Abbott reveals details of construction taskforce

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Abbott reveals details of construction taskforce

Federal Workplace Relations Minister Tony Abbott today announced that the $6.5 million interim taskforce to investigate and police breaches of federal law in the building and construction industry would operate on a 'zero tolerance' policy.

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Federal Workplace Relations Minister Tony Abbott today announced that the $6.5 million interim taskforce to investigate and police breaches of federal law in the building and construction industry would operate on a 'zero tolerance' policy.

And he warned that while the taskforce was only an interim one, running from 1 October to 30 June next year, 'no-one should assume the Government will relax its vigilance sometime next year'.

Abbott told Parliament last month he would set up the taskforce after Justice Terence Cole flagged that his final report, due on 6 December, would call for the establishment of a national body to investigate and prosecute illegalities which existing law enforcement agencies lacked the expertise or resources to tackle.

Today Abbott announced the interim taskforce would have its headquarters in Melbourne and offices in Sydney and Perth. No head has yet been appointed, although an appointment is expected within a few weeks. Overall there will be 25 staff, who will work with officers from other agencies including the Australian Federal Police, Australian Taxation Office and Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

In a statement to Parliament late this afternoon, Abbott said taskforce officers would have the powers of inspectors under the federal Workplace Relations Act to enter premises, inspect documents and interview persons of interest.

The interim taskforce and related agencies would investigate and refer for possible prosecution or other proceedings 'breaches of federal industrial, criminal and civil laws committed by any person or organisation engaged in the industry', he said, as well as referring breaches of state laws to the appropriate state agencies.

'My objective is zero tolerance of unlawful practices in this industry,' he said. 'Everyone in the industry is entitled to protection against victimisation, damage to property and threats to personal safety, and everyone should work to achieve this lest he or she be the next victim.'

Abbott said he wanted to make it clear the taskforce would investigate and refer 'anyone, union official, contractor or subcontractor' in an attempt to stop unlawful practices, 'particularly intimidation and coercion designed to secure a closed shop'.

He spoke of the evidence presented to the Royal Commission over the past nine months outlining intimidation and threats in workplace negotiations, and 'a business culture under which irregular, unethical and illegal payments are frequently made to secure a fleeting industrial peace'.

'Powerful figures in the industry exploit the law when it suits them and otherwise ignore it,' he said. 'Hundreds of people and dozens of organisations have taken heavy risks to testify to the Cole Commission. The Commissioner is also concerned that a temporary reduction in scrutiny could see a new outbreak of illegal practices associated with the current round of enterprise bargaining.'

 

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