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Builders go in to bat for industry watchdog

DESPITE the release of the Royal Commission into the Building and Construction Industry’s findings, little is expected to change in the Western Australian construction industry unless the watchdog it recommended is set up.

Builders and the employer groups that represent them believe the $60 million Royal Commission will be a wasted exercise unless an agency is created to police the industry.

The path to having the watchdog set up is not likely to be a smooth one, however.

Another key commission recommendation, the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act, which will govern the operations of the watchdog and is key to several other recommendations, faces an uncertain future in the upper house of Federal Parliament if the Government decides to proceed with it.

It is understood Labor and the minor parties are keen to block several parts of the act.

Mr Cole was impressed by the effect WA’s three-man Building Industry Task Force, which was created by the previous State Government, had on inappropriate practises within the construction industry. However, he felt it was an approach that needed to be under-taken on a national basis.

He recommended the Federal Government set up a watchdog, provisionally named the Australian Building and Construction Commission, with powers that mirror those of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, to investigate all forms of unlawful and inappropriate conduct occurring in the industry.

Mr Cole also recommended that the ABCC have Australian Federal Police and Commonwealth Department of Public Prosecutions officers embedded within it.

Consumer and Employment Protection Minister John Kobelke has said that he does not believe that the ABCC is required.

He said WA’s Building Industry and Special Projects Inspectorate was sufficiently equipped to police the industry in WA.

Builders are not happy with that, however, because the inspectorate has been in action for more than a year yet has only completed one prosecution. However, it is understood it has another prosecution underway.

Meanwhile, the Interim Building Taskforce, set up in November in response to an interim report Mr Cole made last year, is already prosecuting two cases in the eastern States and is soon to launch some prosecutions in WA, including some against em-ployers. None of these prosecutions was referred to the task force by the commission.

There are doubts whether Mr Kobelke and other WA Government ministers are prepared to back the commission’s recommendations because the Federal Government’s position was unclear.

Master Builders Association industrial relations manager Kim Richardson said the mindset within the industry had to change and a watchdog would help.

He said there needed to be a combined State and Federal Government approach to change the culture within the industry.

“It’s costing more to build than it should. No government can stand by and say that the rule of law shouldn’t apply on worksites,” Mr Richardson said.

Construction Contractors Association director Harvey McLeod said he too would welcome the watchdog.

“The task force [ABCC] holds the key to any change in the industry,” he said.

BGC Construction managing director Gerry Forde said the watchdog was vital.

“Unless they put a proper task force in place, nothing will change,” he said.

Cultural change is one of the things many builders have been calling for.

Mr Richardson said Mr Cole had only scratched the surface of the problems facing the construction industry.

“But he lifted the veil to show that this is what happens at the top end of the industry,” he said.

“Most of the commercial sector – about 80 per cent – works pretty well. That’s where the CFMEU isn’t.”

Despite the adverse findings against his organisation, Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union WA secretary Kevin Reynolds has predicted that little will change within the industry.

The commission’s report was tabled in federal Parliament last week and contained 22 volumes and a “sealed section”.

That 23rd volume contains the recommendations for prosecution of 26 incidents of possible criminal offences – 12 are from WA. These recommendations are against 23 union officials and eight employer representatives.

Besides the prosecution recommendations, Royal Commissioner Terence Cole made more than 200 recommendations to clean up the ills he saw within the industry.

While the commission only held seven weeks of hearings in WA, it found that 230 of the 392 unlawful acts it identified occurred in WA.

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