Address to the House of Representatives – Australian Building and Construction Commission

October 18, 2016
Speeches

E&OE…

PRIME MINISTER:

I rise to conclude debate on these very important Bills.

They will ensure the rule of law prevails in an industry that is essential to our economic growth and future prosperity.

This legislation was blocked repeatedly by the previous Senate and, consequently, was one of the two triggers for July’s double-dissolution election.  

We fought the double-dissolution election on our workplace reform commitments, which, in their effect, represent important economic reforms for this country. And we won.

There can be no doubt that my Government has a mandate for these Bills.

As has been said many times in this Parliament, the Government is absolutely committed to doing all that is necessary to bring an end to the culture of lawlessness, intimidation and bullying in the building and construction industry.

The passage of these bills into law will ensure that building and construction work is carried out fairly, efficiently, lawfully, productively for all Australians.

Taxpayers, consumers, workers, businesses large and small, will all benefit from the reinstatement of the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

The need for the restoration of the Building and Construction Commission is very, very clear.

If anyone needs reminding Mr Speaker, they need only look at the television reports in the last 24 hours of the confrontation on the Commonwealth Games construction site on the Gold Coast, where a CFMEU official is captured on camera bullying an employee on the site.

Not content with a tirade of foul-mouthed abuse, this representative of the CFMEU goes on to make one of those menacing threats that none of us would ever wish to hear. This is what he said: “I have your telephone number. I know where you live.”

This is not something scripted for The Godfather or The Sopranos.

This is the practical reality of life on a construction site in our country.

Thuggery like this should have no place in Australia.

Now the evidence shows that the presence of a strong workplace relations regulator on building sites was successful in suppressing the coercion, the intimidation and the standover tactics that have created this environment of criminality and corruption.

Now it is astounding that those opposite continue blindly to deny this. It is a bizarre notion of loyalty, their notion of loyalty that sees them continuing to sanction and condone this behaviour.

Who are they protecting, Mr Speaker? Certainly they’re not protecting the more than one million Australians who rely for their livelihoods on a strong, safe and competitive construction industry, including 300,000 small businesses along with law-abiding rank-and-file union members.

Certainly not the taxpayers of Australia who pay construction costs a third or more higher than they should for hospitals, schools, roads, dams and indeed apartment buildings because of the corrupt and criminal influence of a delinquent union.

The reality is that the CFMEU’s lawlessness makes tax payers pay more for public infrastructure, it makes home buyers pay more for apartments, it adds an enormous tax, a tax of lawlessness on the business industry in Australia.

Now we know what works. The Australian Building and Construction Commission works. It has already been tried and tested.

When the ABCC was in force between 2005 and 2012, the number of days lost to industrial disputes in the construction industry fell significantly.

Since its abolition, the rate of disputes are on the rise again.

The rate of fatalities and serious injury in the building and construction industry continues to trend downwards in keeping with trends across other industries.

There is simply no evidence to support the claims by those opposite that the existence of the ABCC impacted on the safety performance of the industry in any negative way.

It is absolutely deliberately misleading to suggest it did, to suggest that the only way an industry can be safe is to have a culture of lawlessness and thuggery, is surely the pinnacle of the absurdity of the defence the Labor Party mounts for this militant, lawless union.

Now in doing so, Mr Speaker, the Labor Party also complained about the compulsory examination process set out in the legislation. In doing so, they conveniently overlook the strong protections for witnesses to ensure due process and transparency in relation to those examinations.

This includes that any information given by a witness cannot be used against them and that witnesses are entitled to have a lawyer present during an interview.

In a stunning display of hypocrisy, the CFMEU – the most vocal critic of this legislation – apart from the members of the opposition – the CFMEU prevents its own members from receiving legal representation during its own internal disciplinary proceedings.

Now, Mr Speaker, we all know that criminality is rife in this sector. We know there is a culture of wilful defiance of all laws, in particular workplace relation laws.

So those that say there is no need for an industry-specific regulator are wrong.

No reasonable observer can deny the extent of unlawfulness in this sector, given the litany of court judgements and fines against construction unions for repeated and unrepentant breaches of the law.

We can recall once again the 113 officials from the CFMEU currently before the courts for more than 1100 suspected contraventions of the law?

Time and time again the Courts have expressed their dismay at the actions of one union in particular – the CFMEU - with statements like:

“The CFMEU’s record of non-compliance is an embarrassment to the trade union movement”

Or another judge;

“Has there ever been a worse recidivist in the history of the common law?”

Or another:

“The CFMEU has an egregious record of repeated and wilful contraventions of all manner of industrial laws.”

Mr Speaker, through this legislation, the ABCC can restore the rule of law to the building and construction industry. It is vital for jobs, productivity and economic growth.

Australians involved in this industry deserve a workplace free from unlawful behaviour, including illegal industrial action, bullying, threats and intimidation.

The ABCC will play a key role in dealing with unlawful conduct in the industry.

Meaningful penalties will ensure workplaces are fair and productive and law abiding.

The ABCC will improve productivity and reduce building costs by ensuring that disputes are dealt with efficiently and effectively by a regulator with specialist expertise.

This will help small businesses develop and grow, which in turn will grow our economy.

All Australians will benefit by getting value for money on infrastructure investments.

Now Mr Speaker as we know, these Bills have been twice rejected by the Senate.

My Government called the double-dissolution election in order to resolve the deadlock over the Bills.

The Australian people voted for this legislation when they re-elected the Coalition, and those opposite will be showing their contempt for that democratic outcome if they persist in the obstruction of these Bills.

It is now time for the House and in due course the Senate to do the right thing and restore the rule of law to our building and construction sector.

I commend the Bills to the House.

Ends

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