Michael Sukkar MP

Federal Member for Deakin
Shadow Minister for Social Services
Shadow Minister for the NDIS
Shadow Minister for Housing
Shadow Minister for Homelessness
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Opinion piece: ‘Honest Tradies Cut Down’

There is no doubt that we are living through extraordinary and uncertain times.

Who had an earthquake rocking Victoria on their 2021 bingo card, leaving rubble strewn across Chapel St and buildings shaking? The last 18 months has continued to throw up surprises.

But one surprise no one should have to wake up to is to suddenly find themselves locked out of a job.

Yet that is the situation 320,000 Victorian workers and their families found themselves in on Tuesday morning, following a chaotic late-night decision by the state government to close down all building and construction work in Melbourne, Geelong, the Surf Coast, Ballarat and the Mitchell Shire.

Hundreds of thousands of workers woke to this news with no warning and no consultation, with the announcement around 10pm the night before.

This was an unfair and excessive edict. Because honest tradies throughout Victoria are now being punished as retaliation for the violent CFMEU protests outside the front of their own union’s building on Monday.

The cost to the state as a result of shutting down a $22bn industry is enormous.

Almost one in 10 Victorian jobs are in the building and construction sector. The economic loss of this decision is estimated to be $2.2bn in construction activity and almost $640m in lost wages over the two weeks.

The mob violence that has taken over the streets of our city in recent days is shameful, and those who are breaking the law must be dealt with.

But good government has never meant resorting to punishing the many for the actions of the few.

The impact of this harsh ban will be felt by countless innocent victims right across the state, and it is important to remember it will not just affect big industrial building sites in the city.

It will affect the 17-year-old apprentice carpenter in Geelong, the interior designer in Ballarat juggling her children’s homeschooling, or the plumber in Frankston who’s planning a wedding and saving for a first home. All who now can’t work.

This affects every home renovation in Lilydale, every house and land package in Pakenham, every small building site in Craigieburn that might have only one or two self-employed tradies working on them.

All that activity slammed to a sudden halt.

And this decision doesn’t just hurt just the 320,000 workers in the industry, many of whom live pay packet to pay packet, but it hurts every single one of their customers.

Like the family staying in an Airbnb while their home is unliveable mid-renovation, now scrambling to extend or find new temporary accommodation.

Or the first homebuyers who are eagerly waiting to get into their first home, who must now pay rent for even longer.

The financial consequences and disruption to their lives can’t be underestimated.

After 18 months of this pandemic, restrictions and lockdowns need to be responsible and proportionate to the challenge. These blanket bans are blunt instruments.

The federal government has strongly supported the million Australian workers in the building and construction industry throughout the pandemic.

Through programs like JobKeeper, HomeBuilder, and the Cashflow Boost, we have kept this vital industry going over the last 18 months. And up until recently, the Victorian government supported these endeavours by allowing the industry to operate in a Covid-safe way.

That is why it is so disappointing that as punishment for some thuggish protesters, their response is to pull the rug out from underneath building and construction workers that will cause lasting damage to the industry and our state.

And even though the federal government will now step in to support these workers with Covid19 disaster payments, law-abiding Victorians, including those in the building and construction industry, rightly expect to be treated more fairly by their state government.

Melbourne has officially endured the world’s longest lockdown. The last thing our state needs is more distress and chaos imposed on it.

We need the 320,000 men and women in the Victorian building and construction industry to be valued and treated fairly.

After all, who are we going to call on to repair and rebuild the damage from Wednesday’s earthquake?


“Good government has never meant resorting to punishing the many for the actions of the few”

The construction shutdown, which led to protests, will cost billions.

Herald Sun, Page 28.
24 September 2021