Monday, 18 June 2007
Questions without Notice
Building and Construction Industry
Opposition members interjecting—
My question is addressed to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. Is the minister aware of any reports that examine how reforms to Australia’s building and construction industry are improving productivity? Is the minister aware of any threats to productivity in the building and construction industry?
I thank the member for Hasluck for his question and note that in the electorate of Hasluck in 1996 the unemployment rate was 7.4 per cent. Today it is 3.5 per cent, so it has more than halved, and that is good news for the people of Hasluck. I am aware of a report on the front page of the Australian today. It begins with:
CONSTRUCTION giant John Holland has warned that a multibillion-dollar productivity dividend will be threatened if Labor wins office and winds back the Coalition’s industrial relations reforms.
There is that magic word ‘productivity’, the word that the Leader of the Opposition does not understand—
and the word that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition does not understand either, although you would fail to believe anything the Deputy Leader of the Opposition says because she does not tend to tell the truth on many occasions at all. The report goes on to say:
With some building firms reportedly factoring in “risk-of-Rudd” premiums into future contracts, John Holland also wants Labor to drop plans to scrap the building industry watchdog.
It goes on to say that as evidence of what the Labor Party’s initiatives will do, the John Holland document:
... warns that the reintroduction of previous industrial practices such as payment of non-working union delegates on building sites would be hugely expensive.
Imagine employing someone not to work for the firm but to work for the unions. That is what John Holland is warning against. It says the estimate of the cost of this alone would be $20 million a year—for John Holland to employ union officials on their books who do not have any productivity, even by the definition provided by the Leader of the Opposition. It goes on to say:
In a strong endorsement of the Government’s 14-month-old workplace blueprint, John Holland says these have already delivered achievements of great significance to the industry, our employees and our clients ...
… … …
“There is every reason to expect at least another 10 ... to 20 per cent improvement in productivity over the next five years,” ...
“The current regulatory framework is therefore an essential plank in the nation’s economic framework,” ...
That is exactly right. It is not Joe Hockey, the member for North Sydney, the member for Bennelong, the member for Higgins or anyone else saying this. It is one of Australia’s largest builders saying explicitly that a return to the bad old days of Labor Party industrial relations policy is not only bad for the construction industry but bad for the Australian economy.
I can tell you that there is one area where productivity is high. I understand that Kevin Reynolds and Joe McDonald, the leaders of the CFMEU in Western Australia, are doorknocking the Pilbara to try and get new members. In an area of Australia that has traditionally a very low union membership, there are Joe McDonald and Kevin Reynolds going around with their backpacks. Lord knows what is in their backpacks. I will not speculate again. With their backpacks—and I am sure there would not be a water bottle inside—there they are travelling around the Pilbara trying to recruit new members for the CFMEU at a time when the building industry and the mining industry are creating and generating enormous wealth for the Australian economy. If you really want to know what the ‘risk-of-Rudd premium’ is, as the building industry calls it, it is about the fact that the Labor Party wants to wind back the clock on industrial relations. That is bad for the workers, and it is bad for the Australian economy.