The Harper Review Joins the Productivity Chorus

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Tuesday, April 14th, 2015
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Ian Harper and his panel are the latest voices to join the choir calling for productivity driving reform, in this case to national competition policy.

Over 20 years ago, the Hilmer Review led to the development of national competition policy which unleashed a boost in productivity and growth in our living standards.

As we are all too aware, productivity is on the wane despite the best efforts of industries such as building and construction.

For our industry, the Harper Review has made recommendations that, if implemented by the Government, would help underpin the vital role of building and construction in generating new productivity and non-resources related investment.

In serendipitous timing, Mike Kane, CEO of Boral, addressed contractors at Master Builders ACT on the same day the Harper Review recommended in its final report that maximum penalties for secondary boycotts be increased from $750,000 to $10 million.

Industry organisations have long called for secondary boycotts to be treated in line with other breaches of competition law because, as Harper Review panellist Peter Anderson says, it is fundamentally in the public interest for unions to be subjected to the same laws as the rest of the community.

As evidence heard by the Heydon Royal Commission about the CFMEU’s black ban of Boral in Victoria highlights, secondary boycotts are a brutal and illegal industrial tactic targeted by unions to undermine the viability of contractors and the livelihoods of workers.

Master Builders, in its response to the Harper Review’s final report, will strongly back this proposed reform which would send a clear message to unions that they should not act recklessly and out of step with normal community standards.

The competition policy review has also set its sights on certain uncompetitive workplace agreements, recommending that they be subjected to competition laws. Clauses in EBAs restricting the use of contractors would come under the microscope of the competition regulator and this conflict between competition law and industrial conduct would be substantially resolved.

It is easy when examining the often complex findings of inquiries such as the Harper Review to lose sight of the community benefits which flow from such reforms.

The uncompetitive behaviour of the CFMEU in its use of secondary boycotts and restrictive clauses in enterprise agreements ultimately deprives the community of more (and more affordable) schools, hospitals, roads and other infrastructure needed for economic growth, more jobs and more liveable communities.

We are fortunate in Australia that unions have rights; all the industry is asking for is that they also live up to their responsibilities. We will be calling on the Government to adopt these important reforms put forward by the Harper Review.

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