Interview: Polar Eclipse
Industrial: Wrong Turn
Unions: Star Support
Workplace: Checked Out
Economics: Sold Out
Politics: Green Banned
History: Potted History
International: Curtain Call
Review: Little Fish
Poetry: Slug A Worker
The Locker Room
It may have gone under many people's radar, but one of the first pieces of legislation passed by the new Senate will have a profound impact on the Australian way of life.
The so-called Building Industry Improvement Act is the Howard Government's response to the Cole Royal Commission, a $60 million with-hunt designed to paint a picture of corruption in the building industry which failed to come up with the goods, leading to just a single case and a $1,000 penalty.
The legislation passed by the Senate drastically cuts the industrial and political rights of building workers; leaving them open to fines and imprisonment if they refuse to divulge details of industrial meetings to a government agency set up to 'police the industry'.
Why should the general public care about the plight of a bunch of building workers?
Well first, the government has made it clear these laws could be applied more widely over time. If you think the proposed changes to industrial relations are scary, this regime for the construction industry takes it to an entirely new level, effectively criminalizing union activity in all but the most narrow of parameters.
More broadly, the changes will produce a domino effect, crashing into hard-won 'rights' the wider community holds dear, such as the uniquely Australian Green Bans.
Thirty years ago, construction workers joined forces with community groups to become Australia's first urban environmentalists. They imposed Green Bans for developments that weren't up to standard and this phenomenon soon spread around the world.
Under the Building Industry Improvement Act, such activities will be illegal - developers would have the power to sue unions and individual workers for damages where they take such a principled stand..
If the developer did not take the action, the government's new Australian Building and Construction Commissioner could seek fines against the union of $110,000 per breach and individual workers of $22,000 per breach.
So let's be clear about the impact of these laws. There will be no more green bans to save Centennial Park, or Kelly's Bush or the Rocks; no action to protect Redfern Oval or the literally hundreds of other parks and heritage buildings that have been saved over the decades.
Under the new regime Green bans are just one of the areas where unions and their members will be constrained from acting.
The CFMEU has a proud history of supporting community causes, the anti-war movement, the South Sydney rugby league club; our alliance with the community is a deep and abiding one.
By passing this legislation, building workers become a special class of citizen in Australia - with fewer rights than other Australians to take part in industrial and political action.
It will be harder to bargain for wages and conditions, to stand up for safety and to eke out an existence in an industry that has always been subject to the peaks and troughs of the market.
But the Australian community loses too, if one of the organisations that has invested its energy into building up our social capital becomes hamstrung and litigated into submission.
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