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Tuesday, 11 August 2015
Page: 4937

Building and Construction Industry


Senator O'SULLIVAN (QueenslandNationals Whip in the Senate) (14:39): Might I take the indulgence of the chamber to welcome three of our fine colleagues from the state legislature in Queensland—welcome. My question is to one of the finest leaders in the Senate and the Minister for Employment, Senator Abetz. Will the minister inform the Senate how the government is ensuring that taxpayer funds are not wasted on cost blow-outs caused by illegality on construction sites?

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order on my left. Order!



Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:39): I thank Senator O'Sullivan for the question, if not necessarily for the preamble. Week after week, we hear stories of unlawful blockades, black bans and work stoppages on Australian construction sites. These lead to delays that impose huge additional costs which are often passed on to the taxpayer funding the project. Already unlawful work stoppages at construction sites have delayed such vital community projects as new hospital constructions, new highways and the construction of accommodation for the long-term homeless.

These stoppages are not the result of legitimate industrial activity. They have included threats of 'Armageddon' against a contractor seeking to enforce an order of the independent umpire, the Fair Work Commission. It includes vile abuse, which a Federal Court judge called 'intimidation that is not to be trivialised', and threats to the livelihoods of construction workers.

Services delayed are services denied and they cost the taxpayer money, the community jobs and the whole economy productivity gains that would otherwise be achievable. This is why the government is acting to bring back a building code and the Australian Building and Construction Commission, to ensure that businesses and unions are held to a higher standard when they engage in projects that use taxpayer funds. Business commentator Robert Gottliebsen estimates that rules such as the building code could save up to 30 per cent on construction project costs. In his words, 'The result will be many more hospitals and buildings for the same money.' That is why we want the building code. (Time expired)


Senator O'SULLIVAN (QueenslandNationals Whip in the Senate) (14:42): I thank the minister for that fine answer. Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Will the minister inform the Senate whether there are any particular concerns about the impact of illegality on construction sites in my beloved home state of Queensland?


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:42): I can inform Senator O'Sullivan that in Brisbane unlawful work stoppages interrupted the construction of a Queensland government housing facility for the long-term homeless—undoubtedly that was done with a social conscience in mind. The activity cost the union more than half a million dollars in penalty rates but more significant was the cost to the Queensland community. Similar stoppages delayed the construction of the children's hospital. What better endeavour could there be than to create a children's hospital? But, no, the union movement, the CFMEU, had an entire nine-week stoppage, a nine-week delay on construction. These stoppages are estimated to have cost $300,000 a day, a massive $13.5 million in wasted taxpayers' money that could have launched another six NDIS sites or a youth mental health project or indeed additional crisis shelters for women and children escaping— (Time expired)


Senator O'SULLIVAN (QueenslandNationals Whip in the Senate) (14:43): Mr President, I ask a final supplementary question. Will the minister inform the Senate whether there are any threats to the government's efforts in reducing costs on construction sites in order to achieve value for consumers and taxpayers, and to protect jobs?


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:43): Another very good question from Senator O'Sullivan. There is a real threat to the taxpayer achieving 30 per cent savings on construction projects—that is, the continued opposition of the Labor Party and the Greens to restoring the ABCC and the building code. Clearly the Labor Party and the Greens are more concerned about sectional interests than the national interest. When even a former ACTU president calls for its reintroduction, the Labor Party are blinded by their sectional interests and they cannot see the national interest which is so vital.

Labor and the Greens are more concerned with protecting the millions of dollars in funding they receive from construction unions like the AWU and the CFMEU rather than good, sound economic management. We will continue to press for the re-establishment of the ABCC in the interests of the taxpayer. (Time expired)

Senator Lines interjecting

Senator Abetz: Well, you should ask Bill Shorten that.

Senator Lines: I am asking you.

Senator Cameron: Why don't you talk about your own leader?

The PRESIDENT: Senator Cameron!

Senator Kim Carr interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! Order on both sides.

Senator Lines interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order, Senator Lines.