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Wednesday, 3 December 2008
Page: 12353

Mr KELVIN THOMSON (1:40 PM) —The Fair Work Bill 2008 seeks to create a national system, and it is in fulfilling this intention that I will comment on the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act and the Australian Building and Construction Commission. A national industrial relations system should not have one standard for one industry workforce and another for the rest. The Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act takes workplace relations power away from those with a practical interest in a cooperative approach on construction projects—that is, unions, employers and others directly involved—and places it in the hands of an industry watchdog, the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

The Building and Construction Commission is an unnecessary concentration of executive influence with unwarranted investigatory powers for an industrial relations context. The absence of safeguards and oversight for the Building and Construction Commission has the potential to infringe and restrict the basic democratic rights of individuals, such as freedom of speech and freedom of association. It marginalises an industry and selectively denies construction workers basic and universally applicable labour standards. Workers and employers in the building and construction industry have their right to silence and the privilege against self-incrimination denied or face the penalty of six months imprisonment for failing to cooperate with the Building and Construction Commission. Whole-of-employer arrangements take the reach of the ABCC into a wide variety of areas such as local government and therefore, bizarrely, to childcare workers and librarians.

The ABCC operates without the appropriate checks and balances or any sense of industrial fair play to ensure all stakeholders in the construction and building industry are scrutinised equally—a situation in need of reform to make the use of its investigatory powers more accountable. Action should be taken to address the misuse of power by the ABCC. It is a relic of an adversarial system and has no place in a modern economy. Creating a truly national workplace relations system should not mean subjecting one section of the workforce to separate laws. It is important that we fulfil our international obligations regarding our domestic industrial relations arrangements.

In conclusion, the Fair Work Bill is based on the important premise that economic prosperity and a decent standard of living do not have to come at the expense of one or the other, which was the reality of Work Choices. Labor’s laws bring the workplace pendulum back to the middle, where it should be and where the electorate in 2007 voted strongly for it to be. The government’s new workplace relations system will provide a strong safety net that workers can rely on in good times and in uncertain economic times. This bill consigns Work Choices to the dustbin of history. It had no place in the Australian workplace fabric and it still has no place in the Australian workplace fabric.