Winding Back of the ABCC

Winding Back of the ABCC

5 minute read

What the body’s reduced powers mean for the industry

While you may not have direct experience with it, the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) has played a large role in the industry in recent years.

As the Federal Government makes moves to scale back its watchdog powers with the goal of abolishing it entirely, this change could have a potential effect on larger building businesses nation-wide.

Even as a small to medium builder, it’s a good idea to stay across these changes and know how fair and lawful work on larger construction projects will be affected.

What is the ABCC?

The Australian Building and Construction Commission was established in 2005 as a watchdog for the industry. Its purpose since has been to combat what has been characterised as “an industry experiencing lawlessness”.

Under the Gillard Labor Federal Government in 2012, legislation was passed to abolish the construction watchdog and replace it with the Fair Work Building & Construction body.

The Coalition lobbied to re-establish the ABCC in opposition and completed this under the Turnbull government in 2016, arguing that a stricter eye and harsher penalties would tackle illegal behaviour on construction sites more effectively.

Why is it being abolished?

Construction unions have long argued that the ABCC has been unfairly biased in its pursuit, and are currently defending dozens of prosecutions launched against them by the body.

In a statement about the move, Secretary Sally McManus cited the ABCC’s building codes as a primary example of its unreasonable bias, describing them as both “onerous and nonsensical”.

Unions have been quick to applaud the Federal Government’s action in removing and replacing the ABCC with a body that they would consider easier to work with, with less restrictive oversight.

What will happen now?

While the ABCC will be abolished, the need for oversight in construction to help ensure a fair and lawful industry is still important.

Rather than replacing it with another body, the ABCC’s centralised powers will instead largely be returned to the Fair Work Ombudsman, as well as to health and safety regulators.

The powers described as unreasonably restrictive and “ridiculous” by some (many of which leading to what are seen as unnecessary prosecutions) will be scrapped altogether.

How will this affect you?

If you work in a small- to medium-sized construction business, it’s probable that the abolishment won’t affect you.

Although some predict economic repercussions from the ABCC’s removal and replacement, as with any policy at this scale, these are more likely to impact national-scale projects.

Nevertheless, this represents another major change for the Australian construction industry, and one worth watching as the policy is carried out over the next few years.

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