Tuesday, 18 October 2016
Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Bill 2013, Building and Construction Industry (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2013; Second Reading
These bills, the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Bill 2013 and cognate bill, were so important to the government that they have procedurally gagged members of this House—new members who wanted to participate in this debate. These bills were of course subject to a double dissolution election and yet the parliament is not in a position to have a full debate on one of two matters that were subject to the double dissolution election. Why would the government shut down debate, gag members of parliament and deprive new members to this place—there was more than one new member on the other side and, indeed, many new members on this side—who wanted to argue the case in relation to this matter? It really says everything about this government and it says something about these bills too, because not only are these bills fundamentally undemocratic and breach international labour conventions and other principles of democracy but, indeed, the fact that the government do not even want to debate the merits of these bills shows the disregard they have for democracy, for this parliament and for this place and their contempt for the Australian people.
The reality is: the more things change the more they stay the same with this government. The composition of this House may have changed since the last time I rose to speak on these bills, but the same tired policy of the Abbott-Turnbull government has not. You could forgive me for having a sense of deja vu in standing here and discussing the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Bill 2013—the third time I have done so in the same number of years. Is there a glitch in the matrix? No. Malcolm Turnbull is no Neo. Despite the Prime Minister telling everyone he is the most innovative, agile, thought-provoking Prime Minister in a generation, we are here debating bills Tony Abbott promised back in 2013—bills that were defeated not once but twice in the last parliament. To be very clear, Labor opposes these bills because a return to the Australian Building and Construction Commission is based on flawed and often ridiculed modelling. Their proposed powers are extreme, unnecessary and undemocratic and they restrict the civil liberties of ordinary working people.
It is worth reminding ourselves of the history of these particular pieces of legislation for they have had a chequered past. The bills were introduced into the 44th Parliament on 14 November 2013. It was the former Minister for Employment, Senator Eric Abetz, who had carriage of the legislation. Unfortunately for Senator Abetz, the proposed legislation has outlasted its drafter and its drafter's boss, the member for Warringah. The bills sat idle again until 17 August 2015 when they were defeated in the Senate. Then in September last year, as we all recall, we had the prime ministerial coup, but no consequent change of direction by the government. The very same bills were then reintroduced in February 2016 before being defeated again in April this year, ultimately resulting in the bills being a double dissolution trigger. It is a matter so critical to the national interest, but guess how many times the Prime Minister mentioned it during the very long election campaign.
Ms Chesters interjecting—
No, a few more than that. Four times in 55 days the Prime Minister mentioned this very important matter. To put it in context, the Prime Minister used the hollowed slogan 'jobs and growth' 37 times in his first press conference. So Australians went to a double dissolution election on a matter the Prime Minister barely referred to during the longest election campaign in many generations. The whole process since the birth of this legislation has been a shambolic disgrace. Today we find the government shutting down debate and depriving members of the opportunity to debate the dissolution bills. The member for Burt, a new member on our side of the chamber, who has put his name down to speak on this, is not in a position to contribute to this debate—a debate supposedly so important. If he is not in a position to do so, I would say that that is very, very shameful.
I turn to the substantive reasons why the bill should never become law. They are compelling reasons. The ABCC is unjustified. The government established a $60 million dollar political witch-hunt to justify the bill. The only glaring problem for the government is that the bill has not changed one bit since its introduction in 2013, despite the fact that we have had a royal commission since then and many recommendations by that commissioner. The trade union royal commission was established on 13 March 2014. The bill predates the commission. The government established a lengthy, expensive and highly partisan royal commission and yet has not sought to enact any of its recommendations.
Let us remember the manner in which this government uses royal commissions. They set up two royal commissions, called three Labor leaders and compelled them to those royal commissions. That is unprecedented in our history since federation, that the leaders of the political opponents of the government were subject to such conduct and scrutiny by the use of executive power. In the case of this particular commission, it treated Kathy Jackson with kid gloves, and the commissioner accepted an invitation to a Liberal Party fundraiser yet failed to disqualify himself once that was subsequently disclosed publicly. Given the fact that the recommendations do not find their way into this bill, what was the point of that royal commission? We know what the point was—to slur the political opponents of the government; to use taxpayers' money and the powers of the state to demean and traduce and defame opponents of the government.
This government is either incompetent or lazy, though it is becoming increasingly apparent that they are both. It must be mentioned too—though it might come as a shock to those trying to follow this issue—that there is already a building industry regulator in place today with coercive powers: Fair Work Building and Construction. So the parliament's choice today in debating this bill is not between the ABCC and no other regulator; it is between the ABCC and Fair Work Building and Construction, which already has coercive powers, albeit there is some oversight with respect to those powers. In its annual report of 2015-16 Fair Work Building and Construction noted that it commenced 130 investigations and used its coercive powers on 17 occasions, yet none of the investigations where coercive powers were used led to any prosecutions.
On the measure that the government seek so often to rely on—productivity—their argument does not stand up to scrutiny. We have heard the Prime Minister talk about the correlation between this bill and productivity. We have heard the Leader of the House talk about the correlation between this bill and productivity. Yet, according to the ABS, productivity in the construction industry increased more in the seven years before the introduction of the ABCC than it did in the seven years that the ABCC existed. The fact is that there was no correlation between improved productivity and the existence of that former body. Productivity has been higher ever since the abolition of the ABCC in 2012.
The Productivity Commission's public infrastructure report of 2014 says it all. That report states:
The evidence that the ABCC stimulated material improvements in aggregate productivity or achieved cost reductions is weak.
That is what the Productivity Commission said. This is the government's principal review and advisory body on economic policy and regulation, the body that has been advising governments for many a year—the productivity experts, if you like—yet they repudiate the arguments put forward by the Prime Minister, the Minister for Employment and other government members in relation to the correlation between the existence of the ABCC and improved productivity. It is the body the government commissioned to do the review of the workplace relations, and it is saying that there is hardly a skerrick of evidence of cost savings and productivity increases the last time the ABCC was in place. So there is little or no evidence that there will be any improvements to productivity as a result of this body being enacted. True to form, the government is prepared to accept the PC's advice when it is convenient for its political interest, but in this case wants to dismiss or ignore it because it does not support their agenda.
However, there is even more data which debunks the government's claims. Figures produced by Austrade for international investors establish that the Australian construction sector is '19 per cent more productive than global competitors and, measured against global competitors, is relatively more productive than other industry sectors including media, retail and banking.' But of course we are not looking at ways to make the banking sector more productive, are we?
The ABCC did not reduce industrial disputation last time either. Whilst there has been an argument that somehow there is lawlessness in the building sector, which we refute, the fact is that the existence of the ABCC did not reduce in any way industrial disputation last time. Apart from one aberrant quarter, the fact is that the total number of days lost each year is similar, on average, under Fair Work Building and Construction as under the ABCC. In fact, the differences are negligible—to again undermine the arguments put forward by the government that somehow there is a correlation between the introduction and implementation of a new body, the ABCC, and industrial disputation. The Productivity Commission's review into workplace relations says:
Industrial disputation, as measured by working days lost per 1000 employees, has declined markedly over the past three decades. The average number of days lost over the past five years was less than one tenth of the days lost on average from 1985 to 1990. Similarly, the total number of industrial disputes, the number of employees involved in industrial disputes, and the total number of working days lost to industrial action, have all declined substantially over this period, notwithstanding the substantial increase in employment over the ensuing decades.
In other words, the labour market has got larger; industrial disputation has got smaller. There are fewer days that involve industrial disputation, not only in the building and construction sector but in all other sectors of our economy—and the arguments put forward by the Prime Minister, by other ministers and, indeed, by members of this government are just patently wrong. Any claim that the ABCC reduced industrial disputation is completely debunked.
The PC noted further:
… these concerns—
that the Fair Work Act led to increased disputation when it was attacking the system—
may be based on quite selective comparisons drawn over a short timeframe, by comparing more recent 'spikes' in the rate of disputation around 2011 and 2012, with low levels observed in 2006 to 2008. In doing so, they overlook the similarly low rates of disputation that were subsequently observed in 2013 and 2014, and fail to acknowledge that the apparently high levels of disputation in 2011 and 2012 were roughly the same as the level in 2005 …
In other words, it is selective use of data that has allowed the government to erroneously conclude that there has been an increase in industrial disputation. But there is more to that. The government's own report says:
Rather than focusing on increasing restrictions on industrial action, the WR framework should seek to ensure that parties' incentives to engage in action are appropriately aligned.
There are no blowouts, we would argue, with labour costs, and schools, hospitals and other public infrastructure projects will not be cheaper, we would contend, under the ABCC. In fact, a BIS Shrapnel analysis recommends governments should fast-track infrastructure spending to take advantage of record low construction costs, which are delivering some projects at half the price they were before the global financial crisis. Let's reiterate: before the global financial crisis—when, indeed, the ABCC was in existence—costs were higher, according to BIS Shrapnel analysis where they say that record low construction costs are delivering some projects at half the price they were before the global financial crisis. Analysis by the Parliamentary Library shows that, when the ABCC was last in operation, between 2004 and 2012, the cost of non-residential building grew faster than the CPI. Let's just dwell on that for a moment: it cost more to build when the ABCC was around, not less.
Although the government's attacks on unions are about driving record low wages even lower, it would seem that the Prime Minister and the Treasurer cannot get their argument straight. We saw today this contradiction in action. The Prime Minister says the ABCC will stop excessive wages, whereas the Treasurer says it will support wages growth. They cannot both be right. If you had to guess—and we are talking about a Liberal minister—it is more likely that anything they do will lead to a reduction in wages. But here we have the Treasurer of the country wanting to argue that we will see an increase in wages if we introduce this bill, enact it and set up the ABCC, while at the same time the Prime Minister is saying, 'We can cut labour costs by attacking excessive wages.' The two most senior ministers in the government clearly are at odds when it comes to this issue, which really says everything about this matter. The government will do anything and will run any argument, even when they are clearly contradictory, to try and get this legislation through. The fact is that it seems this government will use whatever argument it thinks is most popular in order to desperately try to pass this bill.
After repudiating the alleged economic benefits, Labor opposes this bill because the ABCC restricts democratic rights. Nicola McGarrity and Professor George Williams from the Faculty of Law at the University of New South Wales say:
… the ABC Commissioner's investigatory powers have the potential to severely restrict basic democratic rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of association, the privilege against self-incrimination and the right to silence.
The Law Council says that the ABCC laws are 'contrary to the rule of law', an irony lost on the Prime Minister, who has been known to claim that the ABCC is required to 'return the rule of law to the construction industry'. So an independent body, replete with eminent experts in the area of civil rights, has claimed that the laws of the ABCC—that is, the manner in which we would be using laws in this civil jurisdiction in the building and construction sector—would be contrary to the rule of law as we know it in this country, while the Prime Minister argues the opposite. The ABCC breaches the principle of equality before the law. Workers in the building and construction industry should be subject to the same laws as apply to other workers. This legislation extends the reach of the ABCC into picketing, offshore construction and the transport and supply of goods to building sites. So not only will we see, if this were to pass, the reintroduction of an undemocratic body; it would also be broader in its reach, going well beyond workers in the construction sector.
The ABCC does not deal with criminal behaviour, but it effectively has criminal justice powers. We have debated this matter at length. The fact is that we are dealing in the civil jurisdiction. We are dealing with, in effect, industrial laws. If there is crime in the building industry—or if people are committing crime in any part of our society—we have crime-fighting agencies. If there is organised crime in banking or in the building industry, we have the Australian Crime Commission, the Australian Federal Police, AUSTRAC and other agencies and state agencies that can fight crime.
These matters are not to do with crime. The ABCC has no criminal coverage whatsoever. It does not deal with criminal matters. So every time a member of the government talks about criminal behaviour anywhere, they are talking about the wrong matter, because the ABCC, if introduced, would not be in a position to deal with such matters. That is why we established the Australian Crime Commission. The Australian Crime Commission emanated out of, in fact, a royal commission many, many years ago. Then the National Crime Authority was established by the Hawke government after the then Fraser government recommended that there be a body established, a standing commission, dealing with serious crime. And the Hawke government did so. We then, of course, changed its name to the Australian Crime Commission. Every government since has had that body at its disposal to fight crime. So if there is crime in the building industry or the banking industry, or anywhere for that matter, we have a standing commission with coercive powers that can fight crime. That has been the biggest furphy in this debate. None of the matters, none of the rhetoric about crime have anything to do with the regulation by a regulator in the building industry. Whether it is the Fair Work building commission or the ABCC, they have no powers.
If those opposite think we are going to fight crime by setting up this legislation, they have no idea what they are talking about. Those matters have to be dealt with by the Federal Police, state police, AUSTRAC, the Australian Crime Commission. They are the agencies. As the former minister they used to report to me. I know what they do. Unfortunately, the government does not seem to know what the ABCC will do if enacted. That is, again, something that really underlines the dishonesty in this debate in relation to this matter.
The ABCC, furthermore, has no protections from abuse of power by the regulator. That is really concerning, particularly when we are not talking about breaching criminal laws. The government's bill removes the current protection which requires the director of Fair Work Building and Construction to apply to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to issue an examination notice before coercive powers are deployed. It is like the police being able to conduct a search without going to a judge to justify why they need a warrant. For many, many things, the police, in their work in the criminal jurisdiction, have to gain a warrant from a judge or from other bodies—third parties—who have the authority to grant such a warrant. In this case, we will be stripping away the only existing oversight that is with the current regulator and be allowing the regulator to deploy coercive powers—moreover, coercive powers in the civil jurisdiction—without any oversight whatsoever. This bill is offensive and, on any objective analysis, is a return to the dark days of the ABCC. It is completely unnecessary.
The most distressing effect of this proposal is the fact that, if the ABCC comes into force, it is very likely—more likely than not—that workplace deaths and injuries in the building and construction sector will increase.
If you actually allow me to run through this argument, because this is the most serious of all. If the Prime Minister has his way, construction workers will be hit with a $36,000 fine for acting on safety concerns at work. The last time this was the case we saw more workplace deaths and more serious workplace injuries. During the period of WorkChoices and the ABCC under the Howard government, fatalities for all workers increased by more than 25 per cent, while fatalities for construction workers skyrocketed from an average of 2.5 fatalities per 100,000 to almost five fatalities per 100,000 workers. They, effectively, doubled in that time. In 2007, when the ABCC was last in place, worker deaths on construction sites hit a 10-year high, with 51 workers dying in that year. After Labor abolished the ABCC, workplace deaths dropped by 60 per cent.
I am the first one to accept that there are a myriad of reasons for workplace injuries or workplace fatalities. But the evidence would suggest a significant correlation between weakening health and safety rights and such tragedies occurring. Sadly, since the former Prime Minister put the incompetent zealot Mr Nigel Hadgkiss in charge of the Fair Work building inspectorate, workplace deaths have started to climb again. Giving Mr Hadgkiss, or another hand-picked Liberal operative, more powers in the form of the ABCC will only make matters worse.
I want to talk about a couple of real tragedies that underline Labor's concerns. Two workers, Joe McDermott and Gerry Bradley, were killed at Jaxon Construction's Bennett Street project, despite union delegates raising a number of safety concerns in the months leading up to the tragic deaths. They died because the company had not set up an exclusion zone where they were lifting concrete blocks from a truck onto the site. Both were crushed to death by a falling concrete slab. In August 2015, the CFMEU started proceedings in the Federal Court against Jaxon Construction. The matters relate to hindering, obstructing, refusing or delaying entry to various sites preventing union officials from carrying out their right to investigate suspected health and safety breaches on a number of Jaxon sites in Perth.
The Fair Work building commission has been known to advise Jaxon management on the right-of-entry issues in relation to suspected safety breaches and holding discussions. It is clear that the Fair Work building commission is giving employers the view that cooperation with unions is a bad thing, even when someone has died in the workplace. If you do cooperate, you will be prosecuted yourself. In many cases, it is not the builder who wants to charge the union or the workers, it is the Fair Work building commission that has gone back in time and dug up old cases. As a consequence of Fair Work building commission interference at a site level, it is not uncommon for site supervisors that have a good working relationship with the union to tell them that, if it was up to them, they would be happy to let them on site. As the Bennett Street site was a social housing project and had a component of government money, strict FWBC right-of-entry protocols were enforced.
In another example, at the Royal Adelaide Hospital two workers, Mr Castillo-Riffo and Mr Steve Wyatt, were tragically killed on site, both in scissor-lift incidents. Both were crushed between a scissor lift and the head of a low doorway. There were multiple complaints about fatigue, schedules, disorganised sites, and consistent and calculated blocking of legitimate health-and-safety initiatives from unions, at that hospital site.
The week that Mr Castillo-Riffo died, he told his now widow that he was worried about using a scissor lift to do a job that required a scaffold to be used, but that management needed the scaffold for use on another part of the site, as they were running behind on the project. Three months prior to the death of Mr Steve Wyatt, the shop steward raised the issue, noting that scissor lifts should not be used to drive through site or through doorways, yet nothing was changed. I met with the family members of Mr Bradley and Mr Castillo-Riffo, and of course they are wracked by grief and want answers as to how this happened.
If these examples are not enough, in the past fortnight there have been a further three tragic deaths in the building and construction industry. On Thursday, 6 October, two workers were killed at a construction site at Eagle Farm racecourse in Queensland. Ashley Morris, 34 and the parent of two young children, and a 55-year-old colleague were killed instantly when a nine-tonne concrete slab fell on them in a pit at the track's infield. On 10 October—last week—a 27-year-old German woman, Marianka Heumann, fell 13 floors to her death on the Perth construction site of a Finbar and Hanssen development.
These sorts of tragedies are entirely preventable, and they will be so much more easily prevented if we deny the government its wish to return to the draconian ABCC. Lives are quite literally on the line here. The construction industry is dangerous, and it is difficult work. Why would any government want to make it more dangerous? It is beyond me. I appeal to members and senators to meet with the families of those who have died on construction sites so they can tell you about the health and safety concerns exacerbated by the ABCC laws.
So there are many, many reasons why we cannot support this bill. There is no correlation between its introduction and improved productivity. The Productivity Commission says so, as do others. There are fundamental breaches of human rights and civil rights in relation to this legislation, as eminent lawyers have confirmed. There are very serious concerns about the correlation between the former ABCC and the increase in injuries and fatalities at that time. Once it was repealed, there was a fall in the number of deaths and injuries in the industry. We believe it is very likely that, if this bill is successfully introduced, the result will be more fatalities and more injuries. I think the government should rethink its position, stop playing politics with this and consider the impact that its laws will have on ordinary workers in the building and construction sector.
I thank the government for the opportunity to say a few words on this bill. My sense of frustration here is that there has been a complete lack of a human side to this—the reaction to human pain. I will try to humanise this is much as I can.
If you walk through that door near the Speaker's chair, you will see two magnificent paintings of the first two Speakers of this parliament. The one on the right-hand side is Charlie McDonald, the first member for the electorate of Kennedy, which I represent. Charlie left parliament after 23 years and, according to the history books and newspapers, died of dust on the lungs, or miner's phthisis.
Charlie McDonald came from Charters Towers—remember, Charters Towers was bigger than Brisbane in those days, with the gold rushes. The state member for Charters Towers, Anderson Dawson, was the first Labor head of government elected anywhere in the world, a person of great historic significance. He also, according to the history books, was dying of dust on the lungs when he left politics. When the third Prime Minister of this place, Andrew Fisher—again, according to the history books—left parliament, he was also dying of dust on the lungs. His father died of dust on the lungs.
In England, even though the treatment of Welsh and Cornish miners was somewhat akin to that of slaves—they actually wore steel bands with numbers on them—they still had damping-down laws. In Africa, where the local indigenous population worked the mines, they had damping-down laws. In this country, we did not, and there is no question that that is why one in 30 miners died. Thirty went down the mines, and one never came back up again.
The labour movement was created by a very great Australian. Malcolm Fraser said his heroes were the American Franklin Roosevelt and the Australian Edward Granville Theodore. Paul Keating said his heroes were JT Lang and Edward Theodore. I have a picture of the great Jack McEwen, of course, and a picture of Theodore on my wall. I am not in their class—they are very important people, as former prime ministers of Australia—and you could not find three people on the planet who are more unalike than Malcolm Fraser, Paul Keating and me! But there is one thing that we do agree on, and that is Theodore.
The first thing the labour movement did was pass damping-down laws for mines. It was not really a great cost to put in some water to damp down the dust so that we did not die of dust in the lungs—and it was not just dust in the lungs. Theodore formed the first union because the third time he went down a mine—he was ordered down the mine—it was extremely dangerous and two people died, and he bore the scars for the rest of his life. You can say, 'Well, those days are gone; we have safety now.' But the previous speaker, the member for Gorton, said that there were three deaths in the last two weeks on construction sites. Do we not have a problem when there are three deaths in two weeks on construction sites in Australia?
After we formed our little political party, I went to my first stoppage meeting, which was called by the ETU and the CFMEU in Brisbane because the tunnel was extremely dangerous. They said that the supposed overseeing engineers had driven through in an air conditioned vehicle, put the window down, talked to a foreman, screamed abuse at him and told him, 'We're falling behind on the job and you're going to get sacked shortly.' They said that that was about the only oversight that was taking place in the tunnels. Well, I did not know whether that was true or not. There had been a couple of accidents there. Two weeks later I attended a second stoppage meeting because a man was dying as a result of an accident there. You think that it is somebody out there who is dying, but it turned out it was not. It was the mayor of Charters Towers' brother who had gone through school with my own daughters. I knew Sam Beveridge very, very well, and it hit home to me that it is not just anybody dying out there; it is us that are dying out there.
I have worked on industrial sites. For those who have not worked on industrial sites: there is an intrinsic dangerousness, and we take that danger. I am not complaining about the danger. We were very highly paid in the mines to accept that danger. At my first job they said to me, 'Hey, mate, you better watch out because you know how you got the job?' I said, 'Yeah, because I'm clever and I presented well and I'm tough.' They said, 'No, because the bloke whose place you've taken was chopped up in the pelletiser.' A safety card was put on the chair, and someone came along and tripped over chair. The chair fell over, the door clanged shut and he was inside in this huge, giant 20c piece, if you like, with arms that swung around to break up the lead lumps inside, and he died under extremely tragic circumstances.
The first time I took an industrial action was over a thing called the shaker. We had to jump up on top of the flue, hit it with a sledgehammer and then jump back down before thing came back at you at 60 miles an hour. There was probably about 30 minutes of work needed to fix that thing, but it was extremely dangerous. I was in a lead dust hopper, which is a huge thing—maybe a 10th of the size of this chamber—and a mate of mine, Mal Brodie, yelled out at me, 'You stupid'—I will not say exactly what he said. I asked, 'Why am I being stupid?' He said: 'Well, you're working the air gun to get the hopper working because it is clogged up. When it starts working, you're going to vanish straight down the hopper and be buried alive in the dust.' He burst out laughing and threw me the safety belt that someone should have told me I should have been wearing. I am indicating that, of their very nature, industrial sites are dangerous. We accept that. We people that work in industrial sites accept that.
I am not trying to denigrate other unions by saying this, but the CFMEU are not the trendy Left or the socialist Left union. They are the hard trade unionists of Australia. You break them and you have broken trade unionism in this country.
If you think that we are just a talking about fairytales or fairy floss: at approximately 2.50 on Monday, 10 October, a 27-year-old German backpacker fell 35 metres to her death on a Finbar construction project in the Perth CBD. When CFMEU safety officials entered the Finbar site about 40 minutes after the fatality, the job was still going full steam ahead, with a major concrete pour still taking place. Finbar had not even bothered to contact the police! It took an ABC journalist to ring the police. You understand there was a dead body here. Before they were made aware of the fatality, even the OHS regulator, WorkSafe, did not front up to the job until over an hour after the union safety officials entered site. Finbar failed to close off the second level of the job where the worker landed—and remember it was from 15 storeys up. Blood and strewn work clothing were clearly visible and accessible, and there had been no effort to ensure the scene of the fatality was not contaminated. The deceased construction worker was not wearing a fall prevention harness when she fell from the 15th floor. I might add that she was from overseas. Section 457 visa workers are all over these sites now, taking our jobs and undermining our pay and conditions. The minute something like this happens, they immediately clear all those people off the site.
So I speak with some passion on this, I suppose. I represent the electorate where the worst tragedy ever recorded in Australian mining history took place. Seventy-two human beings were blown to death and every single male member of the Mount Mulligan community was dead within our one hour from that explosion at Mount Mulligan, which is in the heart of the Kennedy electorate. The third or fourth worst tragedy in Australia was when 23 people were blown to pieces at Mt Leyshon, which is in my home town of Charters Towers.
You people over here—and I do not mean to denigrate you—to some degree are super featherweights.
I had a great-granddad that paid out of his own money to go to America to buy two cranes to create the port which we now call Townsville. He paid for them out of his own money. We had no schools in Charters Towers. It was a mining field. So he went and built a school out of his own money. He got repaid for the cranes, but he did not get repaid for the school. When he started standing up for these poor workers that were dying, he put 3,000 pounds—this is in the history books—which is over $1 million in today's money, behind the strike fund and cut himself off from the social elite of the town, not that that would have worried him much!
There is a responsibility on the rich and powerful to do something to look after the ordinary Australians. It is a noblesse oblige which does not exist with the Liberal Party today, but it did once upon a time. I have great admiration for our Prime Minister, but you know he is under great forces here. All I can say is you have got to stand up to those forces.
For the last Prime Minister who succumbed to pressure from his own party—and I could be wrong but I do not think John Howard ever wanted to remove arbitration in Australia—the net result was not only the loss of government but the loss of his own seat in parliament. It was a tragedy, in my opinion, because I had great admiration for John Howard. Only twice have prime ministers lost their seats in parliament, and on both occasions they had removed our right to arbitration. So I say to a lot of the people on that side of the House who may fall into the category of rich and powerful: if you do then you have a responsibility to those who are not rich and powerful. We have to come together to ensure that these things do not happen.
In the last two minutes I have, let me return to the CFMEU. It is my union. I hold a ticket in the coalminers union and am very proud to say that to you. We were forced by Bob Hawke to take on the builders labourers. He said, 'Oh well, you blokes can handle them because you're all commos.' There were some very good people in the builders division but there were also some very bad people.
Mr Littleproud interjecting—
It would be nice if this person here would give me a chance to have a say. He seems to think he should be speaking.
Listening to the drivel coming out of him, I do not think anyone else in this parliament would want to listen to it, but could he just give us a go.
We have only one great development available to us in this country: the Galilee Basin. Half of Australia's coal reserves—coal, which has carried the economy of this country for the past 60 years—are in the Galilee, and we need a rail line into the Galilee. The state government in Queensland have dragged the chain and thrown up hurdle after hurdle. Last week—and I hope the Prime Minister is taking notice because I know he has been very positive towards the project—the state government rolled over, which we bless them for, and said they were backing the Galilee and opening up at Adani. That decision was taken because of the CFMEU—because they are fighting for jobs for their people.
Mr Littleproud interjecting—
This fellow over here in the chequered tie is laughing. He thinks it is funny that someone went out there and fought like a dog to get 20,000 jobs created. He thinks that is the subject of humour. Well, people can pass their own judgement upon him.
It must be recalled in this place that in the Latham-Howard election the person who held Howard's arm up and told every trade unionist in this country to vote for the Liberals was in fact the now president of this union. Unlike you, he does not have closed-minded prejudices. He does the right thing by the people he is being paid to look after. I pay tribute to him and I am proud to be associated with him. (Time expired)
I rise to conclude the debate on these very important bills. They will ensure that 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 and productively for all Australians. Taxpayers, consumers, workers and 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, they need only look at the television reports in the last 24 hours of a 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 foulmouthed 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.
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. 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 continue to sanction and condone this behaviour. Who are they protecting? Certainly not 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 they are not protecting 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 taxpayers pay more for public infrastructure; it makes homebuyers pay more for apartments; it adds an enormous tax, a tax of lawlessness, on the building industry of Australia.
We know what works. The Australian Building and Construction Commission works. It has 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.
In doing so, the Labor Party also complain about the compulsory examinations 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. That 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—prevents its own members from receiving representation during its own internal disciplinary proceedings.
We all know criminality is rife in this sector. We know there is a culture of wilful defiance of all laws, and workplace relation laws in particular. 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 the sector given the litany of court judgements and fines against construction unions for repeated and unrepented breaches of the law.
We can recall once again the 113 officials from the CFMEU currently before the courts for more than 1,100 suspected contraventions of the law. Time and time again, the courts have expressed their dismay at the actions of this union, with statements like, 'The CFMEU's record of noncompliance is an embarrassment to the trade union movement'; or, from 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.'
Through this legislation the ABCC can restore the rule of law to the building and construction industry. It is vital for jobs, for economic growth, for productivity. 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 this unlawful conduct in the industry.
Meaningful penalties will ensure workplaces are fair, 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 benefit by getting value for money on infrastructure investments.
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. Those opposite will be showing their contempt for that democratic outcome if they persist in their obstruction of these bills. It is now time for the House—and, in due time, for 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.
In accordance with the resolution agreed to earlier I will now put the question on the second readings of the bills. The question is that these bills be now read a second time.
Bills read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.