Coalition would reinstate Building and Construction Commission

In an effort to allay voter fears of a return to WorkChoices, the Coalition last week released an industrial relations policy (Coalition Policy) that proposes to leave Labor’s Fair Work system largely unchanged, save for the reinstatement of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).

The ABCC was created by the Howard Government in 2005 following the Cole Royal Commission, which identified – amongst other inappropriate conduct – widespread intimidation in the Australian building and construction industry. It was an independent statutory body responsible for the education of industry participants, as well as the investigation and prosecution of contraventions of federal workplace laws. (1)

In June 2012 Julia Gillard’s Labor Government replaced it with the Fair Work Building Industry Inspectorate through the enactment of the Fair Work (Building Industry) Act 2012. However, the Coalition Policy says it would reverse this step should the Tony Abbott-led team be successful in the September election.

A clear rationale is given based on the ABCC’s past performance, including the achievement of the following significant improvements in the building and construction industry:

  • An Annual Economic Welfare Gain of $5.9 billion (2)
  • Industry labour productivity of 9.4 per cent (3)
  • Decrease in days lost through industrial action (4)

The nature of the ABCC’s powers is discussed in the Coalition Policy, with mention of establishing appropriate and effective safeguards to ensure due process and transparency. This includes a requirement that the compulsory interview processes be videotaped.

Oversight of the ABCC by the Commonwealth Ombudsman, introduced by Labor, will continue unchanged.

To ensure consistency, the Coalition Policy states it will work with State Governments to develop a national Code and Guidelines which will then regulate government procurement on a holistic basis across the building and construction industry.

On a practical level, no immediate action needs to be taken by corporate participants in the building and construction industry. However, it can be expected that, should a Coalition election victory eventuate, a reinstated ABCC would pro-actively use its powers to ensure compliance with Federal workplace laws.

(1) Initially the Workplace Relations Act (Cth) 1996 and the Building  and  Construction  Industry  Improvement  Act (Cth) 2005.
(2) KPMG Econtech Report “Economic Analysis of the Building and Construction Industry Productivity 2010”, 26 July 2010, page 5. Note: based on 2009-2010 terms.
(3) Ibid, page 23.
(4) Ibid, page 20.

For more information, please contact:
Ben Duggan

Ben Duggan
p.  +61 8 8124 1881
e.  Email me

This communication provides general information which is current as at the time of production. The information contained in this communication does not constitute advice and should not be relied upon as such. Professional advice should be sought prior to any action being taken in reliance on any of the information. Should you wish to discuss any matter raised in this article, or what it means for you, your business or your clients' businesses, please feel free to contact us.

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