We have just seen Bill Shorten concede defeat to Malcolm Turnbull in the federal election.

While the election was called after a double dissolution when the Senate refused to pass legislation to re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), the ABCC barely rated a mention during the campaign.

Set up in 2005 by the Howard Government as a construction industry watchdog, the role of the ABCC was to monitor the sector and enforce civil workplace laws such as restrictions of unlawful industrial action and industrial threats. In 2012, it was overhauled by a Labor Government.

It is important to understand why the reinstatement of the ABCC must be a priority for the new government. The building and construction industry is absolutely vital to the Australian economy and community. Its turnover is more than $210 billion dollars a year, it provides work for over 1.1 million Australians and it creates the built environment for us all. A thriving construction sector is imperative to the economic well-being of the nation.

Unlawful industrial action and threats occur way too often in Australia’s building and construction industry and impose a significant impediment to productivity in the sector. Reinstating the ABCC will be a first step to restoring the rule of law and stemming any decline in productivity. Accordingly, National Precast is right behind the reinstatement of the ABCC and urges its support by all political interests.

It’s timely as well to call for the support Australian manufacturing in terms of government procurement, and to ensure that Australian-made is the policy throughout the entire construction process – from asset owners right through to subcontractors and the building products that are specified. Somehow the best of intentions upstream can get lost downstream, with the all too often push to minimise costs. But we all know that has consequences, not only in terms of the impact on Australian manufacturing when products are sourced from offshore, but also the sacrifices in quality that can too often result. Compliance to Australian Standards – or lack thereof – is just one risk that is heightened when sourcing from abroad.

Election times are full of announcements and promises relating to infrastructure. Some of those promises are based on what’s in the national interest, but others are based on short-term political mileage - to win votes in a particular seat.

It’s about time that changed.

A bipartisan, long-term approach which is part of a structured national infrastructure investment plan and which supports Australian manufacturing needs to be the priority over decisions that are purely short-term vote magnets. The approach should bring good governance and structure to spending decisions, which holds state procurement authorities accountable.

That structured approach should also prioritise safety, productivity and sustainability in the building and construction industry. Australian products that are manufactured off-site, like precast concrete, should play a significant role as they are ideally positioned in all of these areas. The benefits of doing so include measurable increases in productivity.

Given that the construction industry ranks third in terms of the number of fatalities, safety must be a top priority. Improving safety is achieved when projects are assembled rather than built, using products made away from the construction site in a safer factory-based environment. The result is fewer site deliveries, less site waste, fewer site trades and labourers, making the site a generally less cluttered and safer place to be.

Importantly, structural products like precast can offer on average, 30 per cent faster build times. That all adds up to increased efficiency and improved safety.

With a new term of government just beginning, it is an opportune time for all political interests to consider the importance of the construction and building industry to Australia’s future.

Investment needs to be made in the right projects, using the right products, as part of a national vision. In the end, it’s not just the industry that benefits, but all the people who work in it, and the Australians who use our critical infrastructure and built environs every day.

  • The ABCC legislation is appalling and needs to be changed, and I have a feeling it will before it would even get considered by the senate.
    As you said yourself Sarah there are so many areas that need attention in the building and construction industry that this almost seems like a band-aid approach that was wheeled out for political purposes.
    Please dont make this industry a victim of short term politics Mr Turnbull.

  • I partly agree with Steve.

    Yes there is evidence that unions are out of control within the construction sector, and that needs to change. But there were specific problems with the ABCC Bill. Whilst those suspected of murder, rape or armed robbery have a right to silence under questioning, the ABCC Bill as it stood would deny that right to building and construction workers who were the subject of an ABCC investigation. That is insane. Why should somebody who is subject to a civil workplace investigation have less rights under the justice system than an accused murderer or rapist just because he or she pours concrete for a living? The ABCC should return but this particular Bill was badly drafted and should not pass in its current form.

  • I read somewhere the other day that the result of the $48m Heydon RC netted one prosecution. Interesting to wake up this morning to the news that Australia's 4 big accountancy firms have masterminded a $50 billion yearly tax evasion scheme for Australia's big business which would include our building and construction companies. Nobody could support illegal or militant action that causes injury to others and everybody should support the use of Australian made. A 2015 Senate committee report also identified significant problems of non payment faced by Australia’s 350,000 industry small businesses It identified serious imbalances of power, harsh, oppressive, unconscionable commercial, unlawful and criminal conduct, intimidation and a culture of sharp business practices. The non payment amounts caused by pre packaged insolvency, phoenix trading, unfair contracts and wrongful withholding to industry small business are staggering. We should be demanding this state of affairs that allows large construction companies to incorporate cheap and dangerous materials, rort industry small business and consumers be brought to account and prosecuted. Will the ABCC do that?