The Coalition has thoroughly beaten Labor on a scorecard of policies across sixteen areas, according to a major building industry lobby group.

Releasing its Federal Election Policy Scorecard, Master Builders Australia has scored the policies of both the Coalition and Labor against sixteen criteria spanning  four areas (see chart).

It found that overall, Coalition policies are more conducive to delivering a better building industry compared with those of Labor.

According to the scorecard, both major parties had effective policies on training and apprenticeships as well as increasing infrastructure spending, boosting housing supply and improving building regulation (see chart).

However, Master Builders says that Labor falls down on workplace relations.

In particular, Master Builders is concerned about Labor’s promise to abolish the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) and the Registered Organisations Commission (ROC).

Reintroduced by the Coalition Government in 2016 having previously been abolished by Labor, the ABCC is responsible for regulating several areas of workplace relations across the building and construction sector.

Its reintroduction came after findings of widespread illegal behaviour on the part of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) during the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption.

In the five years following its reintroduction, the ABCC has completed 100 court cases (90 of which resulted in successful litigation), achieved imposition of penalties totalling $15.261 million, assessed more than 10,000 enterprise agreements for compliance with the Code for the Tendering and Performance of Building Work 2016 and recovered more than $4.98 million in unpaid wages for 8,200 workers – this includes recoveries of more than $1.6 million for more than 3,100 workers in the first half of 2021/22 (refer article).

Meanwhile, the Registered ROC was established by the Coalition Government after the Royal Commission to regulate governance and accountability among unions and employer associations.

In its plans to abolish the ABCC, Labor argues that the organisation ‘relentlessly pursues union officials over minor infractions while doing little to stamp out wage theft or sham contracting in the construction industry or to address worksite safety and deaths’.

Labor also argues that workers in building and construction should be subject to the same rules as other workers.

Meanwhile, Labor argues that the ROC has been discredited after it earlier this year dropped a long-running investigation into conduct concerning donations against the Australian Workers Union after finding insufficient evidence to prosecute its officials.

However, building industry lobby groups disagree, arguing that the ABCC is an effective regulator whose presence has helped to curb unlawful union practices and restore law and order on construction sites.

(Labor’s claim about ABCC bias does not appear to stand up to scrutiny. Whilst it is true that 79 of the 100 cases which the ABCC has pursued have been against unions (a further 7 have been brought against individual workers) against only thirteen which have been against employers, the regulator’s success rate in obtaining convictions (refer above) from court cases indicates that it generally has just cause for prosecutions which it pursues.

As for Labor’s claim that the ABCC is failing to address worker safety and fatalities, safety is in fact the responsibility of state-based work, health and safety regulators – not the ABCC.)

Apart from its plans to abolish the ABCC and ROC, Master Builders is also concerned that Labor will not adequately uphold right of entry laws, ensure that workplace laws are fair and balanced or prevent unions from using safety laws as a back door to breach right of entry rules.

And Master Builders is concerned that neither side will adequately address red tape and/or the compliance burden on small business.

Despite Labor being ranked behind in Master Builders’ scorecard, the party was the only one to provide a response to a broader range of policy priorities put forward by Australian Construction Industry Forum to strengthen the industry’s supply chain resilience, address skills shortages, support the construction industry workforce and address the crisis in professional indemnity insurance.

Labor says its $15 billion plan to grow domestic supply chains as part of the National Reconstruction Fund will help to generate domestic material supply in Australia.

Meanwhile, its Future Made in Australia Skills Plan will fund free TAFE and create additional university places.

In a statement, Master Builders Australia CEO Denita Warn said the importance of the building sector should not be underestimated.

“Every day, in every community there are builders driving the economic growth that is needed for a stronger economy. Our members provide the most full-time jobs in this country, their $220 billion industry is the nation’s second largest and they deserve to be heard,” Warn said.

“The efforts of our members are essential for a stronger economy, to boost living standards provide the critical infrastructure to and the other things that our community needs. The next Federal Government back the building and construction with policies that will support its success.”