The Coalition’s union-busting building watchdog was a disaster for productivity

by Bernard Keane
The whole purpose of the Australian Building and Construction Commission was to lift productivity in the construction sector. It's been a spectacular failure.

The whole purpose of the Australian Building and Construction Commission was to lift productivity in the construction sector. It’s been a spectacular failure.

(Image: Mitchell Squire/Private Media)
(Image: Mitchell Squire/Private Media)

While property industry and employer groups are warning that Labor’s promise to abolish the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) will lead to disaster in the building industry and militant unions running amok, the ABCC has been one of the least successful regulators in Australian history since it was restored in 2016.

According to the Coalition and property and construction groups, the ABCC was all about productivity. Under the original, Howard-era ABCC, it claimed productivity in the building industry improved. This was completely false — the biggest surge in construction industry productivity occurred after Labor gutted the ABCC the first time around. But the Coalition insisted that restoring the ABCC would lead to an improvement in productivity again. In fact the very name of the bill re-establishing the ABCC was the “Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Bill”.

The ABCC “is a vital economic reform that is needed to boost productivity in the construction sector”, the Property Council said when it was re-established. “The return of the ABCC will bring a material boost to productivity and do so very quickly.” And Coalition ministers parrotted the same lines when the bill was being passed after the 2016 election. The ABCC was “a fundamentally important reform … most particularly so that we can return productivity to a sector that is so tremendously important”, said one minister during a Senate debate. It continues now. The Australian is today thundering that dumping the ABCC will “sap productivity”.

Read more about the ABCC and productivity in Australia.

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