Malcolm Turnbull has decided that, with the “widespread lawlessness and thuggery” exposed by the Heydon Royal Commission, the government cannot function unless we create a body that strips away the rights of people working in the construction industry.
Except the legislation was introduced in November 2013 well before the Royal Commission was convened and seems to be remarkably prescient about what Heydon’s findings would be.
The explanatory memorandum of the legislation states “The Royal Commission established that building sites and construction projects were hotbeds of intimidation, lawlessness, thuggery and violence,” except they are talking about the 2003 Cole Royal Commission whose findings were uncannily similar to Heydon’s findings, and whose referrals led to NO prosecutions.
The ABCC would see construction industry workers treated in the same way we treat terrorists, taking away the right to silence, the right to legal representation, the right against self-incrimination, the right to tell someone you’ve been interrogated against your will by overreaching bureaucrats.
The memorandum concludes with the statement:
The Bill is compatible with human rights because to the extent that it may limit human rights, those limitations are reasonable, necessary and proportionate.
Eric Abetz, Minister for Employment
Jacqui Lambie was one of the select few politicians who were able to see the chapter of Heydon’s findings that was too explosive and potentially dangerous to be made public. On Q&A last night she said there was nothing in there that wasn’t happening in a whole heap of places – she found it no big deal and considered the hype a con.
The other spin being offered is that the ABCC is crucial for economic growth and led to a 20% increase in productivity. When Leigh Sales quoted the Productivity Commission’s 2014 assessment that the ABCC had no effect on productivity, Malcolm Turnbull said there were reports from private consulting firms showing otherwise. These claims come from a report commissioned by the Howard government and produced by Econtech which has been totally discredited.
The following is the conclusion from a paper written by authors from the Department of Employment Relations, Griffith University and the Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation, Queensland State Government, about the Econtech report into the ABCC.
“The exercise by an Australian state agency of coercive powers against construction industry workers has been justified by reference to claimed gains in productivity and hence national welfare. We have examined the data behind the productivity claims and found that they were erroneous, probably due to incorrect transcription, and that the source data indicated no relative productivity gains. The boost to GDP, savings to the CPI and national welfare gains in each of the Econtech reports, estimated as they were ‘from the recent closing of the cost gap between commercial building and domestic housing’, had no basis as there was no ‘closing of the cost gap’. Despite being made aware of this, the ABCC and its consultant, Econtech, stuck to the original claims about the size of productivity and welfare gains from the use of coercive powers. The errors (‘anomalies’) in the 2007 report might be dismissed as an ‘honest mistake’, but can the later insistence on not revising findings be so easily dismissed? Claimed productivity gains from the use of coercive powers are also not discernible in official ABS or Productivity Commission data. The critiques of Toner (2003) and Mitchell (2007) stand. The literature suggests that the unionised building and construction industry would benefit from more cooperative union-management relations. The role of the ABCC has been to penalise cooperative relations, and so it might come as no surprise that previous policy makers’ productivity expectations have not been met. However, there is some evidence that there has been a shift of income shares in the industry from labour to capital, with coercive powers reducing strikes and labour’s bargaining power.
We also draw attention to weaknesses in public debate over these issues. Little critical thought was given in the media to the Econtech reports on the building and construction industry, even though its similarly timed report on industrial relations reform policies was received with considerable scepticism. While some union officials in the industry have clearly harmed their own cause, the responsibility also lies with the media, with commentators and with policy makers to examine the evidence put before them and assess it on its merits. Attaching numbers to something does not make it true. The Econtech experience should be illustrative of a wider lesson for the media and commentators: to treat with extreme scepticism commissioned ‘modelling’ or like reports prepared by commercial consultancy firms for interest groups, especially when the findings advance that group’s political interests. There is good reason for the adage, ‘he who pays the piper, calls the tune’.
This close analysis of the data relied upon by the ABCC also raises serious questions about the nature of regulation in the building and construction industry. The alleged economic benefits have been used to justify the denial of basic rights to employees in the industry, rights which everybody else is, at least at present, entitled to enjoy. In short, there do not appear to be any significant economic benefits that warrant the loss of rights involved in coercive arrangements. A more cooperative, less punitive approach by policy makers to the industry would not only be consistent with better human rights, it might even be consistent with better productivity.”
Malcolm, the crossbenchers, and mainstream journalists, would do well to read that report in full.
The ABCC, whilst having draconian powers, would not be able to prosecute anyone. In the absence of a Federal ICAC, the appropriate body to deal with any corruption and lawlessness is the Australian Crime Commission.
We have been deliberately manipulated to this point from the moment the Abbott government was elected. It is the expected and usual union bashing that conservative governments have no qualms about spending hundreds of millions on whenever they have control of the Treasury.
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