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Tuesday, 8 November 2016
Page: 2235

Senator LINES (Western AustraliaDeputy President and Chair of Committees) (20:34): Tonight I want to talk about the real issues in the building and construction industry across Australia—not the nonsense and ideological hatred of trade unions that we hear from the government but the real issues backed up by statistics and reports. I want to focus particularly on my home state of Western Australia. Coincidentally, it is also the home state of the Minister for Employment. From what Minister Cash says—what her focus is and, indeed, what the Turnbull government's focus is—it would seem that they are certainly not across the real issues in the Western Australian building and construction industry—and that goes for the rest of the country.

Just today it was reported in the West Australian that we in Western Australia are headed for a future skills shortage, as there has been a massive drop in the number of new apprentices being taken on in the industry. Industry experts are reporting that apprenticeship levels are at an all-time low and that the drop in the take-up rate is as high as 80 per cent. Industry groups such as the Housing Industry Association and the union, the CFMEU, were quoted in the West Australian as saying that they:

… fear the State will not have enough tradespeople in a few years when the economy picks up.

The industry is calling on both the federal and state governments to boost the training effort. Today in question time, what did we hear from the government? Let's blame Labor for a drop in the number of apprenticeships. But guess what? This is happening right now in Western Australia under the your watch, yet the government tries to pretend that apprenticeship numbers have gone up. Employers in Western Australia are calling on the government to do more. They predict those skills shortages will hit in around three years time, yet this government prefers to continue to live in its parallel universe. Despite Minister Cash coming from the same state as me, from Western Australia, it seems that she is completely unaware of what is front and centre in the West Australian newspaper today about this appalling drop in apprenticeship rates that has happened under her watch.

What we also see in the building and construction industry across the country is the high use of temporary visa workers. Just a few weeks ago, at the ABC site in St Georges Terrace, a young German backpacker fell to her death. There are 300 workers on that site and about 250 of them are temporary visa holders. They are employed through labour hire companies and they are employed on substandard rates of pay. Perhaps it was just a coincidence that at Senate estimates I put the minister and the Fair Work Ombudsman on the spot when I asked them when was the last time they had visited that site. Guess what? Around 15 inspectors visited that site last week. They asked those temporary visa workers, who are mainly backpackers, to come and talk to them. There is something wrong at that site and it starts with no decent long-term employment being created there, a drop in apprenticeships and the use of temporary visa workers. That is the situation not just on that site but on many sites in Western Australia, particularly in the CBD.

In another West Australian piece on 27 October, it was reported that construction prices in Western Australia had fallen—that is, they had gone down. Let there be no mistake here: they had dropped. It was cheaper to build in Western Australia. Ironically, on the same day of that report, Minister Cash was pursuing her propaganda for the reintroduction of the ABCC on the grounds that construction costs would increase. In the West Australian we had a piece of journalism quoting the Master Builders Association, the CFMEU and others saying that construction costs were dropping, but in an op-ed piece the Minister Cash was saying that we need the ABCC because construction prices were going up. Both cannot be right. The piece that I am talking about was by written by journalist Dylan Caporn. He cited a range of experts, including labour market economist Charles Maulvey, who said the market for building and construction tradies was 'subdued'. I am sure that Charles Maulvey is well known to Minister Cash. He went on to say:

Tradies are in a much weaker position in the market than they were a year ago—

once again, under this government's watch.

The building and construction market has slowed in the past 18 months, but has slowed more in the past six months.

Yet a few pages further on in TheWest Australian there is Senator Cash's op-ed piece saying, 'We've got to have the ABCC, because we need this increased productivity to bring down costs in the construction industry.' Mr Maulvey went on to conclude:

That's putting significant pressure on tradesmen's wages.

The same piece by Dylan Caporn said:

Master Builders Association executive director Michael McLean—

a friend of the Turnbull government, I would have thought—

said there was evidence tradies' wages had fallen by 25 per cent but it was not across the entire industry.

Mr McLean stated further:

Bricklayers … and wet trades have declined over the past 12 months.

The Tradie Price Index found building and construction prices fell to $59.27 an hour, down from $74 in the previous year.

By contrast, in her op-ed piece Minister Cash cites unnamed 'others'. The West Australian's journalistic piece cites three significant players in the industry, but Minister Cash cites unnamed 'others' in her op ed piece claiming there is a 30 per cent increase in building costs without the ABCC. Someone has got it wrong. Further claims were made without facts or figures that these costs of 30 per cent—completely unjustified, from an unnamed source—were then borne for higher infrastructure costs. Minister Cash is not alone there. Even the Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull, gets into the act. He said:

Re-establishing the ABCC will boost economic growth and generate more jobs in the building and construction industry.

Once again, no evidence, no facts and no figures. It is what we have come to expect from this government, who ignore anything which resembles facts and figures in favour of their own imagined and made-up rhetoric—made up to suit their ideological agenda, or what we have come to expect under the Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull: whatever it takes to appease the right-wing rump of the LNP.

The facts are that in Western Australia there is growing unemployment, and women are one of the fastest growing areas of unemployment in Western Australia. Again, this is not anything you will hear from Minister Cash. What we know is that whenever the government is in trouble or the polls are looking grim, which has almost been the entire time of the Turnbull government, they get into a bit of union bashing. We saw that today in question time. Never mind the referral to the High Court of the activities of Senator Day, who has left at least 200 homeowners across Australia without anywhere to go. Some of those homeowners even relied on Senator Day to ensure that their future home was protected by insurance. Well, guess what: even he failed to take that insurance out. So many of those homeowners do not have a home and they do not have insurance to cover them against the shonky operations that we have seen come out of Senator Day's building companies. But the government pretend that is all hunky-dory. They ignore the rental agreement that was in place on his premises and the gift of the amount of training money for the training college. Tragically, workplace deaths continue in Western Australia too—all ignored by the Turnbull government.