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Industry fears end of ABCC means green light for lawlessness

The Housing Industry Association (HIA) expressed “profound disappointment” with Senate’s decision to pass the Government’s Bill to abolish the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC)
HIA stated this move will act as “an open invitation for a return to the building site lawlessness of the past”.
HIH said the abolition of the commission effectively lowers penalties for illegal conduct.
“The ABCC was a sound and effective independent regulator that helped re-establish the rule of law to the construction industry,” said HIA’s industrial relations spokesman David Humphrey.
“Moreover, economic benefits have flowed to the community at large from its law enforcement work over the last seven years.”
“But the unfortunate reality is that the ABCC’s work is far from finished and a culture of coercion and bullying subsists throughout much of the industry. Its abolition is certainly not welcomed by the housing industry.”
The fact that the Government has gone much further than simply merging the functions of the ABCC into an inspectorate division of the Fair Work Ombudsman is of additional concern, according to Mr Humphrey.
“The legislation that passed last night dramatically waters down the penalties for illegal conduct and allows for parties to that wish to avoid scrutiny to have the laws ‘switched off’ for certain projects.”
“Worryingly, the new regime also permits those that engage in unlawful conduct to go unpunished when a so-called ‘settlement’ has been reached. These new laws, which potentially allow a lawbreaker to escape punishment by intimidating their victim into silence, benefit no-one but the unions in the building and construction industry.”
HIA calls on the Government to now ensure that any regulations required to the support the legislation enhance rather than further water down the powers of the new body.
“The new Fair Work Inspectorate must be appropriately funded and resourced to ensure that right of entry abuses, standover tactics, and coercive pattern bargaining do not once again become stock standard in the industry,” concluded Mr Humphrey.
In press statement released in October last year, Senator Chris Evans, Minister for Workplace Relations, said the Government remained committed to replacing the ABCC with a new body to provide a balanced framework for cooperative and productive workplace relations in the building and construction industry.
“The Labor Government has always supported a strong building industry regulator to ensure lawful conduct by all parties,” Senator Evans said.
“The new regulator will have the powers and responsibilities to ensure employers, their organisations, employees and trade unions abide by their obligations under the law.
“The Australian Government carried out extensive consultation with industry and with state and territory governments as part of developing the legislation for the new regulator.”
Justice Murray Wilcox QC was appointed to consult and report on matters related to the creation of a new building industry inspectorate to regulate the construction industry.
Justice Wilcox recommended the new regulator should retain coercive information gathering powers while removing the existing higher penalties for building industry participants for breaches of industrial law and introducing safeguards in relation to the power to compulsorily obtain information and documents.
The Government moved to abolish the ABCC and establish the new regulator in accordance with the recommendations of Justice Wilcox’s report in the last Parliament.
The Gillard Government committed to reintroduce this Bill after the previous Bill lapsed when the Parliament was prorogued for the last election.
“The new Building Industry Inspectorate will continue to regulate the industry fairly and effectively,” Senator Evans said.
“The new regulator will provide information, advice and assistance to all building industry participants regarding their rights and obligations under the law, as well as seek to improve the standard of occupational health and safety in the building and construction industry.”