I rise in the chamber to discuss the Australian Building and Construction Commission legislation to end the unlawful monopoly control of the building industry by a few large companies. There will be a lot said during this debate. We have already heard a lot of Chicken Littles. Indeed, a lot has already been said. One can understand why both sides are passionate. When the dust settles, let us all remember we live in a robust democracy renowned for these types of national discussions. We are a mature nation, and debates like this should serve to remind us that, although we have many differences, we are all one nation.
We have mentioned before that Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party comes to this industrial relations debate with a very large volume of information garnered from listening to various people in the Australian community, from the North of Queensland to rural Victoria. Australians tell us that they expected an industrial relations landscape free from coercion and intimidation, producing better outcomes for our economy and safer workplaces. If senators were to listen, there are lots of people ready to tell us their stories. Instead of agitating within this great chamber, how about we turn this debate over to everyday Australians—you know, the people that pay our wages? We need to hear the stories Australians have to tell—stories about people’s needs and hopes for our country. Let’s hear from them how they envisage delivering a safe workplace free from union boss intimidation and with participants that adhere to the rule of law. Australians not only cherish a robust democracy free from intimidation; we cherish a robust economy with opportunity for prosperity shared among us all. How blessed am I to have heard so many of those stories from across Australia about the needs of everyday Australians.
Before I turn to the stories of fellow Australians, I seek the indulgence of the Senate to reveal a personal secret. Are you ready? Senators may well know that I am a former coal miner. Coal is in my blood and is a heritage I inherited from my father and my grandfather, who also worked as underground coal miners. What fellow senators might not know is that at various points in my coal mining career I was a member of the CFMEU. In the mining industry, just like most construction sites, you cannot get a job unless you are a CFMEU member. I was told this directly by union bosses and mine managers: ‘Join the union, young fella, or you can’t work in the industry of your father and your grandfather.’ One day in my chosen career, however, I experienced an epiphany. I realised that we humans are at our very best when people are free—when we are free from union boss coercion and restrictions that rob workers of security, satisfaction and pride. I realised that, for whatever good some unions do in some circumstances, if they are led by belligerent, radical or corrupt union bosses, they transform from the defenders of workers into the workers’ enemy.
I believe that my desire to work towards total human freedom makes me fiercely pro-human. I have faith that humans can best make choices for themselves. Making individual choices is the bedrock of our robust democracy. Those who live in our democracy must respect freedom. The personal stories I am about to share with you come from rich experience, and I can verify them. As a miner and then a mine manager, I can proudly say I come to this debate, like all debates in which I participate, well informed and having researched well.
Of course, I accept this legislation does not specifically refer to the industry I was in before I entered the Senate, but the union involved in most of the issues concerning this construction industry is the same, the CFMEU. Although the ABCC may seem like it targets the CFMEU, it really does not; it just targets the mess they cause and the havoc they wreak on the economy. In The Australian newspaper on 22 October and 26 November 2016, regular columnist and industrial relation consultant Grace Collier, a former union delegate, gave the best explanation of why this bill is less to do with unions and more to do with the break-up of the terrible cartels affecting Australian businesses.
So let’s have a conversation about cartels. Recently I heard a harrowing story of intimidation. The person relaying the situation has begged I not reveal his or her state of origin, specific type of construction business, or name. This person is black-banned by the CFMEU because the agreement his or her workers have chosen to enter is not a union agreement. They were called to quote on work in a residential high site. The work was for a Saturday morning. The builder could not find another subbie at a good price to do the work. The builder and the subbie agreed to a price, shook hands and correctly exchanged paperwork. The work was set for that Saturday morning. All the gear was prepared. The workers changed their weekend plans, and the blokes were enthused they would get some work and would end up getting some cash flow to feed their families ready for Christmas. The job was worth $15,000 to the subbie.
On the Friday, though, the CFMEU got wind of the work, marched onto the building site and told the builder that, if the particular subbie came on site, they would shut the whole job down. The builder knew that if the site was shut down when a concrete slab was being poured at a crucial stage, for example, it would need to be removed at a cost of $50,000. This kind of abuse of power has crippled the building industry. Of course, the builder backed out of the contract with the subbie on that fateful day, and it hurt me just hearing of his or her heartache and that of his or her family and employees. The subbie then took the matter to the Fair Work Commission, but I am told that, because the CFMEU bosses bullied another subbie into doing the work on a Saturday, they had limited power at the commission, as it was completed on the same day as originally planned. Who do these elites think they are? Just where does this industry-crippling power come from? The union bosses cannot be allowed to continue castrating our economy. They have to realise that ours is a free society where people can choose to belong to a union or not, as we wish.
How would the ABCC react to a case such as this? Firstly, the builder would not be able to preference non-union subcontractors. Secondly, the target of the ABCC is the business itself—in fact, the big business bosses who have become far too cosy with the union bosses and who jointly control the industry. This legislation is not just about union thuggery; it is about weak or corrupt employers that enable this anticompetitive, anti-freedom industrial environment. Earlier in my speech I said Australians expected an industrial relations landscape that produced better outcomes for our economy and safer workplaces. Breaking the back of business monopolies’ control mechanisms like secondary boycotts and union boss thuggery will all benefit our economy.
If Labor and the honourable Leader of the Opposition do not accept this legislation, I ask: why are they more interested in protecting the right of CFMEU bosses to jack up prices of homes than in standing up for everyday Australians and housing affordability? Why does the Leader of the Opposition choose corrupt union bosses, and their control of cartels, over young families trying to get a head start in life? Across Australia, Aussie families, union members and long-suffering small businesses want to know what it will take for the Labor boss to realise he has made a mistake and must now support attempts to bring honesty and order to our construction industry.
Ms Collier, in The Australian newspaper story I mentioned earlier, said that at the core of the ABCC is an anticorruption building code of conduct that acts as a ‘mechanism by which the government will clean up the building sector’. The building code ‘does not apply to unions. It applies only to companies.’ Both Ms Collier and I are perplexed about why so few in the government talk about that, but they should, because it is vital.
Ms Collier’s experience in this sector is rich and varied. Her wealth of experience is certainly worth acknowledging and listening to. To paraphrase Ms Collier further, the ABCC legislation gives the commission power to investigate the enterprise agreements of companies and ensure they are not colluding on price-of-construction projects ballooning due to unproductive union controls. She said big businesses ensure the operation of an anticompetitive business model, a model that relies on price-fixing the subcontractors’ input costs to maximise profit for all of those involved. And who pays? The taxpayers and the workers.
This so-called level playing field is at its core price-fixing. Construction industry price-fixing has given us the reputation as the most expensive construction destination on our planet. Ms Collier tells this story further by saying that union boss interference and involvement is trashing our economy as business seeks to avoid union trouble by acquiescing to union boss demands. At any local pub in Australia—be it the Logan Village Hotel, the Exchange Hotel in Coen, with its interesting name change, or the Aussie at Shepparton—one of the main things people talk about is how much the cost of a house is for young people these days. The story of our younger generation not being able to buy a house is directly attributable to the high cost of construction, very ably identified by Ms Collier and others.
Earlier on I told the story of a subbie who was in fear for his employees and family. He fears that his personal details will be revealed. The Senate should consider the stories of amazing Australians who are willing to put their names to stories, like CFMEU veteran Mr Brian Fitzpatrick. He has been a member of the CFMEU for many years. The CFMEU rose from the BLF grave. Mr Fitzpatrick told his story in The Australian Financial Review on Thursday, 20 October. I am very proud to say that Mr Fitzpatrick now is a true Australian patriot. For telling his story he deserves a bravery award.
Mr Fitzpatrick revealed the union was, in his words, ‘corrupt’. He said it was still as militant as ever and that union members who talked to him were desperate for a change. Disillusioned union members tell their stories of despair at the way the union bosses are destroying their union and industry. They are speaking out. They want their union back. Mr Fitzpatrick said that when he was younger and working as an organiser for the union it was a fair dinkum responsible industrial organisation—he must have been very young—however, as the current corrupt leadership gradually took control it progressively metamorphosed. It was revealed by The Australian Financial Review in telling Mr Fitzpatrick’s story that he believes the only way things can change is with tighter laws being introduced to curtail the power of corrupt union bosses, laws that would set union workers free.
It was interesting to also read alongside Mr Fitzpatrick’s comments those of Professor Anthony Forsyth of RMIT University, who said the CFMEU ‘tends to run the gauntlet of whatever laws are in place’. The legal fraternity have long said the CFMEU is lawless. Dealing with lawless and vicious organisations is not new to Queenslanders. Folks are tough where we come from. Queenslanders do not back down, just ask Senator Pauline Hanson. The only exception to being tough in our state is the current Labor Party, whose members are weak on lawlessness. Imagine what the situation would be if we continued to allow a Labor government in Queensland to have control over the industrial relations landscape, a government universally accepted as being unable to punch its way out of a wet paper bag. The answer of course is to change the government in Queensland.
On Friday, 18 November 2016 The Courier-Mail revealed that the CFMEU lobbied the state government to give it power to bring health and safety contraventions against business under a new legal body replacing the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission. Senators, this revelation came about through a freedom of information request looking at correspondence within the office of Grace Grace, the industrial relations minister. Minister Grace said the matters were not considered because they were outside the scope of her current review—for now.
I suggest to the chamber that militant union bosses are the least equipped to keep workplaces safe, especially when we consider the evidence provided by Mr Fitzpatrick, many judges and the Dyson Heydon royal commission. Minister Grace should know this, but we all live in fear of her ominous prediction that changes to give union bosses more power are on the backburner only for now.
On all accounts, the CFMEU bosses are more interested in the money they can glean or skim are a result of maintaining the cartel. In another story published in The Courier-Mail on Friday, 18 November 2016, it was revealed that Queensland’s largest construction companies, including Hutchinson Builders, Multiplex and Probuild, have all been strongarmed into signing new enterprise agreements ahead of the introduction of the ABCC legislation. These EAs give excessive control of building sites to the CFMEU.
At the core of that particular Courier Mail story are demands in the EA that make it impossible for the employer to have any employee who does not exercise their choice not to be a union member. Australians are wary of the rising power of militant union bosses. From Federation Australians have wanted the right to be or not to be a member of a union, and that is the core question: does this law protect the freedom of association and enshrine that right? Australians never accept a situation where the balance of power is tipped too far in one group’s favour over the other. The Australian public is smarter than the elites give them credit for. Power imbalance is always corrected by the public, and I firmly believe that that is why the election result turned out the way it did with an endorsement of these bills by the people.
Everyday Aussies want to see balance and freedom returned to our building industry. People want to pay a fair price for the products we all buy. People do not want added cost because union bosses are rorting the system and taking kickbacks. Aussie taxpayers want to stop paying 30 per cent more for government infrastructure just because union bosses run a cartel and corral business into unethical and economy-destroying practices. Taxpayers would welcome four hospitals for the price of three, four schools for the price of there, four roads for the price of three. Workers would welcome a return to safe working conditions under the previous ABCC’s jurisdiction. Workers would welcome the benefits of freedom from tyrannical union bosses.
Last month, as a speaker in Melbourne, I proudly followed Senator Abetz at the HR Nichols Society, where he quite clearly called for a stronger, harder and bolder approach by the Liberal Party ‘s leadership toward reforming industrial relations, and the ABCC is a very good start. One Nation is pleased to strongly support Senator Abetz’s call. In fact, we are pleased to see that finally so many of our bold policies, including industrial relations reform for higher accountability of union bosses together with a fair go for workers and taxpayers, are finally being accepted b the mainstream and being so eagerly talked about.
Last Monday, many of us spoke about the scandalous behaviour of the leaders of the HSU. However, this pales into insignificance in comparison to the CFMEU’s systematic and institutional criminality. Because I committed in writing, in accordance with the wishes of Commissioner Dyson Heydon, not to further disclose the nature of the material covered in a confidential volume, I cannot go into details. Suffice to say that I am troubled that such behaviours as those discussed are occurring in our country.
Many judges have raised the matter of abhorrent and unlawful behaviour in CFMEU bosses. As I speak, around 100 CFMEU thugs have been prosecuted or are facing prosecution for wreaking havoc on the nation’s building sites and are accused of more than 1,000 industrial breaches. The CFMEU and its officials have also been fined a total of around $7 million for industrial breaches which have been dealt with by the courts since 2002. Those brought before the courts have included the CFMEU’s national secretary, Michael O’Connor; construction division head Dave Noonan; and New South Wales and Queensland secretaries Brian Parker and Michael Ravbar. Violence, extortion, blackmail, intimidation—court case after court case has shown that this union is so corrupt that it makes the Teamsters union under Jimmy Hoffa look like the Sisters of Mercy.
In search of mercy, I have held discussions with the Chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Mr Rod Sims, and then written to the Treasurer and Minister for Employment, requesting a review and narrowing of the IR carve-out that is currently being abused by large building companies and the CFMEU. Further, as discussed in my speech on the CFA legislation, we need to work in the longer term to remove federal government involvement in industrial relations, because centralisation has enabled union bosses to hide their activities behind complexities in legislation. First, though, we need to end union boss lawlessness.
The evidence from people we have listened to, read about or had tell their stories privately show how the corrupt tentacles of this organisation have spread to non-labour organisations that the CFMEU has bribed and co-opted to its cause. The Greens, for example, received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the CFMEU and other left-wing unions despite the fact that their fanatical antidevelopment policies would slash both mining and forestry jobs. However, the reach of the CFMEU tentacles does not stop there. In 2010 alone, the CFMEU donated $1.2 million to left-wing activist group GetUp! in its campaign to destroy our nation’s second-largest export industry—coalmining—yet the CFMEU purports to represent coal miners while it actively supports that industry’s destruction. And they are succeeding widely. The CFMEU has bought many votes in this chamber. They have bribed and cheated—and these are not my words, they are the words and stories of everyday Australians who are sick of our democracy, our traditions, our heritage, our economy being trashed by these elites. Just who do these elites think they are?
I stand here to say that we, the everyday people—the decent, honest workers in the construction, forestry and mining industries—have had enough. Despite all the intimidation and the corruption of workers, employers and even politicians, we, the people, finally have the opportunity to give people a voice in our nation’s parliament. Those of us who have called for the criminal and economy-wrecking activities of the CFMEU and its building company cronies to be brought to book can finally ensure that everyday Australians have our hour. Ask not for whom the Senate bells toll, CFMEU bosses. They toll for thee, and for the colluding company bosses.
Australia was once called ‘the lucky country’, but now this only true for a few powerful elites. For everyday Australians it is no longer the great country it once was. We must pass this ABCC bill to make Australia great again, for everyone.
Senator Roberts One Nation SENATE BILLS page 133
Chamber Senate on 2017 Item MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE– Citizenship Speaker: Senator Roberts / Attribution Parliament of Australian page 133
Copyright: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/au Unedited Document used for News Reporting.