The Australia Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) legislation that sent Malcolm Turnbull to a double dissolution election in July was passed in the Senate today after the government struck a last-minute deal with South Australian senator Nick Xenophon’s 3-member crossbench bloc and agreed to support his call to give Australian companies preference when bidding for $60 billion in taxpayer-funded projects annually.
The restoration of the ABCC follows yet another royal commission into unions by the former Abbott government, with commissioner Dyson Heydon handing down his findings a year ago, finding “widespread and deep-seated” misconduct by union officials.
The original ABBC, set up in 2005 during the Howard era, was abolished by the ALP in 2012 under Julia Gillard.
Attempts by the Coalition to restore it since February 2014 were continually blocked in the Senate, leading Turnbull to call an election that almost prematurely ended his government.
The Senate passed the 2013 industrial relations bill 36-33, with support from One Nation, NXT, Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm and Derryn Hinch.
The Xenophon deal is a major policy reversal for the Turnbull government and means bidders will need to show the level on Australian involvement in their pitches, from locally-made products to jobs and the whole-of-life cost of a project. The new rules start in March 2017.
The passing of the ABCC bill is a major boost for the Turnbull government, which has struggled with its legislative agenda after its narrow election will.
The bill means a construction policeman will now keep an eye on illegal activity in the industry, and introduces tougher penalties for breaches. The ABCC also has increased coercive powers.
The Registered Organisations Bill, the other industrial relations legislation which led to the double dissolution election was passed the Senate last week after a deal was cut on greater protection for whistleblowers.
Business Council of Australia CEO Jennifer Westacott applauded the Senate for backing the ABBC, saying it would restore community confidence in the workplace relations system.
“Four royal commissions over 40 years have provided unassailable evidence that the building and construction industry needs its own regulator. We are pleased the Senate recognised the inadequacy of current arrangements and took action to fix this problem,” she said.
“The ABCC will be empowered to deal with the systemic corruption and unlawful conduct identified in the industry. It will be an impetus for cultural change and ensure workers, unions and employers are all responsible for ensuring their workplaces operate lawfully.”
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