PM puts construction and ABCC in the spotlight

23 March 2016

By James Cameron, ACIF Executive Director

As you would all now be aware, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has pledged a double-dissolution election on 2 July if the Senate does not pass legislation to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), as well as establish a Registered Organisations Commission.  

It is a policy of Australian Construction Industry Forum (ACIF) that the ABCC should be re-established and all of the industry-specific laws previously administered by the ABCC, so the Prime Minister’s move is a welcome one. 

When the ABCC began in 2005, the number of working days lost to industrial disputes in the construction industry annually per 1000 employees fell from 224 in 2004 to just 24 in 2006.  Since the ABCC was abolished by the Gillard Government in 2012, industrial disputes have again risen and productivity affected. Further, a Registered Organisations Commission would monitor the transactions of union finances and make it virtually impossible for union officials to hold senior roles if they have a criminal record. 

While ACIF will be urging the cross-bench Senators to restore the ABCC, given the statements of some Senators since the Prime Minister’s announcement, it seems unlikely that the Government will have the support of six of the eight cross-bench Senators necessary to pass the legislation.  Thus it seems very likely that a double dissolution election will be held on 2 July, with the focus on union activity, and especially in the construction industry. 

Given the nature of union activity in the construction industry, a statutory body with special powers is needed to maintain the rule of law. The re-establishment of the ABCC with its former powers would greatly increase productivity in the industry, meaning that everybody in the industry would benefit. Since the loss of the ABCC, union officials have received more than $3 million in fines, with a significant number currently before the courts. 

ACIF urges all players in the construction industry to observe the rule of law, and it is unfortunate that a culture exists in the industry that makes it necessary for a body like the ABCC to exist.  All workers in the industry deserve an environment where they can go to work, and be assured of their physical and mental health. Bullying of apprentices cannot be tolerated, and nor can bullying of construction managers by union officials. Surveying of construction managers in the ACT in 2015 showed that a third had been physically bullied and two-thirds verbally bullied. 

Enough is enough, and this culture must end. The ABCC should be restored as soon as possible, and ACIF will be working hard to ensure this policy goal is achieved.