14 February 2017

Speech: Our improved Building Code will strengthen the ABCC

It is always a great pleasure to follow the member for Wakefield because he always comes up with some sort of wacky line in his contribution, and I note that he is confused about whether the member for Corio is actually a member on his side. Yes, he is the Labor member for Corio, but you would not know about that. The member for Wakefield did mention the Land 400 defence contract, and I have to say that I am very pleased that he did because, when it comes to fighting for jobs, I am incredibly proud of what we are doing on this side of the House, in contrast to the member for Corio, a shadow defence minister, who has absolutely shamed the people of Geelong because he has not been prepared to stand up and fight for jobs. I draw on the member for Wakefield’s contribution on this bill. This is all about jobs, and our bill before the House today—

There is a little bit of hypocrisy there from the member for Wakefield, given he actually spoke about the Land 400 defence contract in his contribution. I just want to put on the record that the Victorian government is trying to push that contract into central Melbourne by putting to the defence primes that Fishermans Bend be the preferred location—very disappointing. The member for Corio has been absolutely pathetic in the way he has stood up for our city in our region and not fighting for our region to make sure that we land some of those jobs in Geelong, in Corangamite and in our wonderful region. Shame on Daniel Andrews, shame on local Labor MPs and shame on Labor’s shadow defence minister, the member for Corio, who has absolutely and fundamentally failed the people of Geelong.

I want to correct the record when it comes to the member for Wakefield’s contribution: this is actually a decision of the defence primes; it is not a decision of the Department of Defence and nor is it a decision for the Victorian government. The incentive packages, however, are every important, and what a disappointment it is that the Victorian government, in a secret plan, is trying to push all of those jobs into Fishermans Bend and is not standing up for regional Victoria, including my region.

This bill before the House today, the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Amendment Bill, is a very important part of our focus on driving jobs in the building and construction sector, which employs one million Australians. That is why our government, last year, re-established the Australian Building and Construction Commission. This is crucial to driving reform and boosting productivity. The building code is fundamental to our objective to make sure that we can start seeing a construction sector which is thriving, and we have not seen that under the previous Labor government.

This bill amends the expiry of the transitional grace period from 28 November 2018 to 31 August 2017 for enterprise agreements made before the building code commenced on 2 December 2016. So, while new enterprise agreements made after 2 December 2016 must comply with the code, building industry participants covered by existing enterprise agreements will now have until 31 August 2017 to ensure their agreements are code compliant. This is very reasonable period of time. Building companies have been on notice for a very significant period of time—

The bill also limits the exemption to building industry participants submitting expressions of interest and tendering for Commonwealth-funded building work. This means enterprise agreements will need to comply with the building code before contracts are awarded and work gets underway.

We are very proud to be putting this bill before the House because what this amendment does is create a level playing field for those in the industry. There are some building companies who did not enter into a new enterprise agreement because they knew that they were obliged to incorporate into the enterprise agreement the building code. I include in those companies Kane Constructions, which is doing wonderful work in the city of Geelong in a $74 million construction of stage 4 of Simonds Stadium. There are other companies that rushed their agreements through and thought that they would have two years to move to the building code, which, frankly, was far too long.

I do want to commend Senator Hinch. Initially, of course, he opposed this particular component of the ABCC legislation. I spoke to Senator Hinch today and I congratulated him, and he said, ‘You know, Sarah, in politics when you make the wrong call, when you make the wrong decision, you have to be man enough or woman enough to change your mind and to set things right.’

That is exactly what Senator Hinch has done in putting to the Prime Minister that two years is too long.

As we all knew on this side of the House, the reason Senator Hinch took that approach was because over the summer he was approached by many building companies that said to him: ‘This is absolutely unfair. You are forcing us to comply with the code, yet other companies have two years to move to a building code. That creates a very unlevel playing field and puts us at an enormous disadvantage. It hurts us. We won’t be able to tender for the same work because we have much higher obligations.’

In the end, Senator Hinch recognised that this was going to hurt companies and it was going to hurt workers. That is why Senator Hinch, after speaking to many people, recognised the inequity of Labor’s position and put to the Prime Minister that a nine-month transition period is appropriate. So building companies now have a reasonable period of time to renegotiate their enterprise agreements so that all companies are on a level playing field.

In his contribution earlier in the day, the member for O’Connor said: ‘I don’t know what this is going to do to improve productivity. How is this going to fix business? What is the problem with an enterprise agreement including a broad scope of terms?’ Well, clearly, the member for O’Connor—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Vasta):  The member for Gorton or the member for O’Connor?

Ms HENDERSON: Yes, I am sorry—the member for Gorton. The member for Gorton has not done his homework because enterprise agreements in the building and construction industry have included a broad range of restrictive work practices, discriminatory provisions and provisions which hurt building companies and which hurt workers. Some examples are enterprise agreements which have required contractors to employ a nonworking shop steward or job delegate. There have been clauses where there is a one-in all-in clause, where if one person is offered overtime, all other workers must be offered overtime whether or not there is enough work. So let’s just pay workers for work that they do not do! That was a requirement in some enterprise agreements.

Some enterprise agreements include jump-up provisions, which prevent engaging subcontractors unless they provide certain union dictated terms and conditions to workers, despite their existing lawful industrial arrangements. In other words, some enterprise agreements make it impossible for building companies to lawfully engage subcontractors because they are so restrictive.

There are also provisions which require contractors to obtain the approval of the union over the number and types of employees that a contractor may engage on a project. In Queensland, there is one enterprise agreement which allows the union to call a two-hour stop-work meeting every single day. Members opposite say: ‘What’s wrong with that? What’s the problem? How is that hurting productivity?’ That is unacceptable and we, as a government, are proud to have a code which says: ‘We do expect some minimum standards. We do expect workers when they go to work to actually work through the day.’ Frankly, most people who go to work want that too.

This has been driven by the uncomfortable and cosy relationship between members opposite and the likes of the CFMEU, and that is exactly why the ABCC has been introduced. Regrettably, corruption, lawlessness, standover tactics, bullying and intimidation have been commonplace in the Australian construction industry. Boy oh boy, did we see that in play in Geelong in December on the very first day that the commission came into effect. While Kane had a proper exemption in place for the Simonds Stadium redevelopment, and there were proper provisions under the Fair Work agreement where they could go out on strike lawfully, that did not cover subcontractors. Union bosses with the CFMEU stood at the gate on one day in December of last year and said to subcontractors who were not covered by the lawful provisions with the Fair Work Commission that they were not to work that day. That is unlawful conduct. The CFMEU had no right to ask subcontractors not to attend work to work on the stadium. That is a $74 million development for our city. It is incredibly important for jobs. It is incredibly important for our own region’s prosperity. It is an example of how the CFMEU operate.

That particular action was not protected action; it was unprotected. A few weeks before Christmas, 135 workers missed out on a day’s pay because they were told by the CFMEU bosses, and they were supported by a number of other unions, not to attend work. I say to members opposite: we seek your support for this amendment. We seek your support for a level playing field so that when there is a building company tendering for Commonwealth work that everyone operates on the same playing field. That is only fair. We cannot give some companies an advantage and not others.

We have seen a terrible history, frankly, in the lead-up to the introduction of the commission where the likes of the CFMEU have run devastating campaigns against Grocon and against Boral, which have really brought some companies to their knees. We must have lawful conduct on Australian building and construction sites, and that is absolutely fundamental.

I do want to reflect on the evidence before the royal commission of the Boral CEO, Mike Kane, who made it very clear that the CFMEU were engaging in cartel tactics, blackmail and intimidation because of Boral’s work on the Regional Rail Link—again, a very important project for our region which was brought to a standstill. Members opposite said nothing about that. Mr Kane actually said in evidence before the royal commission that Boral had lost $8 million in the past 19 months because of the conduct of the CFMEU.

We need to make sure that everyone working on Australian building and construction sites is working legally, is playing fair and is not engaging in the sorts of tactics that we have seen. It is incredibly regrettable, when you look at the scope and the seriousness of the conduct, Mr Deputy Speaker, that it has taken this amount of effort to reintroduce the Australian Building and Construction Commission. I reflect back on the conduct that occurred at Simonds Stadium on the very first day that the commission came into effect. I do know that members of the ABCC attended the construction site and that they are investigating the conduct of certain union members. I am very pleased to know that that is proceeding.

Thank you very much. I commend this bill to the House.

15 February 2017