Politics

Australian Building and Construction Commission boss keeps $450,000 salary while construction watchdog in limbo

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The ABCC was blindsided by Burke’s Sunday morning television announcement to strip it of a raft of powers, leaving the building industry scrambling to understand the consequences of the decision after receiving no warning.

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A spokesperson for the commission said the commissioner, Stephen McBurney, was still trying to understand what his role would now entail following the decision.

“The ABCC Commissioner remains in his job for the time being. Like most of the staff of the ABCC, he has been given no assurances about his position or his future,” the spokesperson said.

A spokesperson for Burke said McBurney – who earns $455,590 in his role – still retained other powers under the Act the agency was created under, such as prosecuting unlawful industrial action, until the act could be repealed.

“That’s why the Albanese Labor government is committed to legislating the abolition of the ABCC by the end of the year,” the spokesperson said.

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The Fair Work Ombudsman will be policing worksites and handling the dozens of outstanding prosecutions, 36 of which are against the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Unio (CFMMEU) n, but the government confirmed that will not be done until the ABCC is abolished.

Industry body the Australian Construction Association is concerned the Ombudsman isn’t appropriately resourced and will not be as inclined to prosecute breaches as the ABCC.

Burke’s spokesperson said the government was considering the staffing and funding required to enable the Fair Work Ombudsman to regulate the building and construction industry effectively.

The Coalition’s industrial relations spokeswoman Michaelia Cash on Monday defended a Federal Court ruling banning the Eureka flag on worksites, a key reason the government wants to scrap the ABCC, which was involved in the case.

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“We will no longer be spending taxpayers’ money determining what sticker someone’s allowed to put on their helmet, whether or not a safety sign has to be pulled down because it’s got a union logo in the bottom corner, or what flag might be flying at a building site,” Burke said on the ABC on Sunday.

Cash said the flag had long been held as a symbol of being a “closed shop” to non-unionised workers on building sites.

CFMMEU construction secretary Dave Noonan questioned whether Cash had ever been to Ballarat, where the Eureka rebellion, an integral part of Australian history, was staged. “Senator Cash’s comments are weird and delusional,” he said.

Electrical Trades Union national secretary Michael Wright said the loss of the restrictions around bargaining in the code meant workers in upcoming enterprise negotiations would look for greater clauses promoting greater security, as well as apprentice and gender ratios.

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