Today we have secured another vital element in our National Economic Plan. We took two vital pieces of legislation vital reforming pieces of legislation to the Australian people as the triggers for the double dissolution. We have now secured the passage of them both.
I'm delighted to be here with the Employment Minister Senator Cash who has led the campaign in the Senate and has secured the support of the Senate to both these bills - Registered Organisations and today, the restoration of the Australian Building and Construction Commission. I want to acknowledge, as the Senator does, the support we’ve had from the crossbench in being able to do that.
Turning to today's bill. This is a vital reform which will benefit every Australian family, every business. It will benefit, in particular, the 1 million people, the 1 million Australians who work in the building and construction sector, 300,000 small businesses – eight percent of Australian GDP - in the building and construction sector, which has been devastated by a lawlessness of a militant union for which the Labor Party should be ashamed of but instead has been nothing more than an apologist.
They have defended the lawlessness of the CFMEU, just as the CFMEU has treated the millions of dollars of fines and the thousands of charges of wrongdoing and breaches of the law with contempt. Over 100 officials as we know before the courts on over a thousand charges. Yet the Labor Party said there's nothing to worry about.
We took this bill to the people. We took it to the people, we were returned to government and now we have delivered. We have said that this term would be a term of delivery. We are delivering on our economic agenda. We are delivering on our reform agenda. Above all we are standing up for Australian small businesses. We are standing up for Australian workers.
We stood up for the owner drivers in the trucking industry when Labor's Tribunal, introduced by Bill Shorten no less, would have put them out of business, indeed, had put them out of business. We abolished that Tribunal.
Then we stood up for the volunteer firefighters of Victoria. We changed the Fair Work Act so they could not be subordinated - as the Labor Government wanted to do - to be subordinate to another militant union, the United Firefighters Union.
Then we succeeded in establishing a Registered Organisations Commission, so that trade union members whose dues had been so shamefully and fraudulently misappropriated, by so many shocking examples of misconduct, they would now have the same levels of accountability and transparency from their union officials, as shareholders can expect from company directors - a vital change that benefits every member of every union, indeed of every registered organisation.
Now, today, we are restoring the rule of law to the construction sector. This is a great day for Australian families.
This is not union-busting, this is economy-boosting. This is job-boosting. This is small business-boosting. It is backing the rule of law, it is backing Australians to get ahead, and I am proud to lead a Government that is delivering on the commitments it took to the Australian people in the election.
MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT:
Thank you Prime Minister. Ladies and gentlemen, as the Prime Minister has said, today the Turnbull Government delivered on a significant commitment to the Australian people. We have successfully negotiated the passage of the ABCC Bill through the Australian Senate.
There were two double dissolution triggers. The establishment of the Registered Organisations Commission which the Australian Senate successfully passed last week. Today, we are restoring law and order to the building and construction industry in Australia.
As the Prime Minister has said, this is a vital piece of economic reform. This industry is the third-largest industry in Australia. It employs in excess of 1 million people. There are approximately 300,000 small businesses that rely on the building and construction industry. It delivers to our economy approximately eight per cent of our GDP. But as we know, under Labor, with their mates in the CFMEU, this was an industry that was marred by bullying, intimidation and thuggery.
For successive elections now, the Turnbull Government has said to the Australian people, if you give us the honour of being elected, we will restore law and order to the building and construction industry. That is what we have done today.
But as the Prime Minister has also acknowledged, this is the fourth key piece of industrial legislation that the Turnbull Government has passed, working with the Australian Senate.
Earlier this year, the Turnbull Government and key crossbenchers stood up for the tens of thousands of mum and dad owner drivers. We stood up for them when the Labor Party and the TWU were putting them out of business.
Then, as you know, we stood up for the 60,000 volunteer firefighters in Victoria who were under threat by the United Firefighters Union. What did Bill Shorten do? He backed the United Firefighters Union every step of the way. He did not stand up for the volunteers.
Then last Monday, the first of the Turnbull Government's double dissolution triggers passed the Senate. This was all about ensuring transparency and accountability in registered organisations. If you are one of the 2 million members of a registered organisation and you hand over your hard earned money to your union or to your employer organisation, all we asked is that when you hand that money over, those who were spending it do so in your best interests. And again, Labor failed to stand up for those 2 million Australians.
Then last night, we saw a despicable display in the Senate. Labor fought the passage of this legislation every step of the way. They continue to put their heads in the sand and deny, despite royal commissions, despite Federal Court judgements, that there is something wrong with the building construction industry in Australia.
Well, this morning the Australian Senate and the Turnbull Government said enough is enough. This was all about growing this prosperous sector in Australia's economy. This was all about standing up for the 1 million women and men who are employed by this industry. This was all about standing up for the 300,000 small businesses who rely on a prosperous and safe work environment, and today the Turnbull Government has delivered.
Are you going to insist on the 15 per cent rate for the backpacker tax? Is that, no negotiation on that, you’re going to stick by that and try to convince Senator Hinch to come on board?
Well, the real responsibility here is with the Labor Party. The Labor Party, by its vindictive approach, to this backpacker tax issue, no doubt bruised and bitter at their defeat over these important matters of industrial law reform - what Labor is doing in its spite is going to inflict a 32.5 cent in the dollar tax on backpackers when it could be 15 cents. That’s what they are doing. Mr Hinch and other crossbenchers obviously are another matter. The fact of the matter is, the truth is, as we all know, that Bill Shorten could pass this tax change now. He could do it now. It has always been within his power to do that. The reason the backpacker tax will remain at 32.5 cents is because, absent a change of heart in the Senate, is because of Labor's bloody mindedness.
You’ve had to make more than 20 concessions to get the crossbenchers in the Senate onside, and as a result you have been dubbed a mercenary, a hollow man, and a horse trader.
We have just succeeded in getting a piece of legislation through the Senate. We feel pretty good about it, I have got to tell you. It has been a slog. The last Parliament, there was no prospect of the last Parliament passing it. We took it to the election, we had the courage to prorogue the Parliament and bring the Parliament back, forced the Senate to vote on it, dissolve both houses of Parliament, fought an eight week campaign on it, and now we have secured the support of the Senate.
We have always said this is a Parliament, we will set out to ensure works. We do not, we never said the Senate would agree to everything we propose. But our opponents, our critics said they would agree to nothing. What Senator Cash has done is demonstrate with our Senate team that we were able to win the support of the crossbenchers for vitally important economic reform.
Your watchdog has lost a lot of teeth. Does it still have a bite?
MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT:
Yes, it does. I am going to jump in there, Prime Minister. Yes it does. Today, again, this is an important win for the Australian people. This is all about cultural change within the building and construction sector. When the bill receives royal assent, and I hope will be as soon as tomorrow, that cultural change starts. As you know, one of the criticisms of the CFMEU by Federal Court judge after Federal Court judge is in relation to the imposition of penalties. They treat them as part of the cost of doing business. Well, guess what? We have just restored penalties back to what they were under the Howard government. In terms of the building code, in relation to conduct under the building code, the strict conduct requirements that all builders now have to comply with, that also starts tomorrow when we issue the building code. So this is an important cultural reform, along with being an economic reform, and the benefits will flow to the Australian people.
One of the amendments that went through last night was a Labor amendment on 457s, which One Nation supported. Are you happy to keep that as part of the bill? Are you prepared to accept that? And separately on the backpacker’s tax, will you be more wary in future about dealing with Derryn Hinch?
Just on the market testing, this amendment covers largely the same requirements that are provided for in the Migration Act. And obviously we believe it is important that businesses seek to employ Australians and ensure that they will seek to do so. That’s a fundamental part of the Migration Act, and it is reflected in this amendment.
MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT:
You were supposed to have a deal on the 15 per cent backpacker tax. Your Deputy Prime Minister, your Treasurer were announcing that as a done deal on Monday. That’s all fallen apart. Do you take responsibility for that failure?
Let me say, as the Prime Minister, you take responsibility for everything, I can tell you. But I would say that we remain optimistic that we can persuade the Senate to change its mind, but really it is up to, and of course we will continue talking to the crossbenchers, but really the responsibility for this 15 per cent rate not being applied, if that is what the upshot is, is the Labor Party’s. Mr Shorten can impose that.
Your Treasurer said yesterday that Labor can go and take a flying leap when it comes to the backpacker tax. So are you now saying you can only pass a 15 per cent rate with Labor and you have given up trying to get Derryn Hinch back on board?
I didn’t say anything of the sort. What I said was that obviously the crossbenchers can reflect on their position, and we plainly encourage them to support the 15 per cent backpacker tax. That is much better than the backpackers paying 32.5 cents. But the Labor Party, of course, has the position, has the ability on any measure if they join with the Government, to assure its passage.
How long to convince the Senate to pass the 15 per cent rate though? Aren't you just playing a high-stakes game of chicken where Australian farmers will be the victim if you do not agree on a rate by the end of the week?
We have just completed a high-stakes exercise in restoring the rule of law to the Australian building and construction sector, and the winners are every Australian family. The costs, the additional costs that Senator Cash spoke about that have been imposed by this reign of lawlessness has imposed higher costs on taxpayers, higher costs on homeowners. This restoration of the rule of law is a vital economic reform, and that is why it, and the Registered Organisations Bill, which are both now passed by the Senate, were fundamental elements of our National Economic Plan. We will just take one more.
The perception out of today will also be that the Government has been outsmarted on the backpacker tax. Isn't it a fact that the Labor Party was more agile than your Government in the Senate? And are you disappointed by your Senate leadership in the way they handled that vote?
The successful passage of the ABCC legislation, the restoration of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, which I regret to say, well I regret it as a fact, some of you are being perhaps a little less optimistic, less filled with a spirit of innovation and agility that is so fundamental to our success in the 21st century. Some of you suggested that we may not be successful in getting these industrial reforms through the Senate. There is room for scepticism everywhere but we believe in an optimistic and positive and constructive approach. We have succeeded in passing both pieces of legislation now.
I want to again conclude by saying thank you and paying tribute to Senator Cash, whose leadership in this legislation has been extraordinary. She has been tireless and since you raise it, extremely agile in the way she has managed the passage of the legislation. And of course I want to thank all of our Senate team, the leadership team and the whole team, but also acknowledge and thank the crossbenchers for the way in which they’ve engaged with us and the way in which they have supported the legislation.
I believe what we have produced here is going to make a fundamental change for the better in the construction sector, in our whole economy, this is a fundamental economic reform. It is a great day for Australian families, for Australian jobs and for the economic growth on which all of our aspirations depend. Thanks so much.