The powers of the federal construction watchdog will be reduced to a “legal minimum” within days, part of a move by the federal government to get rid of what it describes as “ridiculous” rules.
- Tony Burke said ABCC powers would be restored from Tuesday
- He said the government still plans to scrap the watchdog this year
- The ACTU celebrated the decision, describing the ABCC code as an “ideological project” used to attack unions and suppress wages
Labor went to the last election vowing to abolish the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) altogether, arguing it had been a waste of pursuing legal action against unions.
Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke said the government still intended to introduce legislation to gut the watchdog this year, with the decision to cut its powers by a “down payment on this commitment.
“As of Tuesday, the ABCC in its powers will be reduced to the strict legal minimum,” he told ABC’s Insiders.
“Some of the things the ABCC did, which I think were ridiculous rules, have all gone away.
“We will no longer spend taxpayers’ money determining what sticker someone is allowed to put on their helmet, whether or not a safety panel should be removed because it has a union logo in the bottom corner, or what flag could be flown at a construction site.
The unions have long argued that the ABCC is biased in its suit against them and are currently defending dozens of lawsuits against them brought by the ABCC.
In March, the Federal Court ruled that businesses subject to the Commonwealth building code cannot allow the flag or any union logo to be displayed on construction sites or applied to clothing, property or equipment supplied to workers.
The decision came after the ABCC took compliance action against contractor Lendlease for displaying a Eureka flag attached to a building site in 2019.
In a statement on Sunday, Burke said the ABCC’s record proved it was ‘more concerned with prosecuting and punishing workers than dealing with rampant wage theft and compromised safety standards. “.
Unions were quick to celebrate the move, with Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) secretary Sally McManus saying the ABCC’s building code was onerous and absurd.
“Instead of acting to address important issues such as increasing the number of permanent jobs by ending excessive casualization or fixing our broken bargaining laws so workers can get pay raises, they spent their time undermining workers’ rights.”
The ABCC was created by the former Howard government to fight lawlessness in the construction industry.
It was then shut down by the Gillard Labor government in 2012, before the coalition Abbott government tried unsuccessfully to gain support to pass legislation reviving the ABCC in 2015.
The body was finally restored in 2016, after then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull used the legislation to trigger a double-dissolution election, where all Senate seats are vacant instead of half.
Code presented at the start of Parliament
Burke said an interim building code would come into effect on Tuesday, when the 47th Parliament officially opens.
The new parliament will be very different from the previous one with more diverse parliamentarians and the biggest crossbench in more than a generation campaigning for action on climate change and integrity.
The economy will feature prominently in the fortnight, with Treasurer Jim Chalmers delivering a statement to Parliament on Thursday, reiterating that there are tough times ahead.
While the first legislative item on Labor’s agenda is a new climate change bill to legislate its commitment to cut emissions by 43% by 2030.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the government would present at least 18 bills in its first week in Parliament.
“We don’t want to waste a day,” he told Sky News on Sunday.
“Australia has had a decade of neglect and drift.