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Constructing Fear: Who is the ABCC?

Background on the ABCC

  • In August 2001, the Cole Royal Commission was established to enquire into and report on any unlawful or inappropriate conduct in the building and construction industry.
  • The Final Report of the Cole Royal Commission was tabled in Parliament in March 2003. Cole found that the industry was characterised by a widespread disregard for the law and that existing regulatory bodies had insufficient powers and resources to enforce the law. The union movement was unhappy with the process and the findings and felt that the Commission was an attempt by the Howard Government to eradicate their ability to effectively represent their members and set wages and conditions.
  • In response to the Cole Royal Commission’s preliminary findings, the Building Industry Taskforce was established in October 2002, before the full Report was tabled. The Taskforce operated until the establishment of the Office of the Australian Building and Construction Commissioner (ABCC) on 1 October 2005.
  • The Australian Building and Construction Commission can use extensive powers that a normal regulatory body does not have
  • Those that appear before the Commission have no right to silence and may be compelled to answer questions (section 52 BCIIA modeled on section 155 Trade Practices Act). In effect this means that a witness must reveal information that can implicate themselves or another person in a crime.
  • It can prosecute for fines of up $28,600 against individuals and $110,000 against organisations. It can also sue for unlimited damages relating to industrial action.
  • It can gag those that appear before it so that they cannot speak about what occurred in an interview (section 52)
  • Anyone who refuses to cooperate fully with a commission interview faces six months jail. (section 52)
  • A majority of the cases that come before the ABCC are to prosecute unions or workers who may have acted unlawfully or with inappropriate conduct. ABC Commissioner John Lloyd said, in an interview with Radio National’s Peter Mares in June 2007, not all of their cases prosecute workers or unions, “In the 61 cases we have taken to court 27 of those involve employer parties…. We have prosecuted employers for, for example, agreeing to strike pay. “
  • The vast majority of cases involving employers are to prosecute perceived links with the unions

The National Interest home page:

Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act 2005: Download