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Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Page: 2251

Senator BOYCE (Queensland) (13:34): I am delighted to have the opportunity to make this speech in your presence, Acting Deputy President Cameron. I tend to be a fairly positive person. I am a glass half full person. I must admit I am finding it extremely depressing at the present time to be involved in the development of so many dissenting reports against the actions of this government—the alleged policy developĀ­ment of this government. I like to think that, how ever misguided, the Labor Party believe that it is acting in the national interest when it develops laws. I fail to see in any way how this law qualifies for that decision. If we look back at the reason for the establishment of the Australian building and construction commission, we are talking about the Cole royal commission, which was put together by the Howard government, admittedly. It produced a 23-volume report. It was a royal commission. It could call witnesses, force people to appear and subpoena. It had the same rights as any court in terms of protecting those witnesses.

This was not set up by the Howard-Costello government on a whim, although I suspect there may be some in your party, Acting Deputy President, who think it was a union witch-hunt that prompted the establishment of the Cole royal commission. It was set up because there was endemic corruption, violence and intimidation within the building and construction industry in Australia which was hurting workers in the industry and employers in the industry, and because of the effect it was having on productivity it was hurting the entire country. I know that some union bosses might have thought productivity meant doing a deal that says, 'I will not hold any stop-work meetings on your building site, if I suddenly discover that a holiday house is being constructed for me at Lorne.' That sort of activity actually went on. That might have been the union boss's idea of productivity but it was not the idea of the employers and it was not the idea of the workers, who in most cases were just as ignorant as everybody else of the corruption and the intimidation that was going on within the building and construction industry. That was not only harming workers but also driving up prices for construction in Australia. It was a situation that had to be dealt with and dealt with firmly. It had to leave everyone who was responsible for violence or intimidation of any sort, whether that be worker or employer, with the strong impression that the full force of the law would be used against them if they did not stop their illegal behaviour.

We had the 23-volume Cole royal commission report. We then had a change of government and Mr Murray Wilcox QC's 103-page report, with very few witnesses called—a general overview for which I suspect the last line already had been written before the inquiry even happened. Yet, even Mr Wilcox, whose riding instructions were clearly on behalf of the union-dominated Labor government to water down the powers of the Australian building and construction commission, could not bring himself to say that the industry was fixed and that all our problems within the building and construction industry had been solved. Mr Wilcox, the government's appointee, said in his report on page 14:

…the ABCC's work is not yet done. Although I accept there has been a big improvement in building industry behaviour during recent years, some problems remain. It would be unfortunate if the inclusion of the ABCC in the OFWO led to a reversal of the progress that has been made.

Mr Wilcox is dead right. There are problems remaining; there is work that still needs to be done; there still needs to be further improvement in behaviour in the building industry. But what do we have here? The Labor government—which likes to somehow suggest that the coalition is wedded to the interests of millionaires and billionaires—is doing exactly the bidding of its union bosses to the detriment of everybody who works in the building and construction industry, to the detriment of every family that wants to put up a house, to the detriment of every small business person building an office or a shop or a factory. They will all be harmed by the attempts of this government to simply kowtow and slither along on its belly to please the union bosses who put it there.

Senator Fisher spoke earlier about some of the promises that Ms Gillard made in relation to the Australian building construction commission. Of course, that was back in the days when she was trying to pretend that she was not a left winger. I am not quite sure what she is trying to pretend she is not at the moment. She said:

We want to make sure that no-one is engaged in improper conduct in the building industry, whether employer, union or employee.

This is a statement that we on the side of the coalition would support 100 per cent. We also want to make sure that 'no-one is engaged in improper conduct in the building industry, whether employer, union or employee'. We agree with one of Ms Gillard's outings as Prime Minister when she said:

Anyone who breaks the law will feel the full force of the law. I am also disappointed that there are still pockets of the industry where people think they are above the law, where people engage in intimidation and violence.

Well, there are still people engaging in intimidation and violence in the construction and building industry. We do not have to look any further than the head of the CFMEU, Dave Noonan, to discover intimidation and violence. Under the ABCC there was illegality by the CFMEU at the West Gate Bridge construction site that was under the control of John Holland Group. That 'fracas' was settled between the CFMEU and John Holland and yet the Australian building and construction commission went ahead, prosecuted the matter and got a record $1.325 million fine for 52 separate breaches by CFMEU bosses and people they had under their control on the West Gate Bridge work site.

What on earth is there in this piece of legislation to stop the CFMEU from not just continuing that behaviour but also escalating it? There is nothing in here. As you have quite rightly pointed out, Mr Acting Deputy President Cameron, it is not just unionists that this legislation should be addressed to, and particularly workers are the last people who should suffer from this legislation, but also it is the union bosses and the employers who are, in many cases, as culpable by agreeing to illegal payouts, little side deals, corrupt and bribing behaviour to get peace in their industry. Certainly, that was one of the first issues that the Cole royal commission had to deal with: the intimidation of people who wanted to tell the truth to that commission and the secrecy that went on, with little deals that had been done between rich union bosses and rich building services. And the only people that were getting hurt were the workers and the poor consumers, who were in the end having to pay for that problem. We still need a strong cop on the beat. We must have a strong cop on the beat.

I would like to talk briefly about some of the comments made recently by the Leader of the Opposition in relation to this legislation—and this is the legislation before we got the little surprise amendment that the Labor Party and the Greens cooked up at the last minute. Mr Abbott, in speaking to a building industry function, said:

… I want to tell you, ladies and gentlemen, the Coalition will support the ABCC with every breath in our political bodies.

That is quite true. That is what we will do. We are not going to do that because we are anti union or anti worker or anti employer; we are going to do that because we think that is the best and safest course for the national interest.

An honest, transparent, accountable building and construction industry where workers, bosses and union representatives treat each other with respect and accept that they can negotiate solutions to problems is what this country needs. That is what we need. But a toothless mouse, as Senator Abetz suggested, will be produced by this government's legislation. I imagine we will lose the vote to stop this legislation going through, because I think the Greens might even be to the left of the Labor Party in terms of pixie-land views on economics and red rag views on employers. But as our leader, Mr Abbott, has said, we will restore the ABCC at the first available opportunity and we will do this to restore vigour to the commercial construction industry so that we do not have a lawless and poorly productive building and construction industry.

I was interested to note that in the same speech the Leader of the Opposition was moved to a little sarcasm. I do not know that sarcasm is something that I have associated with him before, but he was making the point that, if we are looking at Fair Work Australia—the ABCC in its new incarnation as an arm of Fair Work Australia—I do not think we can be entirely comfortable that there will be vigorous prosecution. We certainly cannot be comfortable, from their history, that there will be speedy investigation. Mr Abbott said that what will be replacing the ABCC:

… will be the Fair Work Australia culture and we have had some insights into the Fair Work Australia culture quite recently, as we have watched the investigation of the Health Services Union and my fear, if the ABCC is replaced with an arm of Fair Work Australia, is that illegalities in your industry will be pursued and extirpated with the same vigour, the same relentless, remorseless vigour that we have seen brought to the pursuit, an extirpation of rorts, rackets and rip-offs inside the Health Services Union and we know that the investigation of rorts, rackets and rip-offs by Fair Work Australia into the Health Services Union is now into its fourth year …

Once again we have a Labor record which gives you no encouragement whatsoever that fairness, good management, transparency or accountability will be used in pursuing the quite relevant needs for a stable working environment in the building and construction industry.

There are two provisions that were of interest to the coalition in the 30-second investigation—I am exaggerating, but not much—that was held by the government dominated Senate committee into this bill, which I would like to speak about briefly in the last few minutes I have. Firstly, the bill allows for the coercive powers of the ABCC—which of course it shares with a number of other organisations, such as the Crime Commission and ASIC—to be switched off. The coalition went looking for where the background, the rationale, the reasoning for doing this was. It certainly was not in the recommendations of Justice Wilcox, despite the fact that he had written the government organised report. During the inquiry of the Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Committee into the bill, we asked the department where the requirement that the coercive powers of the ABCC could be switched off came from. Senator Abetz said, 'It was not Mr Wilcox who wanted it. The unions had not talked about it. The employers had not wanted it. Yet it is in the bill.' Senator Abetz then quite rightly asked, 'So who wanted it?' Poor old Mr Willing was obliged to say:

This issue was covered quite extensively in the last hearings. The department at that point advised that it was an issue which was raised with the department by government—by the minister's office at the time. Among the technicalities is that the minister's office raised the proposal in broad terms with the department. Between the minister's office and the department, the clause as it stands was developed and implemented.

So we have the now Prime Minister, the then minister for workplace relations, coming up with the bright idea that would stop the ABCC having coercive powers—when they are in the mood. No regulator, from the police in any state, from ASIC or from the Fair Work Ombudsman, should be stopped from taking proceedings to protect the national interest or society's interest just because the parties have come to a commercial settlement. The Labor-Greens inspired amendment on this basis simply allows pay-off money to flourish. This is the core of the Labor-Greens amendment, the shameful amendment that has been proposed for this legislation.

In Papua New Guinea, the use of payback, whereby one clan might collect funds to pay off another clan when they have injured one of its members, has a very long and very honourable tradition as a way for tribes, without the rule of law, to settle disputes between different groups. I would have thought in Australia, in 2012, that we would be past the need for payback systems that only happen when there is no truly established rule of law. But, of course, why would we be surprised to have that taking place when warring union tribes, driven by union bosses and subservient ministers, are involved in driving government policy, irrespective of the sense or intelligence of that policy? (Time expired)