Senate debates

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Committees

Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Legislation Committee; Reference

4:45 pm

Photo of Matt ThistlethwaiteMatt Thistlethwaite (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I also rise to oppose the motion moved by Senator Abetz. If the Senate were to agree to this motion, it would make the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Amendment (Transition to Fair Work) Bill 2012 one of the most inquired-into pieces of legislation in the history of this place. I recently had a look at the number of times this legislation has been inquired into by not only the House of Representatives but also the Senate. It is quite interesting.

In 2003, when the building and construction industry improvement legislation was first proposed by the Howard government, an inquiry was established. That inquiry never went ahead, because the legislation lapsed due to the proroguing of the parliament. But the Howard government persisted and in 2005, when the legislation was brought back before the parliament, there was another inquiry. But that was not the last of it. In 2008, there was a further inquiry into reforms in the building and construction industry regarding regulation. Not to be outdone, in 2009 there was a further inquiry into regulation and provisions relating to amendments that had been sought by the government to legislation regarding the building and construction industry. Then, in January this year, the matter was again referred to a Senate committee. Senator Marshall chaired that committee, I was a member of that committee, and many people who have spoken in the debate this afternoon were also members of that committee. We conducted a thorough investigation into the provisions and the changes that are being sought.

I must be frank and say that, when you read through the submissions that were provided to the committee—most recently in January of this year—and you look back, they are the same organisations that presented submissions in 2009, 2008 and 2005. And what do you know? The positions that they took in relation to regulation in the building and construction industry are exactly the same on each occasion. There was nothing new from any of the submitters in respect of this legislation. Let us be honest: this is controversial legislation. It is controversial because it relates to regulation of workplace relations in this country, and that was the hot election topic in 2007.

The Australian people made it clear in 2007 at the election that they wanted to rid workplaces throughout the country of the Howard regime—of Work Choices and the draconian measures that were introduced by the Howard government in the building and construction industry. They wanted fairness restored to workplaces. We did that through the process of the Fair Work Act, but we also committed, prior to that election, to undertake an investigation into the efficiency and effectiveness of the laws relating to the building and construction industry improve­ment legislation. We delivered on that commitment. In the wake of the election, Justice Murray Wilcox was entrusted with the process of looking at and inquiring into the effectiveness and efficiency of laws that existed in the building and construction industry. He handed down a report entitled Transition to Fair Work Australia for the building and construction industry. He made a number of recommendations, and principal among those was for the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Amendment (Transition to Fair Work) Bill to bring the conditions and regulations for the industry under the umbrella of Fair Work Australia and to bring in a new set of compliance arrangements that are fair and effective yet balanced and that take into consideration the recommendations of the Wilcox inquiry. And that is what has been done. That is what the outcome of the Senate process was, that is what the outcome of the deliberations in the House of Representatives was, and that is the outcome of the legislation that is before the Senate today.

I make the point that it is not good practice for the Senate to be reopening inquiries—particularly in the context that there have already been five inquiries into this legislation—on the basis of a media release by a particular organisation which may have a difficulty with legislation that all of us in this place admit is often quite controversial. It is not a practice that I believe this place should be beginning to instigate and, in the context of the large reform agenda that the government has and will be bringing before the Senate in upcoming weeks, it is a diversion to have motions such as this when inquiries have well and truly been versed in the issues associated with regulation in the building and construction industry. On that basis, I strongly urge the Senate to oppose this motion.

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