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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) (21:33): Chair, did Senator Cameron move 8058 and 8057?

The CHAIR: Yes, we are dealing with both of them together.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. I want to speak on 8058. The inquiry into this bill did hear some very useful evidence relevant to this amendment. Lance McCallum, National Policy Adviser for the Electrical Trades Union, spoke about the unintended consequences involving providers of essential services, which I think is very relevant here. It concerns the South Australia's power networks. They have their current EBA up for renegotiation at present. Mr McClelland told us that, regarding the South Australian power networks, in negotiations the ETU have advised that they are seeking a new EBA be Building Code compliant. It appears this is the first time this has happened. Those who have been opposed and very concerned about the way the Building Code and the ABCC is playing out have warned about this—about how all these tactics will be moved into other industries. What we have here is an extraordinary situation where the poles and wires company is officially advising that the Building Code needs to apply to their future agreement.

Mr McCallum, in his evidence, said:

"Now we have a situation where an essential service provider that sits effectively outside of the construction industry is seeking to have the Construction Code apply to its negotiations, going forward. This is likely to create industrial disputation in a place where there has not been any before, which is an absolutely perverse outcome given the stated intentions of the code."

This is even more serious when you consider the situation in South Australia with the crisis in energy delivery. After all the abuse of renewable energy and the misinformation there, now we are seeing that there could be perverse outcomes here with the building code, further weakening and destabilising the energy industry in the country.

In evidence to the committee, Mr McCallum provided an enterprise agreement update from the acting CEO of SA Power Networks dated 2 February 2017, and stated:

"The code itself, in section 6A, provides a discretionary mechanism for power networks or other essential service providers to seek an exemption … if the company decides to make an application—and it is up to the ABCC Commissioner as to whether or not that exemption can be granted."

We understand that about the role of the commissioner. But here we are seeing it set out very clearly that that is the plan of this South Australian poles-and-wires company. They could be the first cab off the rank, in terms of essential service providers, and this could then move right across the country. So we have a very worrying situation here.

Mr McCallum's recommendation was that the current discretionary exemption in the code needs to be a mandatory exemption, and one can see some wisdom in that. I think he gives weight to many of the arguments that have been put forward in opposing the legislation that is before us such as how badly drafted it is; it has been rushed. There are many more problems to come, and here is one that was set out in this very inquiry—yet, when the minister was answering questions about this issue, we got the impression that she had taken very little notice of the advice and the evidence that came out of that inquiry.

When asked about this in terms of the delivery of energy, Mr McCallum said:

"I think that it introduces another element of risk into an already extremely volatile situation."

He also said that it has 'the potential to seriously impact on an industry outside of the construction industry'. I think that that is very important evidence that the Senate needs to be aware of. I think we know the way the boat is going, but this needs to be on the record—that the warnings have been there that the intention of the government was to use the Building Code to drive a wedge into the union movement and then expand into other sectors. We are already getting evidence that we are on the verge of that happening.

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