By political reporter Matthew Doran
It is the legislation that could potentially send the nation to the polls on July 2. But what are the Turnbull Government’s proposed industrial relations all about?
There are two key pieces of legislation the Senate needs to pass to bring back the ABCC.
The ABCC bill’s stated aims are:
“… to provide an improved workplace relations framework for building work to ensure that building work is carried out fairly, efficiently and productively for the benefit of all building industry participants and for the benefit of the Australian economy as a whole.”
The Registered Organisations bill would impose the same disclosure and transparency obligations on union officials as company directors.
The ABCC came into being after the Royal Commission into the Building and Construction Industry, commonly known as the Cole Royal Commission.
Among the 212 recommendations handed down in 2003 was the establishment of the ABCC to combat what was characterised as an industry experiencing lawlessness.
The ABCC was established in October 2005, and survived until the Gillard Labor government passed legislation in February 2012 to abolish the construction watchdog.
In February 2014 the Abbott government introduced a bill to the Senate to bring back the ABCC. The bill was blocked in August 2015, defeated by just one vote.
In March 2016, the legislation was reintroduced following the findings from the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption.
The Registered Organisations legislation was also blocked in the Senate by just one vote in August 2015.
For and against
The Coalition is pushing the legislation as a key plank of its policy to crack down on corruption in the building and construction sector.
Employment Minister Michaelia Cash says the Government will negotiate in good faith with the crossbench, but will not “tolerate amendments just for amendments’ sake”.
“The building and construction industry is the third-largest employer in Australia. The sector employs in excess of 1 million Australians through the thousands of small businesses. So when you’re talking about growing Australia, increasing productivity, but at the end of the day creating more jobs for Australians, you cannot have a sector that for decades now has shown it wilfully and quite deliberately does not comply with workplace law. We are here to clean up the sector.”
— Employment Minister Michaelia Cash
Labor is vehemently opposed, because it believes the ABCC would have excessive powers.
“It denies people’s rights of representation. You could be compelled to give testimony without legal representation, you may not be able to disclose the information you’ve provided to your family or a lawyer. We think it’s excessive given that the ABCC only works in the civil jurisdiction. It’s not dealing with serious and organised crime, it’s not dealing with terrorist offences, so these type of police state powers are never used or very rarely used in this area of law, and it’s for that reason Labor for more than a decade have opposed this type of approach.”
— Labor’s employment spokesman Brendan O’Connor
The Greens also do not support the ABCC or the Registered Organisations legislation.