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  • Written by Malcolm Turnbull



The Coalition Government will always stand up for the rule of law.  

Today I am re-presenting to the Parliament — the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Bill 2013 — to re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).

This will ensure the rule of law prevails on building sites across the country.

A fair, safe and productive building and construction industry is crucial to the Government’s economic plan for jobs and growth.

Following the double-dissolution election, which we called as a result of the Senate twice rejecting this legislation, we have a clear mandate to proceed with our election commitment to re-establishing the ABCC.

Re-establishing the ABCC will boost economic growth and generate more jobs in the building and construction industry.

The building and construction industry is a key driver of growth and is vital to the competitiveness and prosperity of the Australian economy.

As a sector, it is the nation's third largest employer.

One in every 10 Australian employees rely on this industry for jobs and income.

The building and construction sector accounts for around eight per cent of gross domestic product.

Unfortunately for too many years, the industry has provided the worst examples of illegal industrial behaviour, unnecessary disruption and unrest.  

Two royal commissions have now identified systemic unlawful behaviour in the construction industry.

The sheer weight of evidence regarding this unlawful conduct is staggering.

The case for re-establishing the ABCC is stronger now than when the Bill was first introduced in 2013.

As far back as 2003, the Cole Royal Commission into the Building and Construction Industry documented a litany of examples of industrial relations lawlessness.

In its final report late last year, the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption presided over by former High Court Justice Dyson Heydon revealed nothing has changed.

The industry is still marred by illegal strikes, constant bullying, intimidation and thuggery.

Dozens of court decisions since 2005 have highlighted the lawless culture within the industry.

At the end of July 2016 there were 107 CFMEU representatives either before the courts, the Fair Work Commission or both for breaches of industrial law.

The courts have imposed fines of over $8.25 million on the CFMEU and its officials.

However, clearly the current penalty levels are ineffective in deterring unlawful conduct by construction unions.

As the courts have noted, the CFMEU appears to regard financial penalties as ‘simply a business cost like any other’, and that ‘there is plainly a need to impose punishment to deter the CFMEU and others like it from treating this country's industrial laws as little more than an annoyance’.

The Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Bill 2013 is introduced in the same form as the bills which were voted down twice by the previous Parliament.

The main object of this Bill is to provide an improved workplace relations framework to ensure building and construction work is carried out fairly, efficiently and productively for the benefit of all building industry participants and for the benefit of the Australian economy as a whole.

The Bill upholds and promotes respect for the rule of law and ensures respect for the rights of all building industry participants.

The Bill includes the ability for the courts to impose significant penalties for individuals and organisations that participate in unlawful action.

The Bill contains appropriate and effective safeguards to ensure due process.

The use of the ABCC examination powers will continue to be reviewed and reported on by the Commonwealth Ombudsman.

A re-established ABCC will also administer a building code that will govern industrial relations arrangements for government-funded projects.

This will ensure that the enterprise bargaining agreements and the conditions on government funded building sites are fair and that taxpayer dollars are used efficiently.

An advance version of the code has been released.

The code is intended to formally commence at the same time as the re-established ABCC.

The Government remains firmly committed to the twin goals of addressing lawlessness in the building and construction industry while also improving safety.

For this reason, the Bill retains the role of the Federal Safety Commissioner and the Australian Government Building and Construction Work Health and Safety Accreditation Scheme.

There is strong evidence that the Federal Safety Commissioner has improved safety in the industry.

The majority of companies covered by the scheme have reported significant declines in injury rates.

Accredited companies have fewer fatalities – although, as we know, any fatality is one too many.

Regrettably, many falsehoods have been spread by building unions about the scope and intent of this legislation.

Even more regrettably, some of these falsehoods have been repeated by members and Senators in the previous Parliament.

They have suggested, wrongly, that bill would deny human rights and liberties, and that it will impact on safety and productivity.

These suggestions are not only far-fetched and fanciful but offensive.

I can assure you that the Bill contains no provisions that would prevent legitimate safety issues on building sites from being raised and addressed by employees, unions, or state and territory work health and safety regulators.

The concerns raised about the ABCC’s use of compulsory examination powers are also not valid.

Powers of this kind are not novel.

They are available to a range of other Commonwealth regulatory bodies such as the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, the Australian Securities and Investment Commission, the Australian Taxation Office, Centrelink and Medicare.

It has been said that productivity did not grow under the ABCC.

Again, a falsehood.

In fact, when the ABCC existed, the economic and industrial performance of the building sector improved significantly. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data shows that, during the operation of the ABCC, labour productivity in the construction industry increased by 20 per cent.

In contrast, the market sector industries index increased by only 12 per cent.

The ABS data also shows that, following the abolition of the ABCC, both labour productivity and multifactor productivity in the construction sector remain flat.

The Coalition Government is committed to doing all that is necessary to reform the building and construction industry to ensure the rule of law prevails in this sector.

Taxpayers, consumers, small businesses and workers will all benefit from the re-establishment of the ABCC.

Importantly, this Bill encourages productivity and the pursuit of high levels of employment in the building and construction industry.

It will ensure that the government's policy to deliver the infrastructure of the 21st century is delivered on time and on budget.

This bill will create jobs and investment by ensuring employers and workers in the industry can get on with the job without fear of intimidation.

The Coalition Government wholeheartedly believes that every worker in this country deserves to be able to go to work each day without fear of being harassed, intimidated or subjected to violence.

When the laws are not strong enough to deter unlawful behaviour, something is wrong and something needs to be done.

No person in Australia — woman or man — should have to work in an industry where the rule of law is routinely defied.

The Productivity Commission has pointed out that female participation in the industry has declined over the past two decades.

This is against the trend in most other industries.

It is hardly surprising that women might be hesitant about engaging in an industry where there is so much documented evidence of bullying and intimidation.

We hear repeatedly from those opposite excuses for the bad behaviour of the CFMEU.

The point they refuse to acknowledge is that the CFMEU’s unlawful and damaging industrial disruption drives higher costs in the industry which, in turn, threatens the ability to fund construction of more schools, hospitals and other important social infrastructure.

Blockades and work stoppages cripple productivity and delay the delivery of important projects like the Commonwealth Games sites on the Gold Coast and the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital in Brisbane.

We also need to stop rogue union officials using safety as an industrial weapon. Safety on building sites is paramount and should not be undermined.

The Coalition Government will honour its commitment to the Australian people to restore the rule of law on our building sites.

This Bill will ensure our construction industry is safe, productive and free of intimidation and harassment. This will create the conditions for Australians to get the infrastructure they need at a price we can afford.

I commend the Bill to the House.