The building industry watchdog’s powers will be wound back to the “bare legal minimum” within days, as the Albanese government pushes ahead with plans to scrap the regulator entirely. 

Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke on Sunday announced building code regulation changes would come into effect from Tuesday, before he introduces legislation later in 2022 to abolish the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

“As of Tuesday, the ABCC, in its powers, will be pulled back to the bare legal minimum,” he told the ABC. 

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“A lot of what it’s been doing can appropriately be done by another regulator.”

Mr Burke said some of the commission’s “ridiculous rules” under the building code were a waste of taxpayer money.

“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,” he said. 

“Those sorts of issues should never have been something for an official government regulator to be wasting taxpayers’ money on, (and) as of Tuesday those offences are gone altogether.”

Opposition workplace relations spokeswoman Michaelia Cash said a Labor government would always “capitulate to their paymasters at the CFMMEU”.

“We can now expect jobs will be lost, one of the nation’s most militant unions the CFMMEU will run riot, building costs will sky-rocket and large and small businesses will fold,” she said. 

The commission pursued cases which included the banning of the Eureka flag on work sites.

Its powers will go back to the Fair Work Ombudsman and to health and safety regulators.

“The new Interim Building Code only includes elements necessary to meet the current legislative requirements and to retain existing exemptions,” a statement reads.

“It cuts red tape by removing duplication of matters already covered by the Fair Work Act and other Commonwealth, state and territory laws.”

When asked if rules on alcohol and drug testing on building sites would continue, Mr Burke said those rules were “really weird”.

“The threshold for when they apply and when they don’t isn’t based on a safety concern,” he said. 

“It’s based on, one, whether you’re in construction, and two, a formula of the extent of Commonwealth contribution relative to the value of the project, as though somehow that’s a safety principle. 

“These sorts of rules, to make sure that people are fit and ready for work, are just as important on a mining site as they are on a construction site.”

The ACTU said Mr Burke’s decision meant “anti-worker” elements of the building code, put in place by the previous coalition government in 2016, will finally be removed.

“The code was one of the ideological projects of the previous government, who spent nearly a decade attacking unions and suppressing wages,” ACTU Secretary Sally McManus said on Sunday.

“It stopped progress on apprenticeships and skills in the construction industry and did nothing to address safety or wage theft.”

CFMEU spokesman Dave Noonan said the amended code was the “last of a series of anti-union policies enacted by successive Liberal governments”.

“The code as enforced by the ABCC has failed to address the big issues confronting the industry such as workplace fatalities and injuries, wage theft, and the exploitation of visa workers,” he said. 

Electrical Trades Union National Secretary Michael Wright said scrapping the building code was a “no-brainer”. 

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief
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