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2UE – The ABCC, Recall of Parliament and Double Dissolution



STUART BOCKING (PROGRAM HOST):  So already we’ve heard a lot about the Australian Building and Construction Commission.  What exactly is it all about?  It was in place at one time.  It was then removed when Labor came back to office and now the push is on to restore it.  It’s being used as one of the key triggers for a potential double dissolution election that would be held on July 2nd.

Wilhelm Harnisch is the CEO of the Master Builders Association and he’s on the line.

Mr Harnisch good morning.


STUART BOCKING:  Firstly, just for people outline if you can the Building and Construction Commission, what exactly does it seek to do?

WILHELM HARNISCH:  Look can I work backwards.  What the ABCC or the Australian Building and Construction Commission actually does, it benefits the community.

It benefits the community by – through stamping out unlawful industrial action, it reduces the cost of school classrooms that are being built, additional hospital beds, the additional childcare places and aged care places and sporting fields.  That’s what it does.

So I think it’s important that your listeners understand that.  The benefit is actually to the community, or to put it conversely now because the CFMEU and other building unions are uncontrolled, it means that the community is being cheated of more schools, hospitals and aged care facilities by the CFMEU.

So the CFMEU is in effect imposing a building union tax which can be as high as 30 per cent.

That’s why restoring the ABCC is so important.

STUART BOCKING:  Do we still see a lot of industrial disputes on construction sites?

WILHELM HARNISCH:  Absolutely.  When you look at the latest ABS statistics it shows that unlawful industrial action has escalated on building sites.

When you look at the offences that are before the courts at the moment it clearly shows that the CFMEU has shown no appetite or willingness to modify their behaviour that were identified through four Royal Commissions and including the deregistration of the BLF in the 90’s.

It just shows that the CFMEU simply think that it’s above the law.  They believe they can abuse people on building sites, and even worse, they think they can abuse women without sort of incurring any legal ramifications for doing so.

STUART BOCKING:  This is what I find extraordinary.  I man Labor wants to jump up and down and take the moral highground about gender diversity and everything else and yet you hear of some of these stories of women being horribly treated on building sites and seemingly they stand back and do nothing about.

WILHELM HARNISCH: Absolutely.  And that’s what you know – we find it equally disgusting.  I think what it’s doing for the union movement, it’s given the union movement a very bad name, it’s ruined their reputation and I’m just really perplexed why the other unions rally behind the CFMEU and pretend there is no problems on building sites that need fixing.

STUART BOCKING:  From Labor’s viewpoint – I mean we’ve heard Bill Shorten and others, himself a former union leader saying “we’ve got a zero tolerance for corruption”.  If that is the case, and this is in part about dealing with some of that, why would even Labor be opposed to the reintroduction of the Building and Construction Commission?

WILHELM HARNISCH: That’s what we’ve been saying.

All we’re asking of the building unions like the CFMEU is to behave like normal people.

We are just asking them to obey the law like normal people and like normal unions rather than behaving in ways that creates an environment where people, including union members, are scared to come to work every day because they are bullied by union officials on a daily basis.

And equally importantly, the community the community is hurt by that industrial action which is economically damaging because it drives up the cost of building schools, hospitals and child and aged care facilities.

STUART BOCKING:  We can talk about the crossbench MPs all we like and the importance for them to pass this legislation, but if Labor was to support the Government well that would be the end of any concern about the crossbench MPs.

Given they don’t want to see that return, do we say then that the ALP, when it comes to the construction sites, they’re prepared to stand beside lawlessness, corruption, within that sector?

WILHELM HARNISCH: Well I suppose that’s one interpretation you can put on it because yes, the ALP has said that they have zero tolerance for unlawful behaviour.


WILHELM HARNISCH: Well then my view is that, and I’ve said this to Bill Shorten, that they’ve got nothing to fear by introducing the ABCC because what that will mean is that we have building unions that will behave like normal people.

STUART BOCKING: And so it doesn’t seek to put any particular restrictions on them other than behaving as any corporation, any other organisation, would be expected to behave?

WILHELM HARNISCH:  Exactly. Importantly, they’ll behave like normal unions.  You know, the building union deliberately sets itself apart from the standards of behaviour expected by the community and other unions, except perhaps for the maritime union.


WILHELM HARNISCH: This is a key point for community to understand, that other unions mostly behave normally.

Of course they stand up for their members but they do it within the law and community expectations. Yes there are very robust discussions between employers and these unions but in no other industry do workers and employers confront the extraordinary behaviours exhibited by the building unions, particularly the CFMEU.

STUART BOCKING:  And how ironic it would be that two unions who talked about merging to create a super union would be the Maritime Union of Australia and the CFMEU, two of the most roguish unions there are going around.

WILHELM HARNISCH:  Yes indeed, it’s very ironic but of course your listeners should be very concerned about this because we’re very concerned that effectively those two unions could lock up the nation through coordinated strike action.

STUART BOCKING:  How significant is the construction industry to Australia we hear so much from Malcolm Turnbull we’re transitioning from mining blah, blah, blah but the construction industry is there all the time.  How significant is construction to the overall GDP of the economy of the country?

WILHELM HARNISCH:  Look the construction industry represents one third of GDP.

STUART BOCKING:    A third, a third of GDP?

WILHELM HARNISCH: A third of the economy.  It employs 1 million people, it employs the most apprentices of any other industry.

This industry is important to making Australia globally competitive.  This industry is important to making sure that we house young people as our population grows.  This industry is very important because it builds the freeways, the roads and urban infrastructure that we need in a modern economy and to make sure that our standards of living and the aspirations of our people are being met.

That’s why these reforms are important to the ordinary person that your listeners are in terms of why, in part, we need the return of the strong cop on the beat.

STUART BOCKING:  So given all of this, why then would the Greens be philosophically opposed to this?  They’re not tied up with the unions in the same way the Labor Party is.

They might enjoy similar politics but they’re not – they don’t owe their existence to many of those union groups in the way Labor does.  What’s their philosophical concern about the return of the ABCC?

WILHELM HARNISCH: In part you need to talk to them, but our understanding is they’re saying the ABCC will destroy workers’ rights.

But in fact, the ABCC will protect workers’ rights.

It will protect the worker’s right to come to work without having to be bullied, it will protect small business and subcontractors to be able to come to work without being coerced.

It will protect women on building sites by not being subject to aggression and abuse.  Where those unlawful behaviours do occur there are effective measures where those union officials can then be brought to book for those unlawful behaviours.

So the argument that this is in fact taking away workers’ rights is absolutely bunkum.  It actually means that the ABCC will protect workers’ rights instead.

STUART BOCKING:  All right.  Look I appreciate your time this morning thank you.

WILHELM HARNISCH: Stuart thank you for the opportunity.

STUART BOCKING:  Wilhelm Harnisch who is the CEO of the Master Builders Association.  So there we are.  Where does that leave us?

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