News National Government notches victory in passing of ABCC bill

Government notches victory in passing of ABCC bill

Malcolm turnbull ABCC
The bill is the second of the two pieces of legislation used to trigger the double dissolution election. Photo: Getty
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The federal government has hailed the reinstatement of the building industry watchdog as a win for jobs and major projects such as roads and schools.

Laws to reinstate the Australian Building and Construction Commission passed the upper house just after 10.30am (AEDT) on Wednesday.

Malcolm Turnbull said it was a vital reform.

“This is a great day for Australian families – this is not union busting, this is economy boosting,” Mr Turnbull told reporters.

Labor said the final version of the bill – which overturns a Gillard government move to axe the commission in 2012 – was a “mere shadow” of its original.

“A number of dirty deals by the government has seen it water down the ABCC so much that it begs the question how it is different to the current building regulator?” Labor workplace spokesman Brendan O’Connor said.

In order to get the bill through, the government added extra oversight for the commission’s coercive powers, a requirement for building work to be offered to locals, security of payments for subcontractors, judicial review and a review of the operation of the laws within a year.

The bill is the second double dissolution election trigger to pass parliament, following the passage of the Registered Organisations Commission laws to tackle union misconduct last week.

The ABCC was first set up by the Howard government in 2005 to restore the rule of law on construction sites, and axed by the Rudd Labor government, which argued it was a star chamber that denied essential legal rights to union members.

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash said she expected royal assent to the bill on Thursday, followed by “cultural change” across the construction sector.

The government won the support of One Nation, the Nick Xenophon Team, Derryn Hinch and David Leyonhjelm, while Jacqui Lambie voted with the Greens and Labor.

Senator Xenophon defended his actions, talking up his achievement of securing the “biggest changes in procurement laws”.

“What we have come up with is a stunning win for Australian jobs and Australian industry,” he told reporters.

“No less than Senator Kim Carr, the former industry minister … was practically gobsmacked at these changes.”

Former workplace minister Eric Abetz, who failed to get the bill through during his time, said it would be welcomed by “hundreds of thousands of Australians who want to work in a safe and fair industry free of criminality and corruption”.

Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell said the security of payments amendment was important.

“For a small business, gaining access to a building site doesn’t mean anything unless you get paid at the end of the day,” she said in a statement.

“The reality is, many small businesses in the building sector have been stung by rogue head contractors who either don’t pay their subbies on time, or worse still, the lead contractor goes bust and simply doesn’t pay their subbies at all.”

CFMEU national construction secretary Dave Noonan condemned the legislation and the crossbenchers who bargained over pet issues for it.

“Every issue got traded around this bill except for the civil rights and the industrial rights of over a million Australian workers in the construction industry,” he told reporters in Canberra.

“The result is we’ve got a bill that looks like a pig’s breakfast.”

He also took aim at the prime minister’s promises the commission’s re-establishment would help housing affordability.

“The outlandish promises that Prime Minister Turnbull made that this is going to make houses cheaper and buildings cheaper are going to be revealed as being outright lies,” Mr Noonan said.


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