Malcolm Turnbull’s threat (however empty) to call a double dissolution election over a bill to reinstate the controversial Australian Building and Construction Commission is seriously misguided.

If it does come to that, his government will face a significant backlash for dragging voters to the polls over an issue that is ultimately politically motivated and designed to damage the Labor Party. And if it doesn’t, he risks becoming the boy who cried wolf, just like his predecessor. It’s hardly an effective way to negotiate reform, as Tony Abbott found.

The PM told Coalition MPs this week that a snap election over the bill was a “live option” if the Senate voted the bill down a second time, after it was first (narrowly) defeated in August last year. The lower house passed the bill for the second time this morning, but it faces hurdles in the Senate, where the deciding vote rests with crossbenchers.

As Bernard Keane wrote yesterday, the ABCC bill represents a remarkable assault on basic rights that Australians take for granted, including the right to silence and the right to legal representation. It’s also based on a flawed argument that productivity in the construction sector was higher under the previous ABCC. There is simply no evidence to support that.

Importantly, though, it is also not an issue that concerns a majority of Australians. The attempt to reinstate the ABCC is a cynical move designed to hobble the construction union and damage the Labor Party, and Turnbull should know better than to pretend it is an issue of national concern. Empty threats of a double dissolution election on this bill do the Prime Minister no favours.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey