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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) (20:38): Minister, the way you promote the ABCC sounds like the Liberal-National version of 'alternative facts'. Encouraging apprenticeships is not the same as requiring apprenticeships. You have attempted to hose down concerns that apprentices will not lose out under the Building Code. But that is the reality here.

Minister, you quoted clause 11(3)(a) and you said to us that it states 'encourage the employment of apprentices'. There is nothing about certainty in terms of numbers. We know that numbers of apprenticeship are crashing around the country. That is what you emphasised, Minister: encouraging apprenticeships. What is prohibited from the code is any clause which requires the employment of a certain number of apprentices. That is what we are losing, and that is why I called it 'alternative facts'. That is the scam you are running. You know that there is concern about apprentices and you know that that is a concern shared by many of the crossbenchers. You are trying to pull the wool over people's eyes by saying, 'We're encouraging it.' It is absolutely meaningless. It is your version of alternative facts.

We know how serious this can be because there has actually been—

Senator O'Sullivan: Let's socialise employment!

Senator RHIANNON: I am happy to acknowledge Senator O'Sullivan, as always. We know how serious this has been because under the ABCC there has actually been a prosecution of a construction worker who was a delegate of the union who actually took up the issue of apprentices. It is worth sharing because this is an area where your deception runs deep, Minister. In 2007 a 65-year-old delegate of the union, Charlie Corbett, was prosecuted and fined by the ABCC due to his attempts to get employment for an apprentice on a site in the Latrobe Valley. This was a huge project—a $37 million project—and there should have been lots of apprenticeships. But under the way the government runs things, apprenticeships are crashing because it is not their commitment. Minister, you are running the biggest cartel, working with industry to cut corners so they can increase their profits at every turn. I say again: yes, there is clause 11(3)(a), but the version encouraging apprenticeships does not deliver what this country so urgently needs.

Minister, you have built your career on abusing construction workers, unions, delegates and the CFMEU. You have stood here in speeches and speeches, and time and again in question time and when you were on the backbench. There you were, yelling about abuse, swearing, violence, what you call thuggery and all of the allegations you have reeled off again tonight. Do not get me wrong; I will stand here. I do not want to hear sexism and I do not want to hear about any of the abuse. But what you are talking about are allegations—by far, the majority of them are. Certainly, some of them will end up with guilty verdicts, but by far the majority will not, just as by far the majority have already been dismissed over the years when there have been previous rounds. Let's remember that every Liberal-National government that comes in here has some form of a royal commission or something similar into unions. As I have said time and time again, when the Liberal-Nationals get elected they have to deliver for their constituency.

Senator O'Sullivan: Why do you take their money?

Senator RHIANNON: Their constituency, Senator O'Sullivan, as you know, is big agribusiness and big construction companies. They are there to help deliver by attacking the unions and weakening them. We are seeing another version of that right now.

Let's remember with regard to the building industry that it is not like here, where about the worst thing we can get is a paper cut. The construction industry is a dirty, hard industry. Shocking things go on there. What is particularly revealing about the minister is that in all those speeches she has given condemning the CFMEU, talking about all the allegations of sexism and abuse and reading out all those transcripts in her emotive way, not once have I heard her take up the issue of safety on the job. Today we have been reminded of how important that is, because today another construction worker has been killed. I understand he was in his fifties and was a construction worker on the Flinders hospital construction site. He was not the first worker to die on that site. That is partly why this industry is tough. It is tough for a whole range of reasons. But I do stand with the union because of what they do for occupational health and safety. I stand with them and I will continue to stand with them on this most important issue. The minister and the Liberals and Nationals have ignored this most important issue of workers' safety. We have heard this tragedy today of a construction worker while we were in here arguing the toss on legislation that should never have been introduced. We should remember some of the workers who have been killed to highlight how appalling this minister, this government and this legislation are.

Wayne Moore died on 19 March 2009 at the Mount Whaleback mine in Western Australia. There was unsecured grid mesh that gave away. There had been two previous incidents involving this mesh falling to the ground, and there had been complaints about it. John Holland, the company involved, failed to report these incidents. The court decided to impose the maximum penalty under the act of $242,000 on John Holland. All these examples that I am giving involve John Holland—a very major construction company who is very generous to the government. They keep on abusing the law time and time again.

Minister, you were going on about the CFMEU committing this crime and committing that crime? Why don't you go after the companies who are killing people? The way the industry works at the moment, they can do that—and even if they break the law they pay a fine. John Holland paying $100,000 to $240,000 is like petty cash to them. It is insulting—it is insulting to the family and to the memory of Wayne Moore.

In 2011 Anthony Phelan was sinking railway tracks near Perth's central railway station. He was wearing ear plugs, as he was required to do, and what happened? A high road vehicle had lost its braking and was coming towards him. The workers yelled at him to get out of the way, he had earplugs in so he did not hear them, and he was killed. The court determined that that was foreseeable—that that should not have happened. Again, the company was fined—in this case, $180,000. Then there is the 2011 case of Sam Beveridge, a 40-year-old diesel fitter employed by John Holland. He died after being struck by a falling beam. John Holland admitted it failed to provide Mr Beveridge with training on risk control. The company was again fined the equivalent of petty cash—$170,000.

The cases go on and on. It is tragic to read. I decided to read these out because it really exposes the minister and how she treats this portfolio. This portfolio is not about creating jobs. It certainly is not about workers' safety. It is about working with the construction companies so the industry will be more profitable for them. To sum up on the safety issue—these are shocking figures but they bring things together—in the 10 years from 2003 to 2013, 401 construction workers died from injuries sustained at work—401 families whose loved one did not come home that night. Surely that would be a sobering statement for all of us here. We all go home to our loved ones at the end of the week. We miss them. We look forward to it. I have heard the families of these people speak about this.

The minister abuses the CFMEU, but some of the finest work that they do is with the families who have lost their loved ones who were construction workers. There were fathers, uncles and brothers—all these families have lost someone. Although construction has about nine per cent of the national workforce, it accounts for 15 per cent of all workplace fatalities. That is why I speak so strongly about this, Minister, because in your time you have done so little about this. Again, I do congratulate the CFMEU. One of the initiatives that they have taken on board is MATES in Construction. They have annual dinners to raise money to assist these families and it is very fine work—very fine work that needs to be undertaken.

This is legislation that should not be passed. We have heard a number of speeches, and the way One Nation have handled this issue is very disturbing. Senator Hanson talks about protecting local jobs, particularly protecting local jobs in Queensland—her state. I imagine she has had a similar message in Western Australia. Senator Hanson has that message when she is out on the hustings, but when she comes here—like with the minister—she is hanging out with the elites in Canberra. There is an inconsistency all the time. What we have from Senator Hanson and her colleagues in One Nation is the very worst of both worlds. There is a racist rhetoric about overseas workers, but at the same time they are undermining local workers. They are undermining the conditions of local workers collectively organising in unions.

These are people all of us should be standing with in local communities—local communities who are doing it tough in terms of their pay and their conditions. All we are talking about is having a fair system—a fair system so that when people go to work their families can be confident that they will come home and so that workers' safety on the job is not being undermined and they can be confident that there will be decent pay at the end of the working week. And, yes, the companies have to do their job as well, but the conditions should not be cut to such an extent that working people suffer to the point that they lose their lives.

There is so much that is deeply wrong with this legislation. The amendments moved by Labor should be supported, and the bill should be voted down if they are not supported.

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