Australia’s watchdog for workplace relations within the building and construction industry cut funding to a body which is tasked with the oversight of its executive powers, it has been revealed.
In its submission to the senate inquiry into the bill to re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), Commonwealth Ombudsman Colin Neave has criticised what he said were inappropriate agreements whereby his office was reliant on Fair Work Building and Construction (FWBC) for funding in relation to its role in monitoring the use of coercive powers with regard to evidence gathering on the part of FWBC itself – a situation which the Ombudsman claims left his office reliant upon funding from the very agency which it was in fact charged with overseeing.
Moreover, Neave says that funding was late in coming for several years and was in fact cut-off outright in June last year.
As reported in the Australian Financial Review, Neave indicated in his submission that funding was provided to his agency by FWBC under a memorandum of understanding over a three-year period between 2012 and the middle of 2015.
During that period, however, the report indicates that Neave has said that funding sometimes was in fact late in arriving – impacting his ability to undertake reviews and investigations on a timely basis.
Furthermore, this funding was cut off completely in June last year after FWBC director Nigel Hadgkiss refused to enter into a new arrangement on the grounds that entering into any new arrangements would not be appropriate until greater clarity was received with regard to the ABCC bill.
At that time, a bill to reintroduce the ABCC was before the Parliament.
Since then, the Ombudsman says it has conducted seventeen unfunded reviews and had before it a further eight reviews which were expected in 2016/17.
Its statutory obligations to review FWBC’s use of coercive powers has continued despite the loss of funding.
The latest developments come amid ongoing debate about federal government efforts to re-establish the ABCC, which the government and business lobby groups say is necessary in order to restore law and order within the industry but which Labour and unions claim was unaccountable prior to its abolition in 2012 and unfairly targeted workers.
In its submission, the Ombudsman argued that it should receive direct funding in regard to its oversight role with regard to FWBC.
Reliance upon FWBC for funding in regard to a role in which FWBC was in fact itself the agency being reviewed, it said, was inappropriate.
In a statement provided to Sourceable, an FWBC spokesperson said that at the time of the MOU expiration in 2015, the bill to re-establish the ABCC was before Parliament.
It said any decision on the part of FWBC to renew the agreement would in fact have been ‘presumptive and improper’ given the status of the Bills.
The matter of funding appropriations for Commonwealth agencies and departments was a matter for the Federal Government, the spokesperson added.