Construction Industry Training Fund (Board) Amendment Bill
Adjourned debate on second reading.
(Continued from 8 November 2018.)
The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (16:03): I rise on behalf of the Greens to speak to the Construction Industry Training Fund (Board) Amendment Bill 2018. I note that this bill was introduced in the other place by the Minister for Industry and Skills, David Pisoni. That occurred on 24 October, and it arrived in this place just shy of a week ago. The date the briefing was held by myself was this morning, and that was only after I drew to the attention of the minister, who had sought through his party processes to put this bill on the priority letter for urgent debate by the end of this sitting week, that he had yet to offer a briefing to the Greens.
I understand from the other place, and the debates in that other place, that a similar situation occurred with the opposition. Indeed, I observe that the bill there was rushed through with what appeared to be undue haste. What is this thing called the Construction Industry Training Fund (Board) Amendment Bill 2018 that deserves such haste?
Well, the Construction Industry Training Board is an industry not a government board, and it has been in operation since 1993. It administers a series of programs, including promoting and supporting careers in construction and—a particular interest I am sure many in this chamber will have—with a focus on women and adult apprenticeships. It also does advise the South Australian government on industry training, and it supports training innovation research and planning. It attracts our future workforce through vocational training in schools and supports what I think many members would be aware of, the Doorways to Construction program.
The operations of the Construction Industry Training Board's work is funded by a 0.25 per cent levy on those developers who build projects of a size of $40,000 or more. Currently, the annual budget of the Construction Industry Training Board for their programs is $25 million. Subsidies from the levy are then paid to employers who have apprentices or workers in the industry for the purposes of training. A decision of the board must have the agreement of the majority of each subgroup to pass a change; that is, for a board that is made up of five employer reps, three employee reps and two government reps, for a change to pass in a board meeting it has to have a majority of each of those.
Far from the concerns that a veto power exists, I think this has actually led to a culture of consensus, and I note that that culture of consensus also exists in this place because we have crossbenchers. Where the opposition and the government disagree there are five crossbenchers who have a veto power, if you like. It leads to a culture of consensus. I think that is actually why we in South Australia have had quite good performance in this area, and I am sure other members of the council will cover that in more detail at a later stage.
I note that the board consists of 11 members appointed by the Governor in accordance with the provisions of the act as follows: an independent presiding member nominated by the minister after consultation with industry; two members and deputies with experience and expertise in the VET sector, nominated by the minister; five members and deputies nominated by employer associations as named in schedule 2 of the act; and three members and deputies nominated by employee associations, named in schedule 3 of the act.
Currently, the directors of the board are as follows. Peter Herbert Kennedy is the independent presiding member. The members representing the interests of employers in the building and construction industry are a nominee of the Master Plumbers Association of SA, Natasha Hemmerling; a nominee of the Housing Industry Association, Stephen Knight; a nominee of the Master Builders Association, Christine Stone; a nominee of the Property Council of Australia, Rebecca Pickering; and a nominee of the Civil Contractors Federation, Philip Sutherland.
Further, those nominees of the employees associations are a nominee of the Australian Workers Union, Gary Henderson; a nominee of the CFMEU, who I understand was Martin O'Malley; and a nominee of the CEPU, the electrical and plumbing division, Jessica Rogers. I also note that there are positions for members nominated by the minister, and they are Denise Janek, who is from TAFE SA, and then quite curiously and very recently the nominee nominated by the minister, Nicholas Handley, who to all appearances appears to be an accountant. Yet I note that it is one of the requirements of the current act in the way that it operates that all nominees must have relevant experience in vocational education and training or construction.
So my first question to the government is: what are the credentials of Nicholas Handley—who has been the only new nominee put there by this new minister in the short period of time that the Marshall government has been in power—that comply with the act in terms of his qualifications in either construction or vocational education and training?
The government consultation process on this bill has been sadly lacking, and it has not just been in consultations with myself as a crossbencher and the way that it has been rushed through parliament. The government has brought this bill before us with undue haste and it appears, to all intents and purposes, to have done very little consultation at all. I have posed a series of questions to the minister in my briefing, which I will repeat now. They are:
1. What were the public consultation processes for this bill?
2. In what way was the public and the industry informed?
3. Was the Local Government Association contacted for its view on this bill?
4. Was the Law Society asked for a position on this bill or any feedback?
5. Was the Master Plumbers Association, which is actually on the board, appropriately consulted with regard to this bill?
I have asked the minister and I again ask the minister representing the minister to detail that consultation process about who knew what and when. Clearly, some sort of conversations have been had but I lack the detail on just how far-ranging and transparent those conversations were. It appears that this blindsided the employee reps on the board, just as much as it blindsided many members of this parliament.
I also ask: what are the financial implications of this bill? Are there any financial implications due to the changes the minister is seeking, through this bill, to the structure of the board? The structure of the board was certainly something that was raised but, curiously, when I asked what review process took place to get us to having a piece of legislation before this parliament that needs to be rushed through with undue haste, I was given a report from 2004.
On my calculation, I know the Labor government was in power for 16 years but to me that is like 14 years ago. I am just wondering if the government has considered that perhaps things might have changed in the last 14 years. I would like the government to outline whether or not they took this as an election pledge, in any transparent way, to the people of South Australia prior to the March 2018 election, and if so could they detail where that was documented and promoted. Could they also detail how the sector has truly been consulted on this when they are relying on the words of 14-year-old documents—it was literally 14 years ago—to prosecute their case.
In the speeches in the other place I note that members of the opposition were shouted down and shut down. I find that an appalling way to progress a bill like this. I have great concerns about that attitude, as to why the government feels the need to rush the bill through this place without due consideration and proper consultation, either by themselves or allowing members of this parliament to do the due diligence and to seek the answers that we should have had before receiving this bill, and to be given and afforded that consensus approach and that rational and reasonable approach that I think would benefit decision-making in any organisation.
I ask the minister to detail what decisions have been made in the last 14 years where a veto power has been used that they find detrimental to the construction industry's training outcomes. I note that, in the other place, the minister detailed one particular case where he stated that in a September 2018 board meeting a veto provision was used to remove a particular decision regarding seeking some information.
The minister cited that example. It was pretty vague—it was not as vague as I just made it, but in reading the Hansard it is pretty vague. So a veto power was used on a particular vote in September 2018 and a 14-year-old document exists that David Pisoni has had in his back pocket now for a while and suddenly we have a bill before us and we also have an accountant who has been put on this board just recently with no apparent construction or training expertise, that I can see.
My question to the government is: is this more about, bottom line, trying to get the money and damn the actual impact this will have on the good decision-making that actually does occur through this board that has not been called into question publicly? This is not a board that has been the subject of any controversy recently. It seems to be operating quite effectively as it is. It has very good programs. It has a 91 per cent satisfaction rate in some of its programs, through independent surveying of those participants, so what exactly is the problem here? Is it the fact that there is a bit of money that the government cannot get its hands on and they would like to use restructuring the decision-making to make the decision for the board? Is that, in fact, what is going on here?
How extraordinary as well to come to this parliament having promised to be respectful and democratic, and particularly of the Legislative Council, but certainly not to have a war declared based on sectarian grudge matches of days of yore and yet to have what appears, for all intents and purposes, to be pretty much, 'There's union reps on this board; we want them off. We are going to make sure that we control it. There's a pot of money there that we'd like to have better access and control over.' If I am misreading it, I certainly look forward to being corrected by the minister, but that is my interpretation of it as the bill currently stands. The lack of proper consultation and the lack of transparency and the use of a 14-year-old document does very little to assuage my concerns on that matter.
I have concerns where we set up a board that is here to serve the construction industry and their training needs and yet we are throwing out the ability to bring all players to the table at an early stage to create that consensus approach when we make our decisions. I also note that minister Pisoni has form on this in terms of when the TAFE reforms went through and, to the great discredit of the then Labor government, we corporatised TAFE SA. We did not, at that stage, take up the Greens' amendment option to ensure that the chair of the board would actually have a background in education and training, and look what happened there.
To put people who are not necessarily of the sector appears to have already happened in terms of the minister's first appointment. I ask how we are expected to trust the minister's future appointment if he has even further unfettered powers and less regulation as to how he seeks to employ those decisions, particularly when he knows and when he is fully on record as being avowedly anti-union, living in the seventies, in the era of the Cold War, and acting out what are often vendettas in terms of, certainly, his contributions and other members' contributions on the bill in the other place.
I look at the bill and I see something that is hurriedly put together by a minister on a mission, a mission to get the unions away from the money. The money is important in terms of ensuring that this sector thrives, but what is just as important as ensuring that this sector thrives is ensuring that all players, who are often seen as diametrically opposed, actually come together to a table and work together to a consensus.
The way it is currently structured, with those three groupings, I think we have actually reached a balance. I cannot see that the system is currently broken. We have been offered no evidence other than some particular motion from September 2018 that the system is broken. So if it is not broken, why are we trying to fix it, or is somebody just trying to fix it?
I cannot see why this bill should pass this place. At this point, the Greens are yet to be convinced of its value. We will have further questions, and I understand that we are probably in the minority in this place in terms of opposing this bill. What I hope would happen now is that we will have a proper and full discussion, and that it will not be driven by some sort of The Bold and the Beautiful vendetta of days of yore.
I cannot help but think that I have been watching The Bold and the Beautiful for 30 years, but I only watch it one day a year. I started watching it when I was breastfeeding my daughter 30 years ago, but you can still turn on the telly just before the Channel 10 news and you still know that the Forresters are at war with the Spectras. You still know that, with David Pisoni as minister in this area, it is a vendetta against the unions. With those few words, I seek leave to conclude my comments.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.