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Wednesday, 13 November 2002
Page: 6219

Senator McGAURAN (2:05 PM) —My question is the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Senator Alston.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator Conroy —I can't hear!

The PRESIDENT —Order! No wonder you cannot hear, Senator Conroy, your colleagues are making too much noise.

Senator McGAURAN —Is the minister aware of any data released today on industrial disputes which has particular relevance to the state of Victoria and the construction industry? What evidence is there that the construction industry in Victoria is uncompetitive as a result of the failure of the Bracks government to stand up to militant unions?

Opposition senators—Ooh!

Senator ALSTON (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —Well may you `ooh'! The fact is that ABS data out today on industrial disputes shows that Victoria accounts for the largest proportion of working days lost—40 per cent—and the highest number of working days lost per 1,000 employees—55—in the 12 months to August 2002. This is entirely consistent with what we know about building practices and behaviour in Victoria. The MBA said in June this year:

It cost 25 per cent more to build in Melbourne than in Sydney. There is no question that doing business here is more expensive than in New South Wales. The CFMEU is more flexible and less invasive there than here. The Employment Advocate estimated that building companies factor in contingency budgets of around 22 per cent above the normal cost of a project to allow for industrial relations problems in Victoria.

We all know about the Federation Square blow-out of $340 million, the National Gallery blow-out of a mere $13 million, the Austin Hospital blow-out of $40 million and, of course, the notorious MCG blow-out— where the Bracks government, rather than accepting the national construction code, simply rolled over and said that they would put in the money themselves. There ought to be a reminder of this on the scoreboard at the MCG. There ought to be placards around the ground. The billboards on the arena ought to remind people—or, indeed, Mr Bracks should take out some space and apologise for and explain his behaviour—why Victorian taxpayers like me are being asked to fund this sort of nonsense when the money could be much better spent. To add insult to injury, as an MCC member I have to pay again, and so it is a complete and utter outrage. In fact, the scoreboard ought to have replays of Mr Bracks's cave-ins—because they happen all the time to the union movement.

We know from Comtechport, which is within my portfolio, that once again the Bracks government quietly signed on to the construction code when it suited them. Mr Bracks, of course, is the No. 1 ticket holder of the AMWU, but that does not stop him getting a character reference from none other than Martin Kingham: `I support Bracks; I think he's done a good job by Victoria.' That is like Kofi Annan getting a character reference from Saddam Hussein. We know that Mr Grollo from Grocon came out today and said that the Victorian construction industry is in deep trouble, costing the Victorian economy jobs and opportunities, and so we are looking at a return to the flight north that we saw during the eighties.

Mr Grollo said that the game is up for militant unions. He gave a few examples: workers being paid to start at 7 a.m. every day, even though the city council by-laws do not allow you to start work until 8 a.m.; and workers vacuuming water from concrete slabs, even though they are paid wet underfoot allowances. I am sure it goes on—the list must be as long as your arm. Do you ever hear one word from the Labor Party criticising these sorts of practices? In fact, with the Cole royal commission, we saw people on the other side getting up all the time bagging Cole, pretending that somehow these poor, unfortunate unions are being subjected to unfair practices. In fact, Senator Ludwig said recently:

... unions stand apart from the corporate governance field. They have always been exemplary, as far as I can recollect ...

There is a total failure of memory, a total denial. You do not have to take our word for it. We had Cameron O'Reilly, former adviser to Laurie Brereton, saying only today in the Financial Review:

Federal Labor has become a monoculture, one in which service to the unions or to a party office is almost the only ticket to representing the Labor Party in public office.

So, beware! Quite clearly this is a very shallow gene pool. It is all very well for Kim Carr and company to swim around in it: they know who the real enemy is.