The hotly debated, long-awaited Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) legislation has passed through the Senate by 36 votes to 33. The amended industrial relations legislation was passed after the Coalition secured the support of key crossbench senators, including Nick Xenophon, Pauline Hanson, David Leyonhjelm and Derryn Hinch.
Reports indicate the Government is likely to claim the victory as a symbolic win, as it was the issue that prompted the double dissolution election in July.
The Coalition Government said that the legislation will “restore law and order to Australia’s building and construction industry”.
“The repeated unlawful conduct of militant construction unions and the acquiescence of certain employers has resulted in an industry which is mired by intimidation, bullying and thuggery,” a statement said.
“The restoration of the ABCC means the law will now be enforced, with unlawful action properly investigated, dealt with and penalised.”
According to the Government, key amendments to the legislation include enshrining security of payment provisions for subcontractors, the expansion of health and safety safeguards for construction workers and the introduction of procurements requirements to promote Australian made products.
“The ABCC will help ensure vital infrastructure projects paid for by Australian taxpayers are delivered on time and on budget,” the statement said. “Commonwealth-funded hospitals, schools and roads will no longer be subjected to unlawful industrial action by unions who act with impunity and who treat the law as nothing more than a nuisance.”
Small Business Minister Michael McCormack says the passage of the ABCC was critical for small business.
“Australia’s construction sector has more than 340,000 small businesses and around 97% of the construction sector businesses are small,” he notes.
“But with bullying tactics, intimidation and delays drawn out across the sector, small business suffered with costs of up to a third more. This independent watchdog will and create a balance between the building and construction sector and the unions.”
McCormack adds the reintroduction of the ABCC was an issue in rural and regional Australia.
“Whilst some commentators have chosen to focus on big-city projects and unions, the reality is this matter also affects many smaller subcontractors in rural and regional Australia, which places in jeopardy building, jobs and investment in the bush,” McCormack says.
According to the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Kate Carnell, the passage of the legislation marks a “new era of fairness and productivity in the building sector.
“For too long, many small businesses involved in the construction industry have had their livelihoods undermined by unproductive, inappropriate and heavy handed conduct at the hands of unions, who have used their power to either twist the arm of small business owners into signing unfair industrial arrangements, or worse still force the little guys off the project altogether,” Carnell said.
“The reality is, many small businesses in the building sector have been stung by rogue head contractors who either don’t pay their subcontractors on time, or worse still, the lead contractor goes bust and simply doesn’t pay their subcontractors at all.
“The work by Senator Xenophon regarding security of payments will hopefully help stamp out this practice in the future, so small businesses get paid the money that’s rightfully theirs.”