Construction Industry Training Fund (Board) Amendment Bill

Adjourned debate on second reading.

(Continued from 15 November 2018.)

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (16:45): I rise to continue my remarks on this bill. As both I and the government have covered in previous contributions, this bill seeks to change the workings, structure and composition of the Construction Industry Training Board, and in doing so I assume also the allocation of the money that board manages. The particular sticking point that I would like to reflect on concerns removing the veto voting provisions, which seems to be a centrepiece of this bill.

It is purported that this veto must be removed to make sure that decisions are based on merits, not necessarily reflecting a consensus approach but reflecting the majority view. The reality at the moment is that the Construction Industry Training Board has not comprised equal numbers of employees and employers, so the veto or consensus provision is quite rightly there to ensure that all parts of the construction industry work together. It is not about numbers at the moment. If the government were serious about this, they would put equal numbers of employees and employers on the board, and democracy would prevail.

I note that there are high levels of satisfaction at the moment with the Construction Industry Training Board. Of the 5,240 construction apprentices and trainees who undertook an apprenticeship in the 2016-17 year, 85 per cent were CITB supported. That is quite an impact on the sector. Were there great levels of dissatisfaction with those trainees and apprentices? No. Indeed, 75 per cent of employers agreed that the CITB apprentice support fund positively influences their employment decisions.

There is no remedy needed when there is satisfaction with the way the industry is operating with regard to these apprenticeships. I note that the Marshall government often say that they are not in the business of picking winners. Here, they are picking their own team. They are stacking the numbers, and the contributions made in the other place certainly echo that sentiment. I note that the member for Hammond referred to the time he had to join the Australian Workers' Union as the darkest three months of his life.

I am sorry, but joining a union for three months being the darkest three months of your life means that you probably had a pretty fortunate life, if that is the worst thing you can point to. What it does point to are the motivations behind this bill: this is an attack on the unions. This is an attack on those employee representatives who represent the voice of the workers in this sector, a vital part of the conversation to ensure that we have a democracy.

The final point I would like to take up with regard to the motivations behind this bill is that I have expressed concern about the most recent appointment from the government being somebody who seems to have quite close connections with the minister and certainly seems to have quite close connections with the Unley community but seems to have no connections with the construction industry. So I reiterate my question to the minister and ask that he provides the rationale and reasoning for his appointment to the Construction Industry Training Board.

I note that the results of the board's employer and apprentice survey of 2017, completed by 400 apprentices and a further 400 employers of apprentices, emphasised the importance and value of the apprenticeship system for the industry. The employers surveyed stated that they take on apprentices primarily to meet their business needs, and 80 per cent stated that they had no difficulty sourcing apprentices. According to the survey, four out of five employers—some 80 per cent—stated that they would employ another apprentice in the future. The good news from the Construction Industry Training Board Apprentice Report continues as it goes on.

So what is the malady being remedied by the government? I think it is a deeply held old-school grudge that goes to class warfare and attacks the unions. If one were to play a game of bingo in this place in order to assess the true motivations of some members of the new Marshall government, they would note that the Treasurer has used the term 'fiscal' 15 times since the 2018 state election, yet has used the term 'union' 119 times. 'Union bosses' has been used 40 times, yet the term for actual bosses, 'employers', has only been used 30 times. I think this goes some way to explaining the priorities of some members of the new Marshall government.

These priorities are laid bare in this bill. There has been poor consultation on this bill, carried out with impure motives, seeking to pick a side—and it is certainly not on the side of unions. It will undo the very good work on building consensus in this state's construction industry, which has served us well. We are not back in the 1980s; we have evolved beyond class warfare and the union-attacking rhetoric spouted by some in this place, including the minister who has sponsored this bill.

I think this parliament needs to step up and call it what it is: an attack on unions to strip them of their so-called power. Actually, when there is a veto provision and there are already fewer employee representatives on this board, this power very limited. It is simply to be one of the people at the table, having a conversation on an issue before it becomes a conflict.

This bill is ill thought out and badly consulted, and will do irreparable damage to this state. It will create division and dissent that we need not see. With those few words, as I have stated before, the Greens vehemently oppose this bill. It is not constructive, it is not helpful, and we believe it will do great damage into the future.

The Hon. D.G.E. HOOD (16:53): I rise to speak in support of this bill, which seeks to make what I consider to be very logical changes to the procedure in which appointments to the Construction Industry Training Board are made, as well as to the board's voting provisions. The proposed reforms are indeed long overdue in our view, given amendments have not been made to the act since its inception in 1993. This is despite the fact that recommendations to modernise the relevant processes were made in an independent review over 14 years ago.

The Marshall Liberal government is intent on ensuring best practice when it comes to the manner in which decisions are reached concerning the allocation of resources from the Construction Industry Training Fund, and recognises its responsibility to ensure the board is comprised of the most suitable representatives and operates in a manner that enables determinations to be made efficiently and effectively.

The Minister for Industry and Skills has of course consulted with various industry groups in relation to these amendments, include the Master Builders Association, the Property Council of Australia and the Civil Contractors Federation SA, as well as the chief executive officer of the Construction Industry Training Board.

The current appointment process for the Construction Industry Training Board under our existing laws is considered amongst the most prescriptive in our nation. The government's proposed changes will bring the act into line with equivalent legislation in other states and territories and that which governs the appointment of boards in our state's education and training sector, by enabling the appointment of members based on merit and their requisite skills.

Following a public expression of interest, the responsible minister will have the opportunity to nominate worthy candidates who demonstrate the knowledge of or expertise and experience in the building and construction industry for appointment by the Governor. A presiding member from four to eight industry representatives, plus two independent members, will constitute the board under the new provisions.

It is important to note that, as it stands, the minister is currently obliged to recommend nominations for the board membership to the Governor that are received from prescribed employer and employee associations, regardless of the nominees' understanding of or experience in the building and construction industry. The veto voting provisions will also be removed to enable resolutions of the board to reflect a majority position, with the presiding member being entitled to vote in proceedings, including providing a casting vote where required. I am advised that there have been occasions recently where veto powers have been engaged to prevent the implementation of initiatives that otherwise received the support of the majority of the other board members.

This board is charged with the responsibility of managing and expending funds raised through the construction industry training levy, created to assist in improving the quality and coordination of training in this sector. The levy is payable in respect of building or construction work that is valued at $40,000 or greater at the rate of 0.25 per cent of a project's estimated worth, and concerns a whole range of activity, including the development of new apartment blocks, the demolition of buildings, new office fit-outs, extensions and the construction of new homes as well.

As the minister stated in the other place, these finances belong to all South Australians, and I therefore believe that the best minds in the building and construction industry are required to ensure the public's money is being appropriately reinvested to enhance support and develop its skill base through high-quality, innovative training and development.

I am confident these reforms will result in the formation of boards with the insight and foresight required to respond to the Marshall Liberal government's election commitments, particularly its Skilling South Australia strategy, which pledges to support an additional 20,800 apprenticeships and traineeships over the first term of this government. I am certainly pleased it is taking steps towards ensuring measures are in place to guarantee that all forms of capital are distributed with careful consideration and in the proper manner to achieve the right outcomes throughout its time in office and beyond. I support the bill.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. I.K. Hunter.

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