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Thursday, 11 September 2003
Page: 19901

Mr BARRESI —My question is addressed to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. Would the minister inform the House why the government is committed to reform in the construction industry? When will the government be releasing its exposure draft legislation? Are there any alternative policies?

Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service) —I thank the member for Deakin for his question. I look forward to a reformed construction industry building the Scoresby Freeway. The commercial construction industry is a $40 billion industry—it is six per cent of our economy; six per cent of our GDP—and that is why, if the commercial construction industry can be improved, we can get unemployment down below 5.8 per cent. It is a very important national challenge. The respected analysts at Econtech say that if labour productivity in the commercial construction industry could reach that regularly achieved in the housing industry GDP would be one per cent higher, inflation would be one per cent lower, and Australian consumers would enjoy $2.3 billion worth of benefits every year.

Because of practices in the commercial sector, such as overmanning and frequent stoppages, plastering the same wall in the same way costs 40 per cent more in a high-rise building than it does in a new Australian home. The problems identified by the Cole royal commission, including a culture of illegal and improper payments, chronic disregard of legally binding agreements, regular flouting of court and commission orders, and a culture of coercion and intimidation of the type recently witnessed at a Sydney picket line attended by CFMEU boss, John Sutton, have to be addressed if honest workers and honest businesses are to enjoy the clean industry they deserve.

I can inform the House that next Thursday the government will release an exposure draft of new legislation designed to ensure the rule of law in the construction industry. Unfortunately we already know what the shadow minister for workplace relations thinks about this legislation, because he said recently to a union gathering:

... my position is that, if Tony Abbott brings a bill before the Parliament, it is almost certainly a bad bill and that we will oppose it ...

Last year, when he had more sense, he said:

By opposing for the sake of opposing, Labor will have let Australia down badly.

This year he says:

... our approach will be that Tony Abbott is bad and it's anti-worker.

A number of the member for Rankin's colleagues think it is high time he lifted his game. It is not just the member for Throsby and the member for Melbourne Ports who think he is Pauline Hanson's best friend. The member for Rankin was right last year; he is wrong this year. In the absence of any serious policy from the member for Rankin, I call on members opposite who understand the construction industry and know its problems to support the government's bill and get behind a clean industry.