Earlier this year, a wall collapsed in one of the busiest thoroughfares of our city, killing three people. In Melbourne and all over Australia, people have expressed shock that such a thing could happen. After all, we are not a third world country.
There are rules, regulations, permits, structural tests and approvals by engineers that pertain to putting up a hoarding, such as that which was on the Grocon site in Swanston Street. But it seems that none of these things were observed with regard to this hoarding and it’s simply not good enough to shake our heads, offer sympathy and say ‘accidents happen.’
Safety a right
People have the right to expect to walk down a street and not have a wall fall on them. Just as people have a right to expect that they can cross a road at a pedestrian crossing without being run over by a car because the driver must observe the law. And if the driver doesn’t stop, people know that there are laws in place and that the driver will be punished.
This is why there is such concern and anger in the community over the death of three people on March 28. It seems no one is quite sure how a hoarding like that could have been put up without a permit or who indeed is now responsible for dealing with this transgression.
From what we hear, the council is passing the buck to the state government who are passing the buck back to the council. This diminishes our confidence that those responsible will be dealt with appropriately and to ensure that it never happens again.
I am used to having mud thrown at me. It’s par for the course in this job, but to assert that the union is manipulating a terrible tragedy for our own political ends is a grave insult to me and all my colleagues who spent that afternoon pulling bricks off the victims in an attempt to save lives and being witness to a horror that will never be erased from our memories.
We are rallying today because like the community, including the hundreds of people who have phoned our office in the last month offering support, we want answers and we want the government to act.
We want more than sympathy. State Attorney General Robert Clarke declared last year during our protest against Grocon that he was going to use the full force of the law to go after the CFMEU.
I haven’t heard him say that he intends to use the full of the law to find those responsible for the collapse of the wall and to go after them.
In fact, the silence from Robert Clarke has been deafening.
I have worn out my shoes marching for safety for workers on building sites and I’ve seen a lot of improvements in my lifetime – improvements that were achieved by union action. You just need to go to Asia and see the standards on building sites run by the same companies that operate here to know that safety standards are not the priority of employers.
The community know this. They might not necessarily like us, but ask any parent which kind of site they’d prefer their son or daughter to work on and I’m sure that most will say a unionised site with proper safety and trained experienced safety reps who are looking out for the workers.
We will be joined by students from Melbourne University today – friends of the brother and sister who died. They have contacted us and want to be there because they know that the CFMEU will fight and speak up. They know that we will not accept the buck passing and half-baked excuses from Grocon and their friends in the state government.
The community is expecting us to keep making a lot of noise, to push for answers not to gain political mileage, but to get the bottom of what happened and to make sure it won’t happen again.