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Ferguson backs Abbott's work changes

Labor elder statesman Martin Ferguson says the ALP should back the return of the Coalition's construction watchdog, industrial relations reforms and warned Australia's high labour costs and low productivity risk billions in revenue.

In comments that will embarrass Bill Shorten and ramp up political pressure on Labor to pass workplace law changes through the Senate, the former Rudd and Gillard government minister and ACTU president played down the significance of the Coalition government's "modest" reforms to Fair Work laws.

Mr Ferguson's intervention comes as the Coalition introduced a raft of changes to the Fair Work laws in Parliament on Thursday that tighten right-of-entry rules for unions, allow employees to trade penalty rates for more flexible hours and close so-called "strike first, talk later" loopholes.

In a speech in Perth on Friday, the chairman of the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association Advisory Board said complacency threatened 23 years of uninterrupted growth and that he was pleased "sensible" industrial relations reform was on the agenda.

While the future of gas investment had been "all blue sky" three years ago, he said billions in export revenue and taxation were at risk because of over-regulation. "High labour costs and low productivity are an unsustainable mix. And therefore elements of the Fair Work Act must be looked at," he said.

Mr Ferguson said the Coalition's plan to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission should be seen as a step that would encourage investment in Australia. "Rather than seeing the ABCC as a tool that allows one side to get an upper hand over the other in some never-ending ideological skirmish, it should be seen for what it was: a mechanism that holds both sides to account and which can help deliver projects on time and on budget," he said.

"As the son of a bricklayer, I know a thing or two about the building industry. But it is time that some in today's union leadership recognised that their members' long-term interests are aligned with their long-term job security."

Labor and the union movement are implacably opposed to the ABCC, which was introduced by the former Howard government after the Cole royal commission on the building industry, and later abolished by Julia Gillard's government.

The Abbott government argues the restoration of the ABCC is necessary to crack down on lawlessness and corruption in the building industry.