New construction watchdog in doubt after Senate blocks change to ABCC powers

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New construction watchdog in doubt after Senate blocks change to ABCC powers

Labor’s plan to replace the ABCC with a new body under Fair Work Australia is now in doubt following the Senate’s rejection of moves to soften the ABCC’s existing powers.

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Labor’s plan to replace the ABCC with a new body under Fair Work Australia is now in doubt following the Senate’s rejection of moves to soften the ABCC’s existing powers.
 
The Opposition and the two independent Senators combined to block a direction from IR Minister Julia Gillard that the ABCC permit people being interrogated to have legal representation, and that it seek approval before exercising its coercive powers.
 
Checks on coercive powers
 
The new body proposed by the government will have more checks on its coercive powers than the ABCC, and the industry-specific penalties will be reduced to the standard levels.
 
This means maximum penalties will be slashed from $22,000 to $6600 for individuals and from $110,000 to $33,000 for a body corporate. On current voting patterns, such legislation will not pass the Senate.
 
ALP Senator Mark Arbib, who represents Gillard in the Senate, said the blocking of the direction indicates WorkChoices is still ‘alive and well in the hearts of Opposition members’.
 
‘By failing to support the Government’s Direction that would enhance procedural fairness for workers, the Opposition has decided that no rules, safeguards or guidelines should apply in the ABCC’s application of coercive powers,’ Arbib said.
 
Right to a lawyer
 
‘One of the directions that the Liberals voted against today was the right to have a lawyer with you when fronting the ABCC. Clearly, the Liberal Party think that the right to a lawyer is going too far,’ Arbib added.
 
The CFMEU national construction secretary, Dave Noonan, accused the Coalition of ‘breathtaking hypocrisy’ by wanting a right to silence in the ‘ute-gate’ affair, but at the same time denying it for building workers.
 
He said unions rejected any laws that discriminated against workers based on the industry they worked in.
 
Opposition IR spokesman Michael Keenan said the Senate had ‘held Labor to account’ by blocking Gillard’s direction.
 
‘Broken promise’
 
Keenan said the government had explicitly promised to retain the powers of the Australian Building and Construction Commission until February 2010.
 
‘Julia Gillard had broken that promise by sneakily issuing a ministerial directive that neutered the ABCC from August year,’ he said.
 
‘This pre-empted Parliament’s consideration of Labor’s Bill that abolishes the ABCC from February of next year.’
 
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