The former Australian Building and Construction Commission made a significant contribution toward the productivity of the building industry in Australia and should be reinstated, the Senate Standing Committee on Education and Employment has said, though opposition senators disagree.
In its report submitted before the senate earlier this week, the committee recommended the upper house pass the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Bill 2013 as well as a further Bill supporting transitional arrangements.
Introduced into Parliament earlier this year, the Bill, which is supported by industry groups but opposed by unions, seeks to abolish the current Fair Work Building and Construction and replace it with a reborn version of the former the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) which was abolished under Labour in 2012.
In the report, majority Liberal senators support the Bill, saying its provisions were necessary and appropriate in light of increased unlawful behaviour by unions since the ABCC’s abolition.
“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,” the majority of the committee found.
“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.”
In a dissenting report, however, Labour senators on the committee questioned assertions from groups such as Master Builders Australia about the productivity benefits of the ABCC’s reintroduction and argued that specific laws targeting a particular industry are unnecessary, provisions regulating industrial action in the existing Fair Work Act are already adequate, coercive powers available to the ABCC are excessive, and that claims the ABCC would quell organised criminal activity within the construction industry are misplaced as the Commission has no power in criminal matters.
Meanwhile, the Australian Greens accuse the former ABCC of being ‘biased in its work’ and ‘driven by an ideological attack on construction workers and unions.
“Labor Senators do not see merit in these bills and oppose both in their entirety without amendment,” Labour Senator and Deputy Chair of the committee Sue Lines said.
Despite this, Building Industry Groups welcomed the reports findings, saying evidence brought before the committee demonstrated coercion and intimidation by unions had become the norm in the industry.
“Master Builders challenges anyone to look objectively at the recent behaviour of the CFMEU at the Epping Markets and Myer Emporium sites in Melbourne and the Royal Children’s Hospital in Brisbane and say this is normal and acceptable in our community,” Master Builders Australia chief executive officer Wilhelm Harnisch said.
“All we want is for the building unions to behave like normal people.”