Government Bill abolishing ABCC and establishing new
watchdog goes through Parliament
The House of Representatives on 16 February 2012 passed the
Government introduced bill abolishing the existing building
industry watchdog – the Australian Building and
Construction Commissioner (ABCC) and replaced it with the new
watchdog – the Fair Work Building Industry
The Building and Construction Industry Improvement
Amendment (Transition to Fair Work) Bill
2011 makes the following amendments to the existing
removes the higher penalties and broader prohibitions for
construction industry participants
the new watchdog will be prohibited from intervening in settled
or discontinued proceedings
the new watchdog will be prohibited from instituting
proceedings or continuing proceedings in settled or discontinued
the new watchdog is likely to retain the same coercive powers
requiring witnesses to answer questions or produce documents,
however a number of safeguards and oversight mechanisms have been
Many in the industry will lament this move, given the ABCC's
proven track record in prosecuting unions, particularly when
undertaking unlawful action in breach of relevant industrial
relations legislation. The ABCC's 2010-11 annual report
outlined that it had commenced 22 penalty proceedings and nine
interventions for the year, which resulted in more than A$2.5
million in penalties. Rather than decreasing (a sign that perhaps a
watchdog was now unnecessary), the prosecutions have increased over
the past two years. There is no evidence in the detail of these
cases that would suggest that the ABCC has been successful in
reducing the incidence of lawlessness throughout the industry.
More recently, the ABCC has been criticised both by the Court
and others for its legal tactics and perceived lack of
responsiveness to urgent matters. In particular, tactics such as
intervening in cases, which had been discontinued or settled by the
parties, to seek penalties as in the Woodside Pluto proceedings and
the controversy of a "loss" of evidence relating to
alleged criminal acts by Victorian union officials have perhaps not
helped the regulator's fate.
The ABCC and powers given to the watchdog have always been
opposed by the unions but many in the industry have claimed the
watchdog improved productivity and reduced lawlessness on
Only time will tell whether the new body will be effective in
enforcing compliance and undertakings prosecutions with the same
frequency as the ABCC.
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