Xenophon backdown paves way for ABCC victory

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Xenophon backdown paves way for ABCC victory

The Senate has this morning passed legislation to re-establish the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Bill 2013.

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Controversial building/union/workplace regulator the Australian Building Commission will make a dramatic return to Australian industrial relations after the Building And Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Bill 2013 passed through the Senate this morning.

It appears the bill was able to pass owing to Senator Nick Xenophon dropping demands over Murray Darling Basin water plans. 

Senator Xenophon had threatened to block the passage of the bill through the Senate unless the government did a deal over Murray-Darling water. 

However, he made a big splash in parliament last night by dropping those demands, thereby enabling the bill to flow through the Senate.

A controversial and political bill, this was one of the two bills that provided the ‘trigger’ for the recent double dissolution election held in July this year. 

According to the Federal Parliament summary of this bill, it re-establishes the Australian Building and Construction Commissioner (ABC Commissioner) and the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

It also prohibits certain industrial action – coercion, discrimination and unenforceable agreements.

It empowers the Building Commissioner with powers to obtain information under oath. That introduces the possibility of prosecutions for perjury if the information supplied is not true and the bill itself introduces offences for failure to comply, attend or produce documents in the manner stated.

It also provides for orders for contraventions of civil remedy provisions and other investigation and enforcement powers. It makes a variety of amendments in respect of self-incrimination; protection of liability against officials; admissible records and documents, protection and disclosure of information; powers of the Commissioner among other things. 

'Compelling' evidence of need for reform


Christopher Pyne MP (Liberal for Sturt), Minister for Education and leader of the House, said in the bill’s second reading speech that it was necessary to eradicate a culture of lawlessness. 

“The final report of [the] royal commission provided compelling evidence of the need for reform in this industry. It found consistent evidence that building sites and construction projects in Australia were hotbeds of intimidation, lawlessness, thuggery and violence. Projects were delayed, costs blew out and investment in our economy and infrastructure was being jeopardised.”

However, Brendan O’Connor (Labor; Gorton), the shadow minister for employment and workplace relations, argued that the allegations of lawlessness were “overstated” and that the true purpose of the bill was to erode workers’ rights.

“The sort of language being used by the government is inflated, all to the one point and that is to dismantle the ability for workers to negotiate collective bargain agreements and to deny workers’ rights in an industry and I think that’s unacceptable to Labor,” he said on national TV. 

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