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Australian Building and Construction Commissioner.



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Mon, 4th August 2008 JULIE BISHOP FAIRFAX BLOG - AUSTRALIAN BUILDING AND CONSTRUCTION COMMISSIONER

The Hon Julie Bishop MP Deputy Leader of the Opposition Shadow Minister for Employment, Business and Workplace Relations

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No government in its right mind would wind back a major economic reform that has delivered improved living standards, lowered building costs and placed downward pressure on inflation.

However, the Rudd Government is proposing to do precisely that with its abolition of the Australian Building and Construction Commissioner (ABCC).

While most Australians have probably never heard of the ABCC and the National Building Code that underpins its work, it is no exaggeration to say it has transformed the building sector in this country.

Recent economic analysis of the impact of the ABCC estimates that it has resulted in a staggering 1.5% boost to Gross Domestic Product.

It is estimated that inflation (CPI) would by 1.2% higher if not for its operations and the price of dwellings is estimated to be 2.5% lower.

The research also found that living standards have improved from an annual economic gain to the nation of $5.1 billion from efficiency gains in the building industry.

The establishment of the ABCC followed a recommendation of the Cole Royal Commission into the building and construction industry, which commenced in August 2001 and reported in February 2003.

The report can still be found at the Royal Commission website and makes a compelling case for reform.

It found there was widespread lawlessness and corruption in the industry, and that threatening and intimidatory behaviour was commonplace.

The ABCC was set up to ensure that workplace relations in the industry are lawful, and to educate industry participants about the law.

This is designed to create an environment for improved productivity, which leads to reduced building costs and cheaper housing, for example.

Research indicates there has been a boost to industry productivity of at least 10%, compared to the pre-ABCC era.

With such a strong track record of success, it is almost beyond belief that the ABCC's existence would be threatened, particularly at a time when the Australian economy is heading into rough waters.

However, the Rudd Government has committed to the abolition of the ABCC in early 2010, and has only made vague promises about transferring some of its powers to a new division within a super-bureaucracy.

This will rob the ABCC of the independence that the Cole Royal Commission deemed vital in bringing the rule of law to the building and construction industry.

The ABCC has come under sustained attack from building and construction unions for several months.

These unions have also been lobbying Labor Members of Parliament and Senators with the aim of abolishing the ABCC immediately.

During recent Senate hearings, the Commissioner came under sustained attack from Labor Senators.

The obvious question is why are the unions and Labor parliamentarians so hostile to the work of the ABCC?

The answer lies in the fact that it prevents such unlawful behaviour as compulsory unionism (no ticket no start) and unlawful deals between unions and management that undermine competition and efficiency.

While the building industry has been transformed to the benefit of the broader Australian community, Labor is caving into union self interest which will ultimately lead to higher inflation, higher building costs and a return to higher levels of industrial disputation.