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Committee: Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Amendment Bill 2017

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 22 Feb 2017

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (18:37): Minister, I also wanted to take up a similar question to that which Senator Cameron asked about how the change came about, because it was only a few months ago that we were here and the two-year grace period was agreed to by the Senate. I notice that you have changed your language somewhat, putting it on the crossbenchers, but we know it went through unanimously; it was agreed to. So, my question is: when did you change your mind and decide to bring legislation back to the parliament—the legislation that we are now debating? When did that change and what was the catalyst? It is a very big change. In November you signed off on legislation—the two-year grace period was unanimous. So, for the understanding of how the government works and, most importantly, going to the heart of what we are debating here, that needs to be unravelled. It is important, if this is a house of review and you are committed to that openness and transparency, to understand the process here. That should be answered.

Senator CASH (Western Australia—Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (18:39): Thank you for that question, Senator Rhiannon. Again, the government's preference—it has been since we first introduced this legislation a number of years ago—was to have the relevant provisions of the original bill commence following gazettal. It is a fact that the government does not have the numbers in the Senate and therefore we need to negotiate passage of legislation. Last year we were 98 SENATE Wednesday, 15 February 2017 CHAMBER able to negotiate passage of the legislation and the benefits of that legislation through the Senate. However, we were also given an opportunity—and I do not know about you, Senator Rhiannon, but I am someone who is always looking to improve what the government can do. We are now in a position whereby we can improve on our first attempt, and that is what we are doing.

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (18:39): So, Minister, do we understand that you are acknowledging what happened when we were last debating the ABCC legislation? As you know, there were a number of amendments that were agreed to in the end. Are you acknowledging that the legislation was rushed, that it was sloppy in the way it was handled and that there were a number of things that you were not happy with, so we well could be revisiting this time and time again when you get the numbers? Is that how this government is now going to conduct itself? It rushed something through so that you could go out there before Christmas and say that you have achieved what you went to the election with. But then you will chip away at the crossbenchers and you will bring in the big guns to put the pressure on, and we could be facing a piecemeal approach to how sloppy legislation has been dealt with in the past. Surely that is the essence of what you are saying.


Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (18:51): Minister, I want to go back to a question Senator Cameron asked earlier, and it concerns the inquiry. Before you were a minister, when you were in opposition, you would have sat on these inquiries, and I am sure it says probably somewhere in Hansard, somewhere in committee reports, that you acknowledged the importance of it. And he asked whether you had been informed that there could be 3,300 agreements that would not be co-compliant. The impression I got—and this is what I want to check—from how you handled that question was that your office had not made you aware of what happened at that inquiry. So, my question is, have you been briefed about what happened at the inquiry into this legislation this week?

Senator CASH (Western Australia—Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (18:52): Yes.

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (18:52): This is a huge part of what we are debating, that there could be so many of these agreements—thousands of agreements—not co-compliant. And in answer to an earlier question, you appeared not to know about it. Surely that was in the briefing. Is it a briefing just along the line that there was an inquiry today? Or were you actually given information about it that you considered before you came into this debate? I mean, this is very relevant. Are you taking the Senate processes seriously?

Senator CASH (Western Australia—Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (18:53): Unfortunately I am tempted to actually respond to you. This bill has been presented to the parliament on a number of occasions. There have been copious Senate inquiries into it. Another Senate inquiry—you are right—was held on Monday. And yes, I was briefed on that inquiry.


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