Building crackdown back on the agenda

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Building crackdown back on the agenda

The tough federal building industry bill that was rejected by the Senate in the last federal Parliament will be reintroduced in 2005.

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The tough federal building industry bill that was rejected by the Senate in the last federal Parliament will be reintroduced in 2005.

The Government is committed to reintroducing the proposed laws and establishing the Australian Building and Construction Commission, the federal Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews told the Civil Contractors Federation Annual National Conference in Sydney yesterday.

‘A stand-alone industry regulator was one of the key recommendations of the Cole Royal Commission,’ Andrews said. ‘Only a properly-resourced, independent Commission with the power to gather information and launch legal actions will be able to break the culture of lawlessness and silence that has characterised the commercial building industry.’

Prior failure

The building bill failed to pass the Senate in the last parliament, as the Democrats rejected the need for industry specific legislation and the establishment of an industry specific watchdog.

While the Democrats had agreed with the position of the Cole Royal Commission, they felt a well-funded workplace relations regulator that regulated all industry, not just the building industry, was necessary. (See previous story)

Senate majority opens door

Now that the Government will have a Senate majority from July 2005 it is wasting no time in getting one of its most controversial failed Bills back on the agenda.

Andrews cited support for the building Bill from the Civil Contractors federation. ‘Indeed I note the comments of your CEO, Doug Williams, who observed recently that there are now no impediments to taking a once in a lifetime opportunity to enact the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Bill and the completion of the guidelines to properly empower the Building Industry Taskforce.’

Andrews said separate building industry laws were necessary as the industry was ‘characterised by illegal and improper payments, threats of violence, chronic failure to honour legally binding agreements, contempt for commission and court rulings and has a culture of coercion, harassment and intimidation’.

He claimed that the proposed laws would also help reduce the high costs associated with the commercial building industry – commercial building projects cost 25% more than residential construction - and benefit the economy.

‘Independent analysis by Econtech indicates that if labour productivity in the commercial construction sector matched that in the domestic housing sector, the CPI would be one per cent lower,’ he said. ‘GDP would be one per cent higher and consumers would enjoy $2.3 billion in economic benefits each year.’

More legislative changes

Apart from the building Bill, Andrews also reinforced his response to the Electrolux case (see previous story.)

In mid-November, he will introduce the Workplace Relations Amendment (Agreement validation) Bill that will attempt to clarify confusion arising from the Electrolux decision.

‘This Bill will confirm that those matters relating to employment that were in agreements certified before the Electrolux decision, are valid,’ he said.

He also intends to maintain his involvement in related cases before the commission. ‘I am currently involved in a number of cases before the commission and the courts to uphold the High Court’s views and clarify what certified agreements can contain.’

He also reinforced his commitment to the development of the Independent Contractors Act, the Workplace Relations Amendment (Fair Dismissal Reform) Bill 2004, and the reintroduction of the Termination of Employment Bill.

And he continued to rule out one national IR system. Instead, he said the Government would look for other ways to harmonise industrial relations.

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