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The Turnbull Government needs to be careful a reinstated ABCC does not become Australia’s KGB! By Gary Morgan

On February 4, 2016 I sent a note to seven Senators who are members of the ‘Senate Education and Employment Committees’. Attached to the note were details covering the lack of accountability of Fair Work Building and Construction – formerly the ABCC (Australian Building and Construction Commission).
On February 4, 2016 I sent a note to seven Senators who are members of the ‘Senate Education and Employment Committees’. Attached to the note were details covering the lack of accountability of Fair Work Building and Construction – formerly the ABCC (Australian Building and Construction Commission).

As can be seen, if the CFMEU’s October 2009 complaint to the then ABCC (referred to in my note) was lodged with the proposed Turnbull Government’s ABCC, I could have ended up eating ‘porridge’ – pleasing to some - Linkhill Pty. Ltd. was fined $313,500 after overpaying their workers by $253,281! However it’s not acceptable to an Australian public who demand credible and honest prosecutorial agencies and judiciary as pointed out in my presentation to the Senators:

  • FOI information shows Federal Government Fair Work Building and Construction (FWBC) changed evidence to mislead Court

  • Linkhill will continue with criminal prosecution against the Director of the FWBC

  • Linkhill to proceed with criminal charges against former Federal Workplace Relations Ministers Shorten and Abetz who were both responsible for FWBC conduct

  • CFMEU and ETU escape scrutiny following High Court Special Leave application refusal for ‘lack of sufficient public interest’
The Turnbull Government’s proposed ABCC will be a taxpayer funded Federal Government agency, with extraordinary powers, in a political environment in which some politicians are calling for prison sentences for breaches of industrial laws.

Australians are sceptical of the integrity and motivations of their politicians, and the agencies they administer.

A recent national Research Now poll for The Australia Institute shows Australians are concerned about the exercise of power by Federal Government agencies, such as the ABCC. Only 33% of those surveyed in the Research Now poll agreed with Turnbull’s strategy to reinstate the ABCC as proposed.

Opposition to the reinstatement of the ABCC proposed by Turnbull Government is because of the public’s concern with the exercise of powers by such agencies, without proper checks and balances.

Western Australian Senator Zhenya ‘Dio’ Wang, a cross-bencher whose vote may determine whether the Government calls a double dissolution election, said amendments to the proposed ABCC legislation he has been negotiating with the Prime Minister “were designed to balance accountability provisions for unions and workers with corporate and employer accountability” and “to provide checks and balances for the use of [the ABCC’s] coercive powers”.

Wang’s argument is the central issue for Australians and their political representatives need to consider regarding the proposed ABCC legislation.

There is little doubt Australians agree with the need for a watchdog for the building and construction industry.  However the watchdog must be extended to cover all industries and unions, public servants, politicians and the judiciary.

The Research Now poll found that 65% of respondents supported the establishment of a national Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) that could hold Federal Government agencies and public servants to account.  Only 22% of respondents favoured an ICAC agency for the building industry only.

Senator Wang refers to such an agency as an Integrity Commission, but its role would be the same.

Senator Wang is right when he says there is an urgent need for an agency “with powers to scrutinise everyone from blue and white collar workers and employers right up to politicians and party donors, and through to organisations from banks to bureaucracies to political parties”.

A National ICAC, if there is to be one, and there should be, must go further - judges should not be excluded from scrutiny for corruption, unlawful conduct or bias.  It’s extraordinary that anyone can make a complaint against a State Police Force, and it will be properly investigated whether it has merit or not, but today complaints against a Government agency, or a judge are ignored.  For the ABCC to be in a position to exercise coercive powers without any accountability is frightening.
 

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