DAN TEHAN | Australian Financial Review | August 17, 2015
Today another vote is scheduled in the Senate on the legislation to re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC). Having been defeated once by the Labor Greens coalition, there appears little hope that Bill Shorten’s Labor Party will change its mind about the bill.
This reckless opposition will hurt the construction industry, our economy and Australian jobs. It appears that none of this registers when it comes to Shorten protecting union power. As I have said in the past, hope for change now rests with the Senate’s cross-benchers. Only with their support will we see the benefits that can be delivered by a clean construction industry.
When the ABCC was introduced in 2005, Australians saw GDP rise by 1.5 per cent and consumer costs fall by 1.2 per cent. The construction industry’s productivity increased by 9 per cent in part because of the significant decline in working days lost from 59 per 1000 workers to nine.
Very simply, the ABCC isn’t just a regulatory body put forward by the government to uphold the law of the land. We know that it works. So, too, does the CFMEU and this is why Bill Shorten and the union bosses are fighting tooth and nail to stop it.
There are several reasons they look to debunk the ABCC and its effectiveness.
They argue the ABCC is too powerful if it is granted compliance powers to obtain evidence. Yet this ignores the fact that Labor gave the same powers to its own Fairwork Building Commission, or the fact that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Australian Securities and Investments Commission, Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, Centrelink and Medicare also have these powers.
They also argue the ABCC won’t be powerful enough to resolve the issue of worker safety. Presumably this is because the ABCC might question the motives of union officials shutting down operations to conduct safety inspections with mobile EFTPOS machines, as was seen recently in Queensland
The ultimate argument put by the unions against the ABCC is that matters of corruption or illegal practices can be identified by the union or should be referred directly to police.
Yet consider the example of former CFMEU organiser and ALP figure Fihi Kivalu, who, as a result of the royal commission, has been charged with forcing bribes from construction contractors in the ACT. The CFMEU ended its relationship with Kivalu in November 2014, conveniently in the middle of the royal commission’s hearings and only months before these specific allegations of bribery were revealed in the royal commission.
Did anyone in the CFMEU call out this corruption and report it to police? Even after the revelations in the royal commission, did the CFMEU contact police? Their silence was deafening.
The reality is the construction industry is in trouble. Some construction union leaders and employers consider themselves above the law and simply pass the costs on to consumers or taxpayers.
We now know that construction unions have been pushing financial products on employers for years through mandatory “pattern” EBA’s, where those products provide secret commissions back to the union.
If any other sector employed such schemes, there would rightly be public outcry against the conflict of interest.
Union control of the construction sector means companies that refuse to play ball can be blacklisted and forced into submission or economic ruin.
Boral’s refusal of CFMEU demands to stop supplying concrete to Grocon has resulted in its market share in Victoria dropping from 40 per cent to 9 per cent.
Policing of this industry has fallen to bodies like the ACCC, which is pursuing allegations of price fixing and secondary boycotts by the CFMEU and other unions. Yet ACCC chairman Rod Sims has stressed that he can deal with only a narrow part of the overall problem. An independent regulator with meaningful powers is needed to keep the industry honest and the economy moving.
The ABCC would re-establish what is true in every other part of Australian life: the law is never optional.
Let’s hope the cross-bench senators can see this because Bill Shorten clearly doesn’t want to.