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Senate blocks re-establishment of ABCC


Interview with Wilhelm Harnisch, CEO of Master Builders Australia
Ross Greenwood Program, 2GB, 17/8/2015
Senate blocks re-establishment of ABCC.

Ross Greenwood (Host): I want to now go to another issue which is going to raise significant publicity around the place and that is the voting in the Senate on a bill to create the new Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC). Many people in the building industry have called for the ABCC to be re-instituted, it was abolished back in 2012.

Now the interesting part of this vote in the Senate was the crossbenches. Jacqui Lambie, Glenn Lazarus and Ricky Muir joined with the Labor Party and the Greens to defeat this Bill.
It was actually tied, the vote, which meant that the legislation couldn’t be passed.

The bizarre thing about this vote as I indicated earlier is that Dio Wang, the Palmer United Party senator abstained from voting. You would struggle to work out why he abstained from voting today. He did indicate that he didn’t feel comfortable ignoring the fact the Royal Commission into trade union governance and corruption has cost over $80 million to date and he couldn’t overlook such waste.

But what this mean for the building industry? Because this is one of the key measures to really try and establish some measure of law and order in the building industry after the exposure of real areas of concern led to the Royal Commission, which is itself now under examination.

Let’s now go to the Chief Executive of Master Builders Australia, Wilhelm Harnsich, who has been a strong advocate for the ABCC to be re-instituted.
Wilhelm what does this mean in terms of where future construction projects go?

Wilhelm Harnisch (CEO Master Builders Australia): Look builders are clearly frustrated by the tied vote in the Senate. But while there is a sense disappointment they are also heartened by the tied nature of the vote because it indicates an increase in support for the ABCC from some cross bench senators.

As you say, there was some curious voting or non-voting by some of the Senators.

What this means for the industry is that it creates considerable uncertainty. Master Builders is very concerned that the CFMEU will use today’s vote as an opportunity to tell contractors that the game is up and they’d better start signing up to union agreements.

That’s our immediate concern, but we remain hopeful that the Senate will change its mind.

Ross Greenwood: The other thing I notice is that Senator Eric Abetz, who is Leader of the Government in the Senate and also Minister for Employment, said that for too long there has no deterrent for doing the wrong thing in the building industry.

Re-establishing the ABCC is aimed at eliminating the building industry’s culture of unlawfulness. He makes mention of a litany of court judgements and fines against the CFMEU in particular.

On the other hand, the CMFEU, and its National Secretary Dave Noonan have said the defeat of the bill is a vote for equal rights for workers in the construction and a vote against discrimination.

Do you believe that?

Wilhelm Harnisch: Not at all. What has actually happened today is that the Senate’s vote has discriminated against the community. The effect of the Bills (had they been passed) was to protect the community against the huge blowout in costs, against the CFMEU’s industrial thuggery that means the community gets less classrooms, less hospitals and less aged care and childcare places. That’s the real effect of the Bills being defeated today.

Dave Noonan says the unions have rights. Of course unions have rights but so does the community and the CFMEU should never impinge on those rights.

Ross Greenwood: Ok. What the CFMEU is also telling us is that the drop in apprenticeship numbers, the influx of 457 visa workers and the proliferation of sham contracting are all endemic in the building industry and are attributable to the actions of employers.

In other words, to the builders and contractors who are simply trying to get their jobs done without union involvement.

Wilhelm Harnisch: There are examples of sham contracting, but that’s a different matter. Employers don’t bully and carry on like the CFMEU, so yes there are pockets of problems that can be dealt with, and are being dealt with by the ACCC, by the courts and other regulators.

But the thuggery and intimidation practiced by the CFMEU cannot be effectively dealt with by the current regulatory system and that’s why there is a need a strong cop on the beat to protect the industry and the community.

Ross Greenwood: Wilhelm Harnisch is the Chief Executive of Master Builders Australia and, yep you have to say, you need something a fair bit stronger than Fair Work Building and Construction. There is no doubt about it.

You have got to encourage as much development and as much building as you can in Australia without necessarily tramping on the rights of the workers. But, by the same token, one of those workers’ rights is to work, not finding themselves sitting on scrap heap because the practices of their own unions have meant that they have no projects to work on.

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