Event: Denita Wawn interview with Patricia Karvelas, RN Breakfast
Date: Tuesday 8 November 2022, 6.35am AEDT
Speakers: Patricia Karvelas, host RN Breakfast, Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia
Topics: industrial relations
Patricia Karvelas, host RN Breakfast: Denita Wawn is the CEO of the Master Builders Australia and our guest. Welcome.
Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia: Good morning PK.
Patricia: Does Master Builders Australia support any part of the government’s industrial relations bill?
Denita: No. The reason being is that there is so much in it that is fundamentally flawed that we think that a pause is required to seriously look at it clause by clause and then make a decision as to whether or not some components should be considered by parliament. This is a highly rushed bill in a irregular manner in my 30 years working in politics. And as such, we oppose it in total. Simply because the process of due consideration has not been followed let alone looking at the fundamental problems with the bill in itself.
Patricia: You are particularly concerned about multi-employer bargaining not being extended to commercial construction. Why?
Denita: Well, there’s a fundamental problem with multi-employer bargaining full stop. And the associated right for strikes across industries. So, the issue for us that just because there is discussions around carve-outs, it does not mean to say that it is going to have an impact on the industry because of the supply issues that we deal with from other industries. The fundamental issue is multi-employer bargaining as it is currently proposed is flawed in really three main areas. One because it is so broad. Two because of the capacity for industry-wide strikes. And three because of the amazing breadth of intervention by the Commission in what is supposed to be a bargaining arrangement between an employer and employees. As one of my colleagues said yesterday, this bill that is before parliament takes the notion of enterprise and bargaining out of the term enterprise bargaining.
Patricia: By opposing the entire bill and not demonstrating any interest in any part of it, haven’t you dealt yourself out?
Denita: No, I don’t think so. Master Builders is very much focussed on good policy-making process. And as such, we think that is required in two ways. One an evidence-based approach in introducing legislation and secondly a proper process of consultation. If we think there is an appropriate time for consideration of splitting the bill for the less contentious matters that can be the focus of attention in the first instance, then we may open and consider supporting the non-contentious matters. But at the moment the bill is not split. It is a bill in its entirety, 239 pages of which we as an industry association plus our other colleagues were given six hours a few days before it was introduced to read it which it totally inconsistent with the process that is usually undertaken in introducing major industrial relations reform. It is inconsistent with the extensive process we went through when Julia Gillard introduced her reforms and likewise on the contentious WorkChoices.
Patricia: But ultimately, the government was elected on a platform of getting wages moving and they say that this is a vehicle to achieve that. Don’t they have a broader mandate to do what they can to force wages up in this country? Particularly for industries where they have been stagnant for so long.
Denita: But there was a Labor policy on industrial relations that looked at wages of low employed, low paid I should say sorry, and certain sectors of the economy. But this is far, far broader than anything that was contained in that industrial relations policy that went to the election. So, I disagree with the premise that they have a mandate for broad industrial relations reform of the magnitude that is currently before parliament as we speak.
Patricia: Independent Senator Jacqui Lambie says a major sticking point for her is the abolition of the Australian Building Construction Commission. You have long argued for its retention of course and the government has committed now to establishing a National Construction Industry Forum. It’s a statutory advisory body. This was of course flagged during the Jobs and Skills Summit. It wasn’t in the bill, now it will be in the bill. Does that go some way to addressing some of your concerns?
Denita: No it doesn’t. In part, again, a lack of process. We have not seen anything about this alleged forum. There’s been a flagged amendment to the bill on something that directly impacts our members and yet we have not been consulted. We haven’t seen anything. From what we understand from the Jobs and Skills Summit, this is effectively a process of getting the parties in the industry together to talk about cultural issues. But it is far, far from the ABCC that has regulatory powers and the capacity to intervene on sites to resolve the fundamental cultural problems that we incur on a daily basis in our industry. It is a sleight of hand by the government to think that they can put up this forum, a talkfest that we understand, without putting requisite provisions in to ensure that there is no unlawful industrial action on our sites which means costs go up and that costs clients including the taxpayers.
Patricia: So, are you prepared to put money into a big campaign against this?
Denita: Well, I think the biggest issue here at the moment, and we always put money in campaigns if we think we need to…
Patricia: Do you think you need to?
Denita: Well, I think at the moment, and I commend the crossbenchers who have been vocal in their concern around process and components of this legislation. Particularly senators Lambie, Tyrrell and Pocock. They are expressing similar concerns that we have been in terms of process. I actually think this is about informing the public. Informing the public, and particularly our members, on exactly what the implications are going to be for this legislation. It is a fundamental change to the industrial relations system we have seen in this country for over 30 years. And people are not fully cognisant of the impact that is going to be. So, if we need to run a campaign whether it is a grassroots campaign or a major campaign, we will think about it. But I am pleased that at this stage…
Patricia: But I am assuming, I don’t mean to be rude to interrupt but Denita I am wondering, you must have already had those discussions. I mean that’s how it works. Have you had active discussions about pouring money into a big campaign against this bill and against what the government is doing?
Denita: Master Builders hasn’t had a discussion around running a big campaign but what we have had discussions is around grassroots campaigning for politicians of all persuasions to understand the frustration and concern of the industry at a grassroots level. We have got people around the country extraordinarily concerns about the abolition of the ABCC and what that means for their business. They are concerned about multi-employer bargaining that is currently not being part of the residential industry for example. The list goes on. So the great thing about Master Builders Australia is we have got a very large reach around the country. And we believe that the voices of the public need to be heard.
Patricia: You mentioned the policy Labor had for bargaining and what they took to the election. And you said this is overreach. One thing they were crystal clear about is the abolition of the ABCC though. So why would you urge them an election promise? They were crystal clear, and they won the election.
Denita: They were crystal clear and I totally agree with you the policy that was taken to the election was the abolition of the ABCC. We continue to oppose that. We won’t change our views simply because they won an election.
Patricia: But they do have a mandate on that don’t they?
Denita: They have a mandate on that, but we think it’s fundamentally flawed, and it is not in the public interest to remove the ABCC. We will continue to stand by our convictions and the evidence, and the evidence of multiple, unlawful industrial action that occurs on our worksites every single day.
Patricia: Thank you so much for joining us this morning.
Denita: Pleasure, thank you.
National Director, Media & Public Affairs
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