THE Coalition has moved swiftly to deliver on pre-election promises to restore an effective watchdog for unlawful union conduct in the building and construction industry, and to hold unions and other registered organisations to higher levels of financial and governance standards.

The Australian Building and Construction Commission

In a move AMMA lauded as vital to repairing Australia’s competitiveness, federal employment minister Eric Abetz tabled the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Bill before parliament last week to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) and boost investor confidence in a lawful and stable building environment.

“Australia cannot afford to have a building and construction industry which is inefficient and unstable. The restoration of the ABCC and the code which supports its work is a critical reform for Australia,” Senator Abetz said.

“This Bill will restore the ABCC to ensure that, on commercial building sites, the rule of law is respected, productivity is improved, jobs are created and major national construction projects are kept on track.”

In 2012, the former Labor government decommissioned the ABCC to replace it with the Fair Work Inspectorate, a body with significantly lesser deterrents for unlawful industrial activity.

“Within weeks of the ABCC being abolished last year, we saw violence in the streets of Melbourne with militant union protestors intimidating the community,” Senator Abetz said.

“Having a strong, independent watchdog will ensure the industry does not return to an environment of wildcat stoppages and militant protests.”

The Bill before Parliament will:

  • Improve the bargaining framework to ensure negotiations are sensible and productive;
  • Extend coverage of the ABCC’s powers to offshore construction sites;
  • Prohibit coercion and discrimination;
  • Deliver significant penalties for unlawful action; and
  • Provide the regulator with strong but transparent coercive powers.

AMMA chief executive Steve Knott said the Coalition’s legislative bill to restore the ABCC is a positive move that will help secure the $620 billion of new resource projects in Australia’s investment pipeline.

“The legislation demonstrates to the global investment community that the rule of law will be upheld in building productive infrastructure in Australia. It sends the message that the significant capital being invested into new projects into our country is not being taken for granted,” he said.

“The extension of the ABCC’s jurisdiction to now cover the construction of offshore oil and gas projects, which operate in an ultra-competitive and high exposed marketplace, will help ensure a stable and lawful environment in which more nationally-significant projects can come to life.”

Registered Organisations Commission

Senator Abetz also introduced the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2013 to parliament last Thursday, underpinning the establishment of an independent watchdog to hold registered organisations accountable for unlawful activity.

The new Registered Organisations Commission will be modelled on the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) to provide investigative and information-gathering powers, as well as the power to commence legal proceedings and refer possible offences to prosecutors and law enforcement agencies.

Additionally, the Bill stipulates appropriate sanctions against efforts to obstruct or mislead investigations and indicates convicted offenders will be unable to stand as an officer in an organisation.

“The government believes most registered organisations do the right thing and, in many cases, maintain higher standards than those currently required,” Senator Abetz said.

“However, the recent investigations into the Health Services Union show financial impropriety can occur under the current regulatory framework.

“These changes should ensure that the shocking behaviour we have seen by certain officials of the Health Services Union will not be repeated.”

AMMA is voluntarily incorporated with the ASIC and has lobbied extensively for regulations that subject all organisation to the same processes and rules as corporations.

“Unions and other registered organisations often turn over tens of millions in revenue each year. These organisations must be held to the same high standards as all corporations, and officials of these organisations must be held to the same high standards as company directors,” AMMA CEO Steve Knott said.

For more information about the ABCC, click here. For more information about the Registered Organisations Commission, click here.