards thuggery and illegal behaviour in the building and construction industry. They are fine words and they might be believable if they had been matched by action. But let me point out to the House that, far from exhibiting zero tolerance towards thuggery in the building industry, the Leader of the Opposition has exhibited maximum toleration towards thuggery in the building industry. He now wants the Australian people to believe that if he were to become Prime Minister he would seriously retain in its present form the ABCC—that is, the watchdog that protects people in the building industry against the likes of Joe McDonald, Dean Mighell and Kevin Reynolds.

Mr Costello —And Kevin Harkins.

Mr HOWARD —Yes, and Kevin Harkins. The ABCC is the watchdog, and what the Leader of the Opposition is now saying is: ‘I’ll keep it for two years.’ That is not much of a concession on its own. Of course we all know that if he were to become Prime Minister he might keep it in its form for two years but he would deny it funding, he would withdraw its staff, he would denude it of resources and he would make it an absolutely toothless operation from the moment he assumed office.

If you think I exaggerate, let me remind you that, on two occasions when the Labor Party and the other parties had the numbers in the Senate, the Leader of the Opposition joined with others to stop this body coming into operation. I have got a couple of division lists. In 2003 on the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Bill, the ayes include a number of very meritorious people like ‘M. Vaile’, ‘P. Costello’, ‘A. Downer’, ‘A. Abbott’, and so the list goes on; I think you get my drift. But I now go to the noes. I am sorry to report they include these people. There are ‘Adams’ and ‘Albanese’ and as I scroll down I come across the name ‘Gillard’, that of the deputy leader. How was she voting? She was voting against the very laws that the Leader of the Opposition would now have us believe he has sworn to uphold if he becomes the Prime Minister of this country.

If I scroll down a bit further, I come across another name. It comes after ‘Roxon’ and it comes before ‘Sawford’. What is it? It is ‘Rudd’. Mr Rudd is the member for Griffith and he is now the Leader of the Opposition—and he voted to kill the watchdog. And he now wants us to believe that he would be in the corner of the average punter on a building site protecting them from the thuggery of Reynolds, McDonald, Mighell and Harkins! Yet when he had the opportunity, he voted against this body being brought into operation.

If it had not been for the wisdom of the voters of Queensland, I am pleased to say, at the last election that gave this parliament four coalition senators, we would never have had the protection of this body and Joe McDonald would have been able to do his worst on every building site in Western Australia. The only reason this video was taken—the only reason this is an issue—was that the very body that the opposition leader tried to stop being created in the first place came into existence because we were able to pass this through the Australian parliament.

The trickery of the Leader of the Opposition on this subject knows no bounds. This morning he was asked about returning the donations of the CFMEU in Western Australia. This is what he had to say, and this is a measure of how tricky he is on this subject. He said:

Furthermore, others have raised with me the question of campaign contributions from the Western Australian division of the general construction division of which Mr McDonald comes.

Listen to this; isn’t it tortuous? He goes on to say:

I have spoken to the national secretary of the party about this this morning—

you know: ‘Tell us the truth, Tim, all about this’—

and I’ve confirmed with him that the federal campaign has received no contributions from this division of the union—

the federal campaign—

and I have also confirmed with the national secretary that he will be seeking no campaign contributions from this division of the party as well.

That is the greatest piece of trickery and a great charade. I happen to have in my hand a document. It is called ‘Donor to political parties annual return’. It covers the financial year 2004-05. The name of the organisation—I think I can read the handwriting—is: ‘Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, C&C division, Western Australia’. And who is the person completing this form? None other than Joseph McDonald, who is shown as the ‘Assistant Secretary’. The endearing Joseph lists, in his own fair hand, donations totalling about $70,000 in the financial year 2004-05. What the Leader of the Opposition is asking us to accept is that, if the union of which the dreaded Mr McDonald is assistant secretary gives $70,000 to the Western Australian branch of the Australian Labor Party, none of that is beneficial to the federal aspirations of the Labor Party in Western Australia. All I can say is that on occasions—

Mr Albanese —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. To assist the Prime Minister, I seek leave to table the article ‘Union gave $1,450 to CLP poll warchest’, which—

The SPEAKER —The Manager of Opposition Business will resume his seat.

Mr Albanese —outlines the—

The SPEAKER —The Manager of Opposition Business will resume his seat.

Mr Albanese —CFMEU construction—

The SPEAKER —The Manager of Opposition Business will resume his seat! I say to the Manager of Opposition Business he should not use that way of trying to interrupt an answer to a question. If he wishes to table something he will do it at the end of the answer. The Prime Minister is in order.

Mr HOWARD —Can I just remind the House that this return signed by Brother Joseph is to the Australian Electoral Commission and that the Australian Electoral Commission, the last time I checked, was responsible for Commonwealth electoral matters and not for electoral matters in the state of Western Australia. So if Brother Joseph believes there was a federal destination for this money, are we seriously to believe this tortuous, tortured and sneaky explanation that has come from the Leader of the Opposition about this money? The truth of the matter is that the Leader of the Opposition has once again contorted the truth. He has been less than candid, he has been very tricky and he is so far in with the likes of McDonald and Reynolds that he has to resort to those devices. As to what he is trying to do today with this meaningless stunt of having McDonald expelled from the Australian Labor Party—and it is a meaningless stunt—if the Leader of the Opposition wanted to demonstrate how tough he is with the unions he would dump the legislation that would bring back the thugs.

Mr Albanese —Mr Speaker, I seek leave to table the article about the CFMEU supporting the Country Liberal Party.

Leave granted.