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Porter's a reverse IR culture warrior

By Graeme Haycroft - posted Wednesday, 3 February 2021


Before Christmas, Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter announced his third tranche of industrial relations (IR) reforms.

There is no doubt that he is a cultural warrior, but I'm afraid it is for the wrong side. He might not understand it, but everything he has done threatens the LNP and its constituencies and advantages the ALP.

I have spent 40 years in the industry, including an interesting two-year stint in the 1990s successfully managing a dozen or so high-rise construction sites in Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast without the CFMEU, a feat not achieved by anyone since.

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In the past eight years, my group has also successfully set up a system of alternate IR institutions – nursing and teaching unions – that welcome allcomers, especially non-ALP voting employees who wish to be represented by unions that don't financially support

the ALP. On our reckoning that is about a third of all union members, by the way.

Porter's first reform attempt at introducing "integrity" to the union movement was his first strike out. It was doomed from the beginning for any number of reasons, not the least of which was that he was fiddling foolishly with a symptom of the construction industry cartel problem instead of the core problem itself. The mechanisms are different today from 25 years ago, but the core principles have not changed.

In a nutshell, construction industry workers, thanks to the CFMEU, are paid from 50 per cent to 100 per cent more than they would get anywhere else.

Their employers can afford to pay them because they pass the costs on to the principal so-called "tier one" contractors.

Although there are about a dozen or so of these and they are the only firms allowed to tender for major government works, the ownership and control all comes back to just two firms. That sounds like a monopoly.

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For the past 20 or 30 years, every government infrastructure project has cost between 30-50 per cent more than it should have.

Great theatre

Enter the Master Builders Association (MBA). Its constitution allows the "tier ones" to effectively control it. The core MBA role, unsurprisingly, is to keep the "tier one" tender monopoly.

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This article was first published in the Australian Financial Review.



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About the Author

Graeme Haycroft is the executive director of the Nurses Professional Association of Australia.

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