PRIME MINISTER: Good morning and it’s great to be here with Village Building looking at this development with Michaelia Cash, the Employment Minister and Wilhelm Harnisch from the Master Builders Association.
Today is a day we introduce many bills into the Parliament setting out the foundations of our plan for economic security, our plan for jobs and growth, major economic reforms. The Omnibus Savings Bill is being introduced - that sets out over $6 billion of savings measures that the Labor Party adopted, appropriated if you like, during the election campaign. We are calling on them to do no more than vote for what they already said they supported in the campaign.
But we're here today, here at Village Building to focus particularly on important economic reforms and industrial relations, in particular the restoration of the Australian Building and Construction Commission which together with the Registered Organisations Bill were the two bills that were the triggers for the double dissolution election. That's why we had that long eight week winter campaign that many of you remember so fondly.
This is a very important step because we need to restore the rule of law to the construction sector. It employs over a million people. Michaela and Wilhelm will speak further about its economic significance. But it is absolutely fundamental that the rule of law applies because at the moment the lawlessness in the sector which has been the consequence of Labor's abolition of the Building and Construction Commission is costing Australians billions of dollars in additional costs for the buildings, for the infrastructure, for the roads and hospitals that they need. This is not a political issue, this is not an ideological issue, this is not a partisan issue, this is a fundamental economic reform that if it is not enacted, will continue, lawlessness in the industry will continue to impose higher cost on Australians, reduce Australian standard of living. We need to restore the rule of law to the building sector, to the construction sector.
That's what we'll be doing today as I will be introducing those bills and indeed the bill to protect the volunteers of the Country Fire Authority in Victoria, into the House of Representatives.
I will ask our Employment Minister to elaborate further on that and then invite Wilhelm to give you the perspective from the industry.
MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT: Thank you Prime Minister and thank you Wilhelm for joining us here today. Ladies and gentlemen, today the Turnbull Government honours its commitment to the Australian people to clean up the building and construction industry within Australia.
As the Prime Minister has said, this piece of legislation is a fundamental part of our economic agenda. It is a fundamental part of our plan to grow our economy and create more jobs. This is an industry which employs one in ten Australians, over one million people. It is an industry which supports hundreds of thousands of small businesses across Australia. It contributes approximately eight per cent to our Gross Domestic Product. It's also an industry that unfortunately is marred by bullying, thuggery and intimidation. It's an industry which the evidence time and time again has shown us, is one where the rule of law is ignored and unfortunately it is not applied.
Well, today that all stops. Today we deliver for the Australian people our commitment to clean up this industry.
As at the end of July, there are in excess of 100 CFMEU officials before the courts. The courts have imposed fines of in excess of $8.5 million on the CFMEU for failing to comply with what are their lawful requirements. Those fines have seen Federal Court judge after Federal Court judge make the comment that clearly the fines are not sufficient, the penalties are not sufficient enough to act as a deterrent. As policy makers, when a penalty is not doing what it should do, you need to address that situation.
As the Minister for Women I’m also concerned that over a number of years now, we’ve seen a decline in the number of females entering the building and construction industry. This goes against the industry trends, where in other industries we’ve seen the number of females increasing.
As the Minister for Employment and the Minister for Women, I want to do everything that I can to ensure that this industry in particular, one that employs one in ten Australians is an industry that yet again all Australians can be proud of. No one in Australia should have to go to work every day in an industry which does not comply with the rule of law because the unions don’t want to. But also in an industry that is marred by bullying thuggery and intimidation. Of course there is also the impact in terms of the cost of public infrastructure. The MBA estimates that the cost of public infrastructure, because of the nature of the industry, is up to 30 per cent more.
As policy makers, we have a responsibility to ensure that the Australian taxpayer is getting the absolute best value that they can get for every dollar that they spend. When you’re spending up to 30 per cent more because of lawlessness in an industry, again, as policy makers, we have a duty to act. And again that’s why I am delighted to be here today with the Prime Minister to honour our commitment to the Australian people, to reintroduce the Australian Building and Construction Commission, to stand up the Registered Organisation Commission and of course introduce our important legislation to ensure that we stand with and protect the 60,000 fantastic volunteer firefighters in Victoria for members of the CFA.
WILHELM HARNISCH: Well thank you Prime Minister and thank you Senator.
Builders want the ABCC back. The mums and dads and small subcontractors, the small businesses who are the backbone of the construction industry want the ABCC back. The community who are wanting more schools, more hospitals, more roads, deserve for the ABCC to be back. The Parliament has got to stand up to the union bullies. I’ve been in this industry for more than 25 years and the unlawfulness, the thuggery has reached new and unacceptable heights. Master Builders therefore fully backs the Government’s mandate for its return, as the Prime Minister and Senator Cash has said, this is a vital sector of our economy. It is not only about the raw economy but it’s about the very people that work in it – the mums and dads, the women, they need an opportunity to go to work without being bullied and need an opportunity just to get on with their work as they do here and also the community deserve much better from the building unions than what we are getting now. So therefore Master Builders fully backs the Governments reintroduction of the ABCC bill and we look to the Parliament for support.
PRIME MINISTER: Thank you Wilhelm, thank you. Do you have any questions for us?
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, can you confirm reports that the Government is prepared to compromise in the sense that laws and restrictions and coercive powers in order to get enough Senate crossbench support to bring forward the Building and Construction Commission?
PRIME MINISTER: We have taken this bill to the Senate twice, as you know, and it’s been rejected twice that triggered the double dissolution election. We’ve gone to the people, we’ve won the election, we have a mandate and we are introducing – of course we have the ability now to take it to a joint sitting if that is required, but we will obviously prefer the bill to be passed in the normal way by the Senate, it will be passed in the House obviously, we will have a majority and we look forward to it being passed in the Senate. And the Minister has always treated the crossbenchers with the greatest of respect and we will listen to any and all proposals for amendments, that doesn’t mean they will be accepted. I am not going to, neither the Minister or I are going to engage with a sort of a public negotiation through the media, but she will sit down and I may join her in some of these discussions with the crossbenchers, because we do want to reach agreement with them but obviously the objectives of the deal have to be secured, because that is the commitment we’ve made to the people.
JOURNALIST: As you mentioned, you did go to the election on this policy. Why not outline before the election what exactly the Government will be willing to negotiate on and what they wouldn’t be able to negotiate on?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, it’s in the nature of negotiations in Parliament that parties, sorry crossbenchers, do or other parties like the opposition for example. They are going to be party to because they are a wholly owned subsidiary of militant trade unions as you know, it’s one of the features of the modern Labor Party, this is not the party of Hawke and Keating, it’s not the party of Neville Wran. This is the Party of Dan Andrews. This is the party that is a wholly owned subsidiary of militant trade unions, a very, very different creature from the reformist Labor governments of years past. But, getting back to negotiations, obviously the nature of negotiations is proposals are made, discussions are had, compromises are sometimes achieved.
JOURNALIST: What do you think of Liberal backbench Senators comments on race discrimination laws?
PRIME MINISTER: The issue of Section 18C has been a controversial one for a long time and there are many views expressed about it and there’s nothing new that has been canvassed at the moment in terms of the debate. It has filled the op-ed pages of newspapers for years and years I think the Government has no plans to make any changes to Section 18C. We have other more pressing, much more pressing priorities to address and they include, obviously, the big economic reforms, including the ones we’ve been talking about just in the last few minutes that we’ll be introducing into the House today.
JOURNALIST: Are you disappointed that they are distracting from what you see as your main message?
PRIME MINISTER: That doesn’t distract me at all, that’s why I am talking about the economy, I’m talking about the ABCC, I’m talking about savings, I’m talking about the moral challenge that we have to get our budget back into shape. That’s what I’m talking about every day so that we don’t, so our generation doesn’t run up such a huge debt that burdens our children and our grandchildren with higher taxes, reduced government services, both in quantity and quality.
JOURNALIST: Were you given an advanced pre-warning that some of the backbenchers from your own party were putting together a motion? Or were you surprised?
PRIME MINISTER: I think Senator Bernardi’s views on this matter have been flagged well in advance.
JOURNALIST: Do you think it is in defiance of you? Are you happy for the Senator to distract your agenda –
PRIME MINISTER: The only person that is being distracted by this is you, with great respect.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister What do you make of the Paul Keating’s comments overnight that Australia’s influence on the international stage is waning and we don’t have a foreign policy needed to accommodate China’s rise?
PRIME MINISTER: I listened to part of what Mr Keating said this morning and of course it may have been out of context in terms of his whole speech but Australia’s influence in the world in international terms has never been greater. It has never been greater both in the region and indeed globally and that is in part due of course to our rising strength as an economic power, our increasing strategic commitments around the world – it is in part due to institutions like the G20 which I will be attending the meeting in Hang Zhou in a few days’ time. I am meeting with the 20 largest economies in the world – that puts Australia right at the top table in the global power debate, we are there. I would just say it is also, our standing has been considerably enhanced by the extraordinary effectiveness of Julie Bishop as our Foreign Minister. We have had no finer Foreign Minister than Julie Bishop. Her advocacy and her energy has elevated our standing and our influence around the world.
JOURNALIST: Just on the same sex-marriage – you have particularly said that you want a plebiscite but are you willing to negotiate on the binding on the wording to try and get some support on it?
PRIME MINISTER: Well again we recognise we do not have a majority in the Senate and in order to secure the passage of legislation we need the support of other Senators, we call on the Opposition, we call on the Labor Party and the Greens in this space to support the plebiscite. The question really for Mr Shorten on this issue is - does he want same-sex couples to be able to marry or does he want to keep on playing politics? There is a very clear road to, for the legalisation of same-sex marriage and that is the plebiscite which we took to the election. We won the election. We know a majority of Australians support the plebiscite. The latest poll was only yesterday and they are all consistent – we know that if there is a plebiscite a majority will vote yes and if a majority vote yes you can be absolutely assured the Parliament will legislate it. So really what Mr Shorten has got to decide is whether how long he wants to keep playing this political game? Delaying and ducking and weaving and delaying the opportunity for same-sex couples to get married. Because we have set out a very clear road to reach that. There will be a plebiscite, my judgement and the consistency of all of the polls shows the plebiscite will result in a yes vote and then Parliament will legislate so whatever Mr Shorten’s reservations about the plebiscite may be, the very clear road to enable same-sex couples to get married and he has got to decide whether he wants to keep on playing politics or if he wants to keep on playing a tactical game or rather focus on the main goal which is surely, if he is to be believed, if he is sincere, is that same-sex couples should be able to marry. Now that is our commitment. We are setting out a way for that to be resolved. Mr Shorten is standing in the way.
Thanks very much.