Poetry: If I Were a Rich Man
Interview: League of Nations
Industrial: 20/20 Hindsight
Organising: On The Buses
Unions: National Focus
History: The Banner Room
International: The Slaughter Continues
Legal: A Legal Case For War?
Culture: Singing For The People
Review: The Hours
Poetry: I Wanna Bomb Saddam
Satire: Diuretic Makes Warne's Excuses Look Thin
The Locker Room
Re-considering The Accord
Strangers in the House
Nursing Home Concerns
Could I just say firstly, I don't have any difficultly talking to scruffy building workers, my Father was a coal miner and in difficult times faced a lot of the same circumstances that you people face.
I've had difficulty with this Royal Commission from day one. I certainly have difficulty with $60 million being spent when it's almost impossible to get appropriate services for the disabled and the mentally ill. At times you have to wonder just what the priorities are and that people do things for political reasons. From day one this Commission seemed to have lost its way.
I congratulate the author Jim. I'll just read to you a piece here - it's the reason I was concerned about the way in which this was going. He says in one part of the book, it's worth reminding ourselves just what the Royal Commission into the Building and Construction Industry was actually suppose to have been doing:
"The Terms of Reference required it to inquire into and report back on quote 'any unlawful or otherwise inappropriate practice or conduct across the industry'. There was no mention of any union, much less the CFMEU. This gulf between theory and practice was highlighted by construction division National Secretary John Sutton when he addressed the National Press Club in Canberra and he said the investigators appointed by the Cole Royal Commission set out not to gather evidence, but the build a case against the CFMEU. What the Royal Commission is actually doing is redefining union strength and organisation as corruption but we wont' stop being what Liberal politicians and Terrance Cole hate."
Why I have very significant support for that is that this started 18 months ago and that was not long after the world, not just Australia, ... but I can say it to you, the world, was celebrating the most outstanding Olympic Games in the history of the Olympic movement. That Olympic Games was made possible by the building workers of this country who delivered every project to a quality never before seen in Olympic history to a timetable miles ahead of the due date and I think I'm right in saying that only one fatality, tragic as that might be, but one fatality, no stoppages, no delays, quality work done by you people. Now I just would have thought that it was appropriate to put politics aside and say: now look we've given gold medals to a whole heap of people but I think the gold medals belong primarily to the people who presented a legacy for this City, the like of which you'd otherwise never have had. To that extent $60 million inquiring into whether or not there's been a little bit of robust behaviour in the negotiations between employers and employees, I think, is palpable and I repeat a palpable waste of money.
Now obviously there will be instances when sometimes you have to roll your sleeves up give the other bloke a bit of a jab where he doesn't like it. But when someone only has his labour with which to negotiate it gets very difficult and never has that been more evident than in the past five or six years in this country. It doesn't matter whether it's a Liberal Governments or Labor Governments they all stood by while workers who actually signed a deal to work for someone in good faith suddenly the business goes belly up, I've got a file called 'Belly Up' in my office, it's that thick of workers who aren't paid simply because the employer says he's gone broke, then goes somewhere else, changes his name, re-enters the industry when accepts no liability to pay those people to whom he owes significant money - and there's a stack of them. They happen every day.
Thousand's of Australian workers know at the end of the day if we're going to enter into a contract between a worker and an employer there has to be some rules that guarantee that the poor worker gets the limited things he's entitled to; namely his weekly wage and this also applies and you know this, to superannuation.
Now years and years ago I congratulated the union movement, they were in the vanguard of saying well we've gotta have something about Compulsory Superannuation. The aim of it was to provide for people in their retirement when otherwise their income wouldn't' be adequate to secure their retirement so we had Compulsory Superannuation. Sounded terrific. Well, what's happened to it? Well we've seen it invested, God knows where perhaps in the Enron's of this world. So when the worker then comes to retire he checks his Superannuation sheet he finds that he hasn't got as much money in it today as he had in it five or six years ago, but we make it Compulsory.
Now there may be many people that say well if that's what you're going to do with my money then I'd rather have it day by day, day by day in the wage that I get because when the company goes belly up he loses his long service leave, he loses annual leave entitlements, he loses his Superannuation entitlement, all of that is gone.
Now by all means bash up the union worker when he gets a bit tough and that, and exercises his strength outside the law - that's legitimate, but where the other side do we say well who's bashing up the employer who doesn't come to the party to make the legitimate and legally obligated payments to workers when that person gets into a bit of difficulty, and what's happening now in this country, unless we seriously look at the issue, is the workers are underwriting the difficulties being faced by business.
Now business knows when it enters a deal and goes into business it has to employ people, it knows it has to pay people a wage, it has to make provision for annual leave, it has to make provision for long service leave, it has to make provision for sick leave, it has to make provision for Superannuation and the worker is entitled to believe that Statutory responsibility is met every week. The money is put aside every week. That there is some kind of sinking fund which means that when that business gets into difficulty that money is still there to meet those obligations. But what we find instead is, the Superannuation provisions haven't been met, which is against the law, Long Service hasn't been provided for, which is against the law, the sick leave hasn't been provided for which is against the law so this business goes bell up, not only does the worker not get his wage, but he doesn't get his long service leave, he doesn't get his sick leave entitlement, he doesn't get his Superannuation.
Now these are the serious issues that this country has to address. There is a better way of spending $60 million on employer/employee relationships than taking the stick to one particular union movement simply because it might suit the political agenda of the day.
So this Jim represents the other side of the story, I'll just read you one other bit here which I think because you're probably too busy like most other people to read the dam thing, but I really do want you to read it, because it helps you to understand where you stand in the community.
I want to say to you not, you know, people aren't anti-unions or whatever, every time so often we have reason to be annoyed with one another for what we don't like - broadcasters, people like football coaches, people like the Australian Cricket Board, ah, they hate drug testing agencies, who get it all wrong and conduct personal vendettas against outstanding Australian sports people and so from time to time we've got reasons to be angry, but this says here, and this is a matter of some concern, the other central objective of the mendes operendae is the rejection of large tracks of union evidence without any justification at all.
Now I've seen this elsewhere I can assure you. They kick off their analysis of the Sydney hearings for example with overviews. By page 24 by faithfully recounting the evidence of Senior Officer of Employment Advocate employee John Copeland and David Rushton Counsel assisting accept the opinions of the pair without question. Even though they relate to the policies of, even whether or not they relate to the policies that of the CFMEU. To strike this balance they completely ignore lengthy detailed and contrary evidence given by Andrew Ferguson. As far as Counsel's submissions are concerned his contributions might never have happened - its simply isn't mentioned, even in their footnote.
This is not written by a union delegate, this books not written by an officer of the ACTU or a former past president of the CFMEU, its written by an objective, independent journalist. The dust cover will tell you, he's reported, he's covered all matter of judicial procedures, Supreme Court, Federal Court, High Court, District Court, Magistrates Court, Coroners Court, Industrial Courts and Commission's even Rugby Leagues Judiciaries. But it says, never has he witnessed anything like the Cole Royal Commission into the Building and Construction Industry.
Now if I was the Minister concerned or I was the Government I would be very concerned about the objective conclusions reached by Jim Marr in this book. So we're not, I'm not here today to inflame one against the other, but I'm simply saying I think this is a bit over the odds and I've said that from day one and you people do your best, you've got families to feed. It's difficult to get work sometimes when there's a downturn. The first people to lose their jobs are people in the building industry. Suddenly the building and construction industry takes a dive. The first bloke to go is the worker and I think that the Government, and I'm very supportive of the Government on a range of fronts, and on this front, and I've told Tony Abbott a hundred times - he's simply got it wrong!
This thing need never have occurred. There's better ways of spending $60 million and if you're gonna do it, do it openly, honestly and objectively and we don't have that objectivity in the resolutions that will come forward from Justice Cole today and this book bears witness to that.
So I'm delighted to launch it. It simply confirms in my view/opinions that I have expressed over the last 18 months and you're dead right John $60 million is a lot of dough and we can't get into the business in this country, there's enough of 'them and us'. It's hard enough for battling people to make a quid here. Its hard for a worker and all you've got is your labour and your skill and there has to be a recognition that in the balance that must exist between modern society, the role of the employer, its an important role, he takes risks. He's gotta put the capital up. But we can't have the odds balancing entirely in his favour at the exclusion of people like you and I just think the best thing the Government should do with Mr. Cole's report, even though it cost $60 million, is to use it for a door stop on one of those Commonwealth garages down there and lets get on with the business of making Australia more productive.
So congratulations on what you've done and I declare the book officially opened and I congratulate the author Jim, who's over here, Jim I congratulate you on the job that you've done. Thank you for that and thank you for hearing me out.
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