Building and Construction Industry – Matters of Public Importance

27 Jul | '2022


Australia’s construction industry is one of our most vital and important sectors. It’s our construction industry that builds the shopping centres and the supermarkets that we buy our food from, the buildings that we work in and the homes in which we live. The construction industry is responsible for building the roads we drive on. They are the backbone of Australia’s infrastructure and will continue to be long into the future.

The previous Liberal-National government recognised that construction is a hard industry to work in. It’s laborious and it’s physically demanding of many who work in it. In government, we learnt over time that unions were using their influence in the sector to bully, to harass and to intimidate Australian tradesmen—and, more importantly, tradeswomen—businesses and those who were not members of their organisations, and to effect change in their own interests. Surprise, surprise! In 2016, it was the Liberal-National government who introduced the Australian Building and Construction Commission, to be an independent and statutory authority of the Australian government, responsible for promoting understanding of and enforcing workplace relations compliance in the Australian building and construction industry. Labor’s plan to abolish the ABCC will strip Australia’s building and construction workers of their protection against unlawful and bad, bad behaviour, which the Leader of the Opposition outlined in his speech to parliament. Their plan to abolish the ABCC will strip Australia’s building and construction workers of their protections against unlawful behaviour by unions, which was confirmed by not one but two royal commissions. However, unlike this government—those opposite—at least the Gillard and Rudd governments acknowledged the need for a specialist building regulator, even if it was ineffective.

The High Court of Australia ruled unanimously against the CFMMEU in a case about the union’s lawlessness in the construction sector brought by the Australian Building and Construction Commission, the ABCC. The High Court found that the CFMMEU was a serial offender who engaged in whatever action and made whatever threats it wished without regard to the law, that it had contravened laws on approximately 150 occasions, that it was well resourced—having more than sufficient means to pay any penalty that the court might have imposed—and that it treated penalties for serious breaches of the law as just a cost of doing business. I’ll repeat that: the CFMEU treated penalties for serious breaches of the law—so many of them, clearly—as just a cost of doing business. When repeat offending by a major player in the construction industry gets so bad that our Federal Court has to ask whether there’s ever been a worse recidivist in the history of the common law—and that’s them commenting on the CFMEU’s history of flouting the law—there is clearly a problem with the effectiveness of law that requires urgent legislative attention.

This continues on to the alleged offensive and abusive behaviour—towards who? We’ve highlighted this, and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition also highlighted this—it is behaviour towards women in the construction industry, which is appalling and must be addressed. The real case that Mr Burke must make to the Australian people is how he plans to protect more than 150,000 women on Australian construction sites when he scraps the ABCC. If Labor is willing to abandon their position on protecting women the workplace this quickly, because of their union mates, then to what extent will Australians suffer to keep the bosses at ALP HQ and their union handlers happy?

The record of the ABCC stands up in its own right. Since the ABCC was re-established by the coalition government in December 2016 it has—let me go through the list—achieved a successful outcome in 98 of 107 cases resolved. For those opposite, that’s a success rate of 91 per cent. It has prosecuted a total of 2,502 contraventions, secured over $16,423,918 in penalties and recovered $5,105,562 in wages and entitlements for 8,444 employees. And those opposite want to abolish it. It’s unconscionable. As the Leader of the Opposition stood here and said, it’s unconscionable that those opposite accept $5 million from their union and they want to scrap the watchdog that’s looking out for the Australian people on construction sites.

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