House debates

Monday, 14 October 2019

Questions without Notice

Trade Unions

2:51 pm

Photo of Julian SimmondsJulian Simmonds (Ryan, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Attorney-General and the Minister for Industrial Relations. Will the minister update the House on how the Morrison government is working to curb union lawlessness, lawlessness that hurts small business, hurts productivity and hurts our economy, and is the minister aware of any alternative policies?

Photo of Christian PorterChristian Porter (Pearce, Liberal Party, Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for his question. The member is quite right to link in that question the issue of union lawlessness with productivity and with the economy, because the two are one and the same issue.

It was literally only today that there was yet another decision in the Federal Court where the CFMEU was fined a single maximum penalty of $63,000 and an individual was fined $6,000. This is what the judge in that matter said:

The Union is a "serial offender" that has, over a long period, exhibited a willingness to contravene workplace laws in the service of its industrial objectives; and one that appears to treat the imposition of financial penalties in respect of those contraventions as little more than the cost of its preferred business model.

And that preferred business model is the single greatest source of totally avoidable costs in the construction sector in Australia. The construction sector is a massive employer, the fourth-largest employer in Australia, and 99 per cent of all the businesses operating within the construction sector are small businesses, so this is the most major avoidable cost impacting small businesses in Australia. The MBA estimates that militant union activity increases the costs of vital infrastructure like schools and roads and hospitals by 30 per cent—cost increases which are totally avoidable. It's the business model that causes those cost increases.

What is the business model? Again, this is what the courts have said about the business model: 'It's creating an environment in which the CFMEU are making threats of delay and disruption and engaging in coercive conduct.' In terms of increasing the costs to construction and small business, it is, sadly, a very effective business model, because when the threats are carried through it increases the costs, and, when credible threats are merely made, that also increases the costs. There are two examples from April this year: the CFMEU were penalised by the courts for the coercion of a crane company which caused an estimated loss of six weeks worth of work on a construction site; and, in the same month of April, the CFMEU in Queensland shut down nine different worksites to force employment of only contractors who had EBAs with the union. So when they make the threat it causes unsustainable financial decisions to be made, and when they keep the threat and disrupt workplaces it increases costs. (Time expired)