Questions Without Notice: Take Note of Answers - March 17


 

Senator SESELJA (Australian Capital Territory) (15:11): I find it ironic when I hear Senator Katy Gallagher talk about this. You only have to read today's editorial in The Canberra Timesto look at who is actually to blame for high house prices. It certainly is local Labor governments—ACT Labor governments and other Labor governments. The editorial reads:

 

Canberra land prices have surged to record levels as a result of unprecedented population growth and the government's tacit policy of drip-feeding land releases.

 

We know that they deliberately push up the cost of housing in the ACT. They do it under the current Chief Minister and they did it under the former Chief Minister, and then she comes in and cries crocodile tears about it.

 

 

There is another thing that pushes up the cost of housing in the ACT, and that is union corruption and the cartel behaviour that we have seen exposed at the trade union royal commission. I will read from a press release from the Master Builders Association about the impacts of this type of corruption and the impacts of these types of dodgy deals which encourage this cartel behaviour, which encourage price fixing and which see the costs going up, making housing less affordable. The media release calls for a return to competitive tendering. I will quote some bits from the master builders. 'This is supposed to be a highly competitive negotiation between a client and provider. Now we see it is a three-way process that also involves a union tip-off and pay-off. In construction services the union has a direct commercial interest in who wins and who does not win government tenders. Their huge wealth and power has been built on forcing Canberra's construction industry into the woefully anti-competitive pattern agreements that delivered $1.2 million in direct profits to the CFMEU ACT in 2013-14 alone. Secretly inviting them to participate in tenders as a third party corrupts the entire process and leaves ACT taxpayers to foot the bill. The ACT government must move to scrap the MOU and return the territory to a competitive commercial tender process.' That is something that could be done about it. You could scrap these dodgy deals which encourage price fixing, which we heard about at the union royal commission. You could release more land, which successive governments—Labor governments in particular, right around the country—have failed to do. And you certainly would not allow the kind of price fixing and standover tactics that we have seen exposed at the royal commission.

 

 

 

These things have a real impact. They have a real impact on small business and on people within the construction industry. But the flow-on is into higher prices, and we see that, whether it is in the construction of roads or in major commercial projects. It also flows into the construction of new homes, and we saw evidence of this. Ewin Hannan wrote a very good piece about this entitled 'How the CFMEU captured control of Canberra's building industry', and he goes into some detail on some of the evidence that we heard from the royal commission. He talked about how the Competition and Consumer Commission, which enforces anti-price-fixing laws, said it will use a special unit to investigate the CFMEU's behaviour in Canberra. We heard evidence of price fixing. Mr Josifoski described his meeting with the CFMEU. Evidence was given about corrupt payments made in cars, cafes and restaurants and these kinds of standover tactics, but this particular evidence was about price fixing in the industry—price fixing which encouraged contractors to pay more than they could afford. It would flow in, they would all agree on the price, and guess who in the end has to pay for it: the consumer. It is the consumer. It is those seeking to buy a home. It is those investing in property, or it is governments and others—and taxpayers in the end—who are paying for infrastructure who pay for these sorts of things.

 

I repeat a couple of the points that I made yesterday. If you are going to engage in these kinds of dodgy deals where you empower this kind of corrupt behaviour, you will get all sorts of dodgy outcomes. Not only do you empower the corruption but you also have real impacts on real people. In this case, if Labor wants to talk about housing affordability, it is these kinds of dodgy deals—in this case between the ACT Labor government and Unions ACT and unions like the CFMEU—which push house prices up. So, if you want to see prices come down, stop doing the dodgy deals, get out and release more land so that there can be affordable housing not just here in the ACT but right around the country. (Time expired)