Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Bill 2013, Building and Construction Industry (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2013 Bills

I, too, rise to speak on the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Bill 2013 and the Building and Construction Industry (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2013, because, whilst a lot of people have talked about workplaces and costs and other things, it is not until you actually start putting it into the perspective of things that people consider to be important that you understand just how critical these issues are. Looking at the Defence budget, the defence white paper looks at the amount of investment that is going to go into infrastructure—we are talking civil works and building works—and if you look at the actual dollar figure over the next 10 years, for the first time we actually have a very clear picture, because of the way this white paper and the Integrated Investment Plan has been put together, of the actual amount that is going to be spent on infrastructure, and it is in the tens of billions of dollars. If you overlay that at the same time with various reports that have been made by external accounting companies, and also a recent report by the Menzies Research Centre, what you see is that the scale of the inefficiencies can be anything from around 10 per cent up towards 30 per cent. I am a conservative kind of guy so I will take the lower figure of that. But even if you take that 10 per cent figure, what you realise is that you can very quickly show that lawlessness on worksites stands to cost the Australian taxpayer, in the Defence portfolio, some billions of dollars.

If you consider that one of the most recent acquisitions for the Navy, the Romeo helicopter, which is considered to be one of the world’s best submarine-hunting helicopters, was acquired at less than $2 billion, what you see is that Defence would have to be spending billions of dollars—so potentially another whole fleet of helicopters, which means a whole area of capability—unnecessarily, if the inefficiencies in our construction sector continue. So with MYEFO coming up, when we are looking, potentially, at the kind of budget issues such as the structural spending that has been locked in for a number of years now, and that we have sought in this place to undo, budget pressure is going to come on and that is going to impact on the money we want to spend on road infrastructure, on hospitals, on schools, or on our defence budget. It is inexcusable that we would expect the Australian public to be seeing a department of this government spending billions of dollars unnecessarily on infrastructure, when they could have the same infrastructure at a lower cost and return that money either to the Defence budget so that we could procure more capability we need, or, more likely, actually return that money to consolidated revenue so it could go into any number of other areas that Australians believe are important.

In South Australia, the state Labor government has commissioned a hospital that is reported by various people to be one of the world’s most expensive buildings in terms of the dollar cost per square metre of the building. I note that it is still not open, well after its due date, and it may be quite a few months if not late next year before we finally see patients in there. But even that, the most expensive building in the world, is still cheaper than the money that Defence will have to spend unnecessarily on infrastructure works it is doing if the ABCC bill is not passed.

So, as people consider this bill what I would invite them to do is consider the fact that this bill is not going to impact on workplace safety. This bill is all about getting rid of the lawlessness on worksites that we see reported week after week in the media. We see union officials in court being charged with various offences, and we see the cost impacts. With those figures I talked about for the Menzies Research Centre, I took their lower estimate. If you took their upper estimate of around 30 per cent, and that is less than other estimates which are the artificially inflated costs for construction in Australia, then the Australian taxpayer will be unnecessarily spending between $7 billion and $8 billion on the Defence budget alone. Mr Acting Deputy President, you are reasonable man, and so I ask you how could we expect the Australian taxpayer to think that that was a good use of the money which we are stewarding on their behalf? Speaking for myself and for this side of the chamber, we cannot—it is indefensible.

We cannot allow the lawlessness to continue on worksites. It creates the kind of inefficiencies that artificially bump up those prices so that people in our departments who are spending money on infrastructure have to spend unnecessary money. Sometimes people say to me, ‘What do you mean by inefficiencies?’ What are some of the examples when people talk about inefficiencies? Some of the stories that have been reported are things like concrete pours, where the pour starts and then somebody comes along and says, ‘Stop the pour.’ It could be there is a workplace condition which they do not believe has been met; or perhaps they are unhappy with the employer because he has not signed the agreement that gives them the leave they want. As you would know, Mr Acting Deputy President, the media has recently been reporting agreements signed between some of the large construction companies and the CFMEU which give quite large pay rises and all kinds of additional leave. The critical thing is the action on the worksite. If you imagine the cost and the time of doing a large pour which is disrupted part way through such that it has to stop, you then have remedial works to extract that which has already been poured and redo all the formwork or to do additional engineering works to work out whether it is even possible to continue the pour at a later time. There is also the issue of concrete that is perhaps waiting in trucks just off the site and what happens to that.

One simple act on one day on the worksite can set back a project weeks in time and tens of thousands of dollars in money. Those kinds of actions are pursued in an almost bloody-minded manner by some unions and then there are the illegal actions—the blockading, the bullying of people on worksites. All those sorts of things have an impact which can lead to five, 10 and up to 30 per cent inefficiency on our civil construction sites. As I say, when you look at something like the Defence budget, where we are finally restoring the funding for Defence and, for the first time ever, we are not just calculating the cost of buying the equipment over 10 years—that is an easy thing. People like to say, ‘These many tanks or planes or ships will cost us whatever,’ but that is not a real capability unless you have the infrastructure behind it—whether that is new runways or new hangers or new wharves that are required. It is all that infrastructure spending that Defence will be doing that is critical in building the Defence capability that we need to have.

Why should the Australian taxpayer accept the fact that the votes of 30-odd people in this Senate could cost the country billions of dollars that it does not have to spend? How can that be justified? The Australian public quite rightly should be asking the question: why does the Defence department have to spend billions of dollars unnecessarily because of the decision of 30-odd people in the Senate chamber who decide to support, in this case, the CFMEU, which has been widely reported and acknowledged as one of the unions with the worst record of illegal activity and people who are before the courts as a result of that illegal activity and have complete disregard for the law? If there was a valid reason—if all of these things were actually changing the safety outcomes—there might be even part of the case. But, given the costs and the disruption and the fact that it is not having that effect, this is not about workplace safety. And there are lots of reports—longitudinal studies and reports about rates of accidents—that show that this change is not about safety. This change is about increasing the productivity and the lawful behaviour on work sites.

Mr Acting Deputy President Sterle, I would encourage you and people on your side of the chamber, as you go back and speak to your constituents at the end of this week and over the weekend, as you hear the calls for funding, whether it is in legal and community services, health, or road infrastructure, to think of the billions of dollars that your votes will constrain spending, in this case, by the defence department, completely unnecessarily. It should not be so. The nation entrusts the moneys that we raise through tax to us as parliamentarians and the executive government to spend wisely on their behalf. This is not a good use of that money, and it is not good to see billions of dollars spent unnecessarily.

I conclude my contribution by drawing people’s attention back to something they think is important. Everyone says: ‘Great. We love to see you spending more on defence. It is great you are going be able to spend up to two per cent of GDP on defence. It is about time we did that.’ But they may not understand that there are billions of dollars that have to go into infrastructure, tens of billions of dollars that we know we will be spending over the next 10 years and billions that are unnecessarily being wasted because of the illegal activity and inefficiency on worksites. I would ask those of you on the other side of the chamber to decide whether your 30-odd votes are actually in the national interests or whether they are purely in the interests of the union movement, as so many of you are here, I understand, because of their patronage and support.

At the end of the day, each of us is here predominantly in the national interest. If we are not here in the national interest, then we should be considering our positions. I will certainly be supporting this bill because it is in the national interest of this country to have safe but efficient and effective workplaces so that we can attract investment, create jobs and build a better nation not only for ourselves but, more importantly, for the generations to come.