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Monday, 29 February 2016
Page: 1297

Building and Construction Industry


Senator O'SULLIVAN (QueenslandNationals Whip in the Senate) (14:58): My question is to the Minister for Employment. Is the minister aware of any examples of behaviour in my home state of Queensland which highlight a culture of intimidation in the construction sector? Do those examples include the use of threatening conduct or language, and what was that conduct or language?


Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (14:59): In answer to Senator O'Sullivan's question: yes, I am, and yes, they do. Whilst I answer this question, perhaps those on the other side might just want to pause for a moment and think, 'What if it were my son or daughter that Senator Cash was referring to when she read out the evidence in relation to the answers to this question?'

If my son or daughter were being spoken to in this way in the workplace, I can almost assure them I would be up and condemning the employer and asking for action to be taken.

The Federal Court found that, at the Common Ground project in Brisbane, CFMEU official Paul Cradden said to a member of Grocon staff, 'I think you'd know better than to go against the unions,' and, 'You know when all this [expletive] is over, it's just beginning for you then isn't it, the union covers the whole of [expletive] Australia.' The court also found what Mr Cradden told a subcontractor who asked, 'What are the consequences to my business if I bring my boys on site?' One would think that is a legitimate question to ask. This is what Mr Cradden told the subcontractor: 'You want to know what the consequences are? You would be committing industrial suicide.' In a penalty judgment, the Federal Court said that 'there can be no doubt' the CFMEU’s behaviour in this case:

… was neither unique to that site or to those times. Rather, it displayed a paradigm example of behaviour described by the Honourable Terence Cole … in the Final Report of the Royal Commission into the Building and Construction Industry.

Yet those opposite would still have us believe that there is no unique culture of lawlessness within the construction sector in Australia.


Senator O'SULLIVAN (QueenslandNationals Whip in the Senate) (15:01): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for that very comprehensive answer. Is the minister aware of any findings from my home state of Queensland which demonstrate that certain figures in the construction sector have a contempt for the rule of law?


Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (15:01): Yes, I am. CFMEU official Mark O'Brien has been found by the Federal Court to have abused a Grocon employee, using language including 'piece of [expletive]' and 'lowest sort of [expletive] dog ever'. Then again we hear from the other side that they are yet to condemn Mr O'Brien, whom the Federal Court found did use the offensive language in question. The Federal Court also found that the individual respondents in this case are exemplars of the union organisers and delegates displaying a disregard or contempt for the rule of law. Again, until those opposite stand up and disown and condemn completely this type of behaviour, they again cannot be taken seriously when they feign outrage and concern for workplace intimidation and harassment. (Time expired)


Senator O'SULLIVAN (QueenslandNationals Whip in the Senate) (15:02): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister inform the Senate of the importance of tackling cultural problems in the building and construction sector?


Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (15:02): For so many reasons, we need to tackle this type of behaviour within the building and construction sector. But, of course, one of the primary reasons is that it is about jobs and about growth. The construction industry in Australia is our third largest employer. It employs over one million people. It is expected to make a significant contribution to employment growth going forward, growing by 137,900 over the next five years. It is undeniable that this sector is absolutely important to the Australian economy. But, after everything we have read out today, in almost every state in Australia, who would want their son or daughter to be part of the 137,900 people who are expected to go into this industry whilst it is still littered with bullying, intimidation and thuggery?

Senator Brandis: Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.