Thursday, 12 November 2015
Questions without Notice
Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union
My question is to Minister for Employment, Senator Cash. Can the minister inform the Senate of yesterday's scathing decision by the Federal Court to once again impose penalties on the construction division of the CFMEU for orchestrating and continuing a violent blockade on Melbourne streets of Grocon sites in 2012?
I thank Senator Ronaldson for his question, and yes, I can. Yesterday the Federal Court once again imposed penalties on the construction division of the CFMEU, this time for intimidating and coercing a contractor and unlawfully blockading a Grocon site in Melbourne. Once again we see another example of the attitude of this division of the CFMEU, that it thinks it is above the law and can do whatever it wants.
The construction division of the CFMEU has again been found guilty of having—and I quote from the judge—'sought, by means of threats, coercion or unlawful industrial action to achieve industrial outcomes'. The judge made it a point to highlight the CFMEU's propensity to deliberately flout industrial legislation.
In this case, we see yet another penalty imposed on half a dozen senior officials for openly breaking the law, with the court noting that 'none of the respondents expressed any contrition for the misconduct'. In this case, once again, we see instance after instance of deplorable conduct, including senior officials openly urging crowds to resist police, and a finding by the court that a leader of the CFMEU, John Setka, was both physically and verbally violent. The court has again highlighted the CFMEU's ongoing willingness to engage in contravening conduct and it made the point that past penalties have simply not had a deterrent effect on this particular division of the CFMEU.
This is yet another clear example of the specific problem with this industry and its culture of ignoring industrial laws. The government will not ignore this problem and will not sit idly by while one particular industry and certain elements within it continue to act like they are a law unto themselves.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. On the back of that disturbing information, can the minister advise the Senate of the need for an effective, independent regulator to help prevent similar incidents happening again?
This government understands that the construction sector and its contribution to the economy, to jobs and to prosperity are far too important to let it continue to be plagued by a culture of lawlessness and practices that have no place in modern workplaces. We saw this culture in yesterday's court decision when we read that Ralph Edwards, the president of the CFMEU, was openly encouraging a mob outside the Grocon workplace to identify Grocon workers and 'get personal, up close and personal with them right'. This intimidation of Grocon workers by the president of the CFMEU is, quite frankly, truly appalling, especially as the Grocon workers, many of them women, are members of the CFMEU themselves.
This government is committed to re-establishing the ABCC to ensure there is a strong regulator enforcing effective laws and meaningful penalties so that the laws of this parliament will once again actually deter people within that industry from— (Time expired)
Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I thank the minister for that answer and ask her: will the minister inform the Senate whether the current legislative framework has proven to be an effective deterrent for this type of behaviour continually occurring within the construction industry?
The current legislative framework has not been effective in dealing with the clear problems in this industry and deterring people from breaking the law. I remind the Senate that the Grocon dispute in yesterday's court decision occurred only weeks after Labor gave into union demands and abolished the ABCC. When Labor abolished the ABCC, it also cut the maximum penalty for breaking the law by two-thirds and slashed the Fair Work Building Commission's budget and their ability to enforce the law. Who, then, was really surprised when, almost immediately, we saw the construction division of the CFMEU unlawfully shut down parts of Melbourne's CBD?
We do need to fix the deficiencies in the current framework by re-establishing the ABCC and restoring meaningful penalties that actually make people stop and think before breaking the law. The federal government has been very clear: the current penalties have not deterred the CFMEU from repeatedly breaking the law.