The former Australian Building and Construction Commission is set to be reborn after the bill to re-establish the ABCC passed the Senate.

Senators from One Nation and the Nick Xenophon team as well as Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm and Victorian Senator Derryn Hinch have voted in favour of the Australian Building and Construction Commission Bill to have the amened legislation pass the Senate 36-33.

Whilst as a formality the bill will now go back to the House of Representatives to deal with amendments which were made to the original legislation, the bill is now certain to pass into law.

In a surprise move made in order to gain the support of the Nick Xenophon team, the government abandoned its previously long held opposition toward giving local businesses an advantage in competing for taxpayer-funded projects.

As a result, bidders for government projects worth more than $4 million will need to show how much in terms of locally produced materials they will source, how they are contributing to local employment, how they are contributing toward the development of local skills, the whole-of-life cost of the project (rather than just the construction costs) and that the materials which they are using comply with national product standards under the Building Code of Australia.

First established by the Howard government in 2005, the ABCC was abolished by the Gillard government in 2012 in favour of what is now known as Fair Work Building and Construction, which was more constrained relative to the former ABCC in terms of its investigative powers and was more limited in terms of the maximum penalties which it could secure in court for breaches of the law.

The new law will essentially re-establish the ABCC with its full powers and will restore the higher penalties for contraventions of provisions relating to unlawful action and coercion.

Building industry lobby groups hailed the move, saying the restoration of the ABCC would help to bring law and order back to the construction workplace.

“The passing of the ABCC bills marks the start of a new chapter for the industry and an end to the days where the community is paying more than it needs to for schools, hospitals and roads simply because building unions think they are above the law,” Master Builders Australia chief executive officer Wilhelm Harnisch said.

“Construction workers, small subcontractors and everyone else in the supply chain can have the confidence of going to work every day without fear of being intimidated and bullied.”

Australian Industry Group chief executive officer Innes Willox agrees.

“The rule of law is set to be re-established on building sites,” Willox said.

“The significant increase in penalties that will apply to unlawful conduct should ensure that the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) changes its current unacceptable approach of blatantly disregarding industrial laws. If it does not, the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) will have the necessary powers to hold the union to account.”

Unions, however, expressed disappointment with the moves, which they say will harm the interests of workers.

In a statement, Australian Council of Trade Unions Assistant Secretary Scott Connelly said the restoration of the ABCC will harm workers by removing their right to silence in investigations of suspected breaches of workplace law, erode their job security, reduce the employment of apprentices, promote greater casualisation of the workforce and would obstruct those employees who wish to seek help from their union on matters of safety.

“The passage of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) bill through the Senate is an attack on our democracy and will do nothing to improve the serious risk of death and injury in the construction industry,” Connolly said.

“Every argument the Turnbull Government has given for re-establishing the ABCC is based on pure fantasy.”

Both Willox and Harnisch, however, stress that those who follow the law have nothing to fear from the restoration of the ABCC.

“The ABCC is simply asking for all parties on construction sites to behave lawfully and to treat everyone with respect whether they be union, contractor, subcontractor or supplier, male or female,” Harnisch said.

  • No doubt Chris – but we need the rule of law for all the criminals in the industry — and there are plenty — look in every corner . Deregulation in most areas has bred corruption including in our regulators and industry associations.

  • Big building industry lobby groups naturally support the preservation of their 'ruling' status. As for the 'rule of law' in building, there are no rules for the major players – they can do as they please! The 'light touch regulation' introduced years ago has allowed the big contractors to do whatever they want – without fear of any penalties. Be their breaches minor or major, and regardless of serial offending, the 'laws' do not apply to them. The only ones 'controlled' and constrained are those who fund building projects (consumers and taxpayers), and those who actually build our buildings, namely small business contractors and the workers they employ. As Les Williams noted, there is a ginormous imbalance in the power relationships between big players and everyone else. This applies to biased contracts and payments (consumers and small business owners the big losers); the distorted legal process contrived to condone fraudulent business practices and protect the rogues; 'legalized' insurance scams; the use of 'insolvency' to get out of trouble by passing the losses onto consumers and small business; the health and safety of workers; and lastly, the endemic use of contaminated building products and materials. Those who are voiceless, with no seat at any table, are ignored. Their interests, and the ruination of their lives very neatly swept under the carpet!
    This is but another example of the 1%, big business and its bureaucratic agent, making the 'rules' to bully the 99% who have been silenced into non-existence. The base motive: the few to profiteer at the great expense of ordinary Australians who provide the money and the labour for business to grow corruptly – officially termed 'strategic' and 'legally' sanctioned!

  • What a joke the biggest added cost to all major construction work is the labour hire firms plundering the cream on every workers hourly rate. All the major building firms use them and they are purely a mechanism to create legal separation from the real employer. So don't keep banging on about unions adding costs have a look at the dodgy contracts & stand over tactics of all the major building firms. Unions are a product of the environment Turnbull's greedy building mates have set up & threaten all who work for them. Don't cast tradies all with the same brush we once were looked up to and respected.

  • a short storey ,though one of many bad experiences with unions i could tell .many years ago ,I was walking up a pathway on a shopping centre site that I had 2 guys working at and a young kid was dragging a compressor up the hill .As most people would do ,I helped him get it to the top ,and standing at the top was a union official.As i was not in the union ,he called a stop work meeting [at which I was not permitted to speak ]and then a 48 hour strike.The centre management the tried to sue me for $32k .I had just put a deposit on my first house which cost $38 k .So almost the value of the house luckily I had no money so they gave up .We desperately need some law abided to by the unions to save our industry .

  • A 2015 senate committee report identified " the structure of the commercial construction sector, serious imbalances of power in contractual relationships, harsh, oppressive, unconscionable, unlawful, criminal and sharp business practices contribute to market distortions, #3 billion lost annually to insolvency including $700 million in tax receipts and $200m by directors bludging off the taxpayer funded FEG scheme . Add a further $30b lost by consumers, $60b to unpaid injury claims, $1.5b to suicide and suicidal behaviour– all who underwrite the Australian Construction Industry. The ABCC is watered down and just doesn't get the job done. I get tired of hearing the same dribble from the MBA. .

    Add price fixing collusion by the large construction companies and recent EBA's are all costs simply passed on to clients that cause massive industry price hikes. There is then the massive concern of non compliant building materials that defraud clients but more importantly compromise public safety.