Malcolm Turnbull looks set to receive a building industry watchdog for Christmas but the Senate is determined to make him wait a little longer for his gift.
The election-triggering ABCC legislation is closer to finally passing the upper house after the government agreed to a string of demands from the Senate crossbench on Tuesday night – including a new set of commonwealth procurement rules.
The new rules, tabled in parliament by Finance Minister Mathias Cormann and due to come into effect on March 1, will require commonwealth officials to consider the economic benefit to Australia of any procurement above $4 million.
Senator Cormann said while free trade agreements required Australia not engage in prejudicial decision making, they did not preclude it from appropriately gathering information and looking at the economic effects of a procurement.
The new rules also require entities make reasonable inquiries to ensure goods and services comply with Australian or international standards.
Officials must also consider the tenderers’ practices around environment and ethical employment practices, like child labour.
The instrument is not disallowable – meaning it can’t be overturned by the Senate.
“This is a big deal,” crossbench senator Nick Xenophon told parliament.
“This is a significant, massive change to procurement rules in this country.”
Murray River compromise
Senator Xenophon had threatened to hold up legislation until the Government found an extra 450 gigalitres of water to restore the health of the Murray River, but a compromise was reached on Tuesday.
His backing away from demands over the Murray–Darling Basin plan pave the way for a vote on the ABCC bill.
NSW Senator David Leyonhjelm fights Nick Xenophon on ‘absurd Murray River ransom’ https://t.co/prGFy9EDlm
— David Leyonhjelm (@DavidLeyonhjelm) November 29, 2016
In return, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull wrote to South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill outlining a plan to strengthen scrutiny of the plan.
“I propose that we make the progress of the Murray-Darling Basin plan a standing item at every COAG meeting so that first ministers are regularly monitoring and comparing progress of the plan,” the Prime Minister said.
“The Government will also establish a special estimates process to be held twice yearly in addition to the usual portfolio hearing, enabling Senate scrutiny of all the relevant agencies to review the progress of the plan.”
In a statement, Senator Xenophon said the letter outlined “a much better process” to ensure the implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin plan.
He said the chances of the ABCC legislation now passing were “better than 50–50”.
But Labor has accused him of selling out by agreeing to a deal that won’t add one extra drop to the river.
‘He’s gone for a deal that gives him an excuse to vote for the government’s legislation,’ South Australian opposition frontbencher Penny Wong said.
‘We’ve got more talk rather than more water.’
She believes that as a result of the deal the ABCC bill will now pass Wednesday.
One Nation support
Labor and the Greens oppose the re-establishment of the ABCC, but managed a win when they got the support of One Nation to amend the legislation to ensure employers try to fill building jobs with Australian workers.
— CFMEUWA (@CFMEUWA) November 29, 2016
The government needs the support of eight crossbenchers to pass the legislation.
David Leyonhjelm and three One Nation senators have already pledged support and the government agreed to a string of amendments during yet another late night debate on the controversial legislation in a bid to secure the support of Senators Rod Culleton, Derryn Hinch and the three Xenophon senators.
— CFMEUWA (@CFMEUWA) November 28, 2016
The amendments establish a working group to monitor the impact the ABCC has on security of payments, and make decisions of the ABCC subject to judicial review.
Greens senator Nick McKim signalled a fight to the bitter end.
“Make no mistake, it’s not going to pass tonight,” he told the chamber before the Senate adjourned at midnight.
“We will have two sitting days left, the government will get more and more panicked.”
The Senate will return at 9.30am.
Greens colleague Rachel Siewert predicted the ABCC would be overturned again, like the Howard government’s Workchoices.
– with ABC