Proposed legislation aimed at re-establishing the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) and placing tougher governance obligations on unions will be the subject of a recalled session of Parliament. If the Senate fails to pass the legislation at the recalled session, the double dissolution card may be played sending us off to the polls on 2 July. So, what’s it actually about?
Set to the backdrop of the Royal Commission into trade unions, coupled with the 2012 abolition of the ABCC by the Gillard government, the ABCC bill aims to reestablish the ABCC (which first came about as a recommendation of an earlier Royal Commission into the building industry) and “ensure that building work is carried out fairly, efficiently and productively for the benefit of all building industry participants”.
The Libs claim the bills seek to “clean up” the building and construction industry which they say has shown wilful and deliberate non-compliance with workplace law. They argue that’s a problem when the sector is the third largest employer in Australia employing over 1 million Australians.
Labor is less impressed with the proposed legislation, saying it denies workers’ rights of representation and confers unnecessarily grand powers on the ABCC. The Greens and some independent Senators think an anti-corruption watchdog should be broad-based and not simply focused on a blue collar industry.
The ABCC would replace the current Office of the Fair Work Building Industry Inspectorate. To combat what the Libs are calling the drop in standards under that Inspectorate, the ABCC would be armed with very broad coercive powers and the newly created ABCC Commissioner would issue a Building Code.
A second new proposed law, the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2014 [No. 2], which has twice been rejected by the Senate, imposes the same disclosure and transparency obligations on union officials as those on company directors. It also seeks to establish the Registered Organisations Commission which will be armed with broad (too broad if you ask half of Parliament) powers to investigate unions.
The Libs have their work cut out convincing the cross-bench to get on board. If they don’t, then the people will get a chance to have their say. Or will Ricky Muir et al decide that a yes vote is their meal ticket to serve out the balance of their term, unimpeded by the recent reform of Senate voting laws.
Just another day in Parliament. Stay tuned.