Release type: Transcript


Joint press conference - Chamber of Commerce and Industry


Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash
Minister for Employment
Minister for Women
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service
Senator for Western Australia
Deidre Willmott
Chief Executive Officer, Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA


SUBJECT/S:  Australian Building and Construction Commission, WA Liberal Party Membership,  ARRIUM voluntary administration, transitioning economy.

MINISTER CASH: ...bullying intimidation and thuggery is rampant on an almost daily basis. When the laws are not strong enough to stop this type of behaviour. When the penalties are clearly not high enough to deter this type of behaviour. As a policy maker and as a government it tells us something has to be done. The building and construction sector in Australia employs one in 10 Australians. One in 10 Australians have their job because of this important sector. In Western Australia the building and construction sector employs approximately 150,000 people. As a government we want to see this sector grow and be more prosperous. When the building and construction sector and becomes more prosperous business can employ more Australians.

It’s all about jobs and growth. Australians also understand that when you have industrial action taken on projects and when you have undue delay and when you have almost extortionist costs being paid. This is Australian taxpayer's money. Ultimately, the costs of the hospital, the costs of the schools. They all increase and it is the Australian tax payer who pays the ultimate price. This Government says – enough is enough. Let’s restore law and order to the building and construction industry in Australia. Let’s bring back the Australian building and construction commission and that is what we are committed to do. Deidre?

DEIDRE WILLMOTT:  Minister Michaelia Cash, thank you very much and thank you for addressing CCI’s members this morning on these incredibly important topics. Here in Western Australia, the passage of the legislation to reintroduce the ABCC is incredibly important and we have this week written to all Western Australian senators as well as the cross bench senators urging the passage of this legislation. It’s very important that we recognise the importance of this industry as the Minister has said, employing 150,000 in Western Australia and 1 on 10 across Australia.

If we look to the findings of the Trade Union Royal Commission and the conduct that was described as the tip of an iceberg it is having an impact everyday on building sites throughout our state. It adds to costs and ultimately makes us a less attractive place to invest. This is a major concern that delaying behaviour, the abuse of right of entry is something that West Australian industry has seen since rise the Australian Building and Construction Commission was stripped in 2012. We can’t let this situation go on. We congratulate the Minister and the Government for reintroducing the legislation and we are urging the Senate to pass the legislation at the earliest opportunity.

MINISTER CASH: Any questions?

JOURNALIST: ABS statistics show that less than 1 days' is lost per 1000 workers in the past, this compared to 42 days lost per 1000 workers in 2003. Where are the rises? Has there actually been one in WA?

MINISTER CASH: When you look at days lost due to industrial action – if you look at the construction sector compared to the all industries average. Prior to the ABCC being introduced by the former Howard Government, it was 5 x the all industries average. When the ABCC was introduced it dropped to 2 x the all industries. As soon as the former Labor government abolished the ABCC and watered down the regulator. I think everybody will remember what happened on the streets of Melbourne at the Grocon site. In terms of days lost, it jumped back to 4 x the all industries average.

I don’t think anybody in Australia would argue that when you have bullying, intimidation, thuggery on building sites that does not ultimately lead to cost blow outs and delays. Cost blowouts and delays ultimately cost the Australian taxpayer. We are talking about commonwealth funded projects paid for by taxpayers and at this point in time taxpayers are not getting the best value for their money because of the state of lawlessness in the building and construction industry.

JOURNALIST: In the last year and a half this has not been happening in WA.

MINISTER CASH: I am going to dispute that and Deidre I don’t know if you have got any comments?

DEIDRE WILLMOTT:  If I could just on behalf of our members. Days lost to industrial action, that statistic is pleasingly low in Western Australia. We are certainly seeing delayed rights of entry and escalation of the number of delayed rights of entry and these activities lead to an increase in costs. Certainly in Western Australia it has been the subject of significant commentary that we have seen our costs increase over recent years. We are now moving into a stage where our major construction that we have seen is moving into operation and we need to look forward to future projects and we need to make sure that our costs are under control and so employers in Western Australia are looking to the future and we need to be able to know that we can manage our own worksites. We are also going to see a greater proportion of our construction in the metropolitan area and that as the Minister has said, is a significant issue for taxpayers who will be paying for ultimately much of that construction. We cannot take for granted the costs that things are under control in our industry because we are seeing activities and behaviours that are putting pressures on costs.

JOURNALIST: Minister, the cross benchers say that they don’t think the government really wants to pass the ABCC Bill, is that true at all?

MINISTER CASH: No that is not true at all. In fact I note that senator Xenophon yesterday at the press club said that he believed that the government was negotiating in good faith. This is good policy. This has been the Governments policy since the former Labor government watered down the watch dog. Within weeks of watering down the watch dog we saw what happened on the streets of Melbourne. Absolutely disgraceful behaviour. The stopping of a major project. I am negotiating in good faith because this is good policy. It is ultimately policy that is going to ensure that the Australian taxpayer gets value for their commonwealth funded dollar. I don’t think there is any taxpayer out there who would agree that their money should not be spent in the most efficient way possible. Currently we all know that it’s not. We need to do something about it. This is a way. This is a solution to the problem and the government would like to see this legislation get through the Senate because it is good policy.

JOURNALIST: John Howard lost an election when he ran it on IR. How confident are you that the Liberal party can win on IR?

MINISTER CASH: I am exceptionally confident that the Australian people understand the need to restore lawful behaviour in the building and construction sector in Australia. I am extremely confident that the Australian people know that no union official and no employer should be able to do a dodgy deal whereby the employer pays the union official Bill Shorten in particular in this case. A sum of, I think $20,000 a year in exchange for a membership list to bolster membership in the unions and in exchange Bill Shorten agreed to scrap the penalties rates of the lowest paid workers at Cleenevent in this country. I don’t think there is any Australian out there who endorse this type of behaviour except of course for Bill shorten and Brendan O’Connor.

That is why I believe we have the backing of the Australian people to stop the dodgy deals, to stop the rorts. To stop the rip-offs and ensure that as an employer or employee association you have rights under the Fair work act and with those rights comes responsibility. One of those responsibilities is that you spend the members money in an appropriate fashion. Not on doing dodgy deals to bolster the membership of your union by slashing their penalty rates.

DEIDRE WILLMOTT:  its absolutely vital that these issues come back on to the national agenda we can’t act as if industrial relations isn’t a policy space that needs to be addressed because it absolutely does and in the case of the reestablishment of the ABCC the Government has set out this policy agenda. The trade union royal commission has absolutely confirmed the imperative of bringing back this industry specific watchdog. We certainly welcome the government putting the industrial relations back on the agenda, in the organised telegraphed manner that they are doing.

JOURNALIST: A question on to another matter, Michaelia, is there a concern that there are so many former Christian democrat party members holding positions in the WA Liberal Party?

MINISTER CASH: Not at all, the Liberal party is a broad church and we welcome obviously members who come along and support our fundamental principles. 

JOURNALIST: Does the government have a plan to help the thousands of people who could be left out of a job by the Arrium steel collapse.

MINISTER CASH: Obviously the news coming out of Arrium is very disappointing. I do note though that Cabinet Ministers Simon Birmingham and Christopher Pyne have been keeping me informed very step of the way. The government has been working very closely with Arrium and the banks so that they come together to work through this situation. Whilst the announcement today has been made. It is important to understand it continues to be business as usual. From the Governments perspective what we want to see is a resolution reached that sees the employees keep their jobs. That is our number one priority. Of course, if that did not occur there are obviously policy position that the Government is able to exercise to ensure that employee entitlements are adequately taken care of. I think it is very important to note it is business as usual at the moment. The banks and Arrium need to work together to ensure that we come out the other end and employees have their jobs.

JOURNALIST: So the employees shouldn’t consider moving interstate for work, certainly not at the moment?

MINISTER CASH: At the moment it is business as usual and the federal government has of course and the government has accelerated infrastructure spend in Adelaide quire deliberately to ensure that Arrium continues to be able to sell its product. We are doing what we can rom a policy perspective to ensure that Arrium continues to be able to operate. We monitor these situations very closely and whilst obviously today we have had the decision of voluntary administration. It is still business as usual and the Government still very much encourages both the banks and Arrium to continue working together to get an outcome that sees the business continuing.

JOURNALIST: What can the government do to help south Australia transition away from manufacturing?

MINISTER CASH: Our investment in road infrastructure. Road infrastructure creates jobs. The government has made a significant investment. Not just in South Australia, but across Australia with a $50 billion dollar investment in infrastructure. When you are building Australia, you are creating jobs. But also, if you look at why we are entered into free trade agreements, in particular the free-trade agreement with China. I have met many wine makers in South Australia who have said to me the opportunities they will now have going forward to export into that emerging chinese market would not have occurred if it was not for the Free Trade Agreement.

There is also the growth in the export of our services, and in particular the growth in the aged care and health industries. We are a transition economy. The government recognises we are a transitioning economy and as the Prime Minister continues to say – every lever that this Government pulls, is of course to ensure that the transition is one that brings the Australian people with us and helps us to adapt to the workforce of the future.