THE Senate Committee charged with reviewing the legislation to bring back the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) has recommended the bill pass into law, citing evidence from AMMA’s submission among its findings.

As one of its key pre-election workplace relations policy commitments, the Coalition Government moved quickly to table legislation to bring back the ABCC through the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Bill 2013.

On November 14, the main bill and its accompanying legislation were referred to the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee, chaired by Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie.

Handing down its report on December 2, the Committee drew on the findings of the Cole Royal Commission in 2001, the success of the previous ABCC in cleaning up the building industry, and recent examples of illegality to justify backing the legislation to pass through the Upper House.

Submissions from Master Builders of Australia (MBA) and AMMA provided the key employer/industry evidence cited in the majority senators’ report, with AMMA’s analysis of construction industry disputation data quoted directly.

The Committee also highlighted tangible productivity gains delivered by the ABCC, as provided by Independent Economics. The evidence showed that during the former ABCC regime:

  • Building and construction industry productivity grew by more than nine per cent;
  • Consumers were better off by around $7.5 billion annually; and
  • Fewer working days were lost to industrial action.

Concluding the report, chair Senator McKenzie said ‘an independent, empowered, and properly resourced regulator is necessary’ for Australian industry.

“The building and construction industry is an important sector of the Australian economy. Throughout this inquiry the committee has been presented with evidence of increased illegality and disregard for the rule of law in the building and construction industry,” concluded Senator McKenzie.

“It is of the utmost importance that this sector is able to flourish and is not hampered by illegality and a culture of intimidation as evidenced in the inquiry. The committee is also persuaded by evidence that productivity in the sector has declined since the ABCC was abolished by the former government.

“For these reasons the committee concludes that the measures contained in the bill are an appropriate and prudent response to the issues raised in this inquiry, and considers that the bill should be passed without amendment.”

Labor and Greens dissenting reports

The ACTU and CFMEU provided the primary submissions in opposition to the legislation, through which they rejected all of the economic evidence supporting the return of the ABCC.

The dissenting report from Labor Senators Sue Lines and Mehmet Tillem reflected the position of the trade union movement, namely arguing the powers of the ABCC were excessive, unnecessary, would not improve productivity and breached anti-discrimination obligations.

Debating the bill in the House of Representatives last night, Labor’s shadow minister for workplace relations, Brendan O’Connor, said the ABCC is ‘based on flawed and often ridiculed modelling’.

“Its proposed powers are extreme, unnecessary and undemocratic and they compromise civil liberties,” Mr O’Connor said.

“The legislation ignores what is already in place, the Fair Work Building and Construction agency, which is working much more efficiently than the ABCC ever did. In addition, Labor’s Fair Work Building and Construction agency already has sufficient powers to deal with any unlawful behaviour in the industry.”

The Australian Greens, represented by Senator Lee Rhiannon on the Committee, rejected the legislation in their dissenting report, stating the ABCC “failed to act as independent regulator committed to the best interests of the industry, the conditions of the workers and the needs of legitimate employers”.

AMMA’s submission

AMMA has been a driving force for the reestablishment of the ABCC with its full former powers, having campaigned heavily in support of its economic and social benefits as soon as the former Labor Government first indicated it would abolish it back in 2009.

In its submission to the Senate Committee, AMMA welcomed the Abbott Government’s introduction of the bill and its proposed restoration of the ABCC by reinstating former legislative provisions that provided:

  • Higher penalties for unlawful conduct by building industry participants;
  • Stronger prosecutorial powers for the inspectorate and its director;
  • A broader definition of building work;
  • More scope for injunctions to stop unlawful industrial action;
  • Stronger anti-coercion provisions;
  • More effective compulsory information gathering powers; and
  • Increased independence of the inspectorate.

“AMMA contends now, as it did in earlier submissions in 2009 and 2012…that the overall effect of the current laws regulating workplace relations in the building and construction industry has been to water down the inspectorate’s capacity to ensure that industry participants conduct their activities in accordance with the law,” AMMA said in its 50-page submission.

“There remains a culture of unlawfulness in the industry which requires the restoration of the Australian Building & Construction Commission (ABCC) with its full former powers, along with necessary improvements and modifications.

“As AMMA pointed out in its January 2012 submission, law abiding union officials, employers and workers have nothing to fear from strong laws that protect against intimidation, coercion and thuggery on building and construction sites.”

AMMA’s submission responds to the government’s proposals for the ABCC to operate on both onshore and offshore construction projects, and welcomes other improvements to the former system that would enhance industrial harmony, productivity and safety.

While the majority senators’ report recommended the bill pass without amendment, parliament’s last sitting day for this year is December 12, with parliament resuming next year on February 11.

Click here to read AMMA’s submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Education and Employment on the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Bill 2013 and the Building and Construction Industry (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2013.