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Marshall Govt could go it alone on building industry watchdog

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The Marshall Liberal Government appears open to establishing a state-based Building and Construction Commission, with the building industry advocating for a local response if federal Labor leader Bill Shorten fulfils his pledge to scrap the national watchdog.

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Master Builders SA has raised the matter in recent discussions with the State Government, including with Industry Minister David Pisoni last week.

The industry lobby group confirmed it will meet with Treasurer Rob Lucas next week to push for a proposal “for the establishment of a watchdog to protect the rule of law on South Australian construction sites”.

Master Builders SA CEO Ian Markos said a local body would be “absolutely necessary” if a Shorten Government fulfilled its promise to scrap the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

Lucas told InDaily he would be “prepared to have a look at what exists in other states and what we’d do if that were to occur”.

The ABCC was first established by John Howard in 2005, but was dismantled and replaced by Fair Work Building & Construction when Shorten was Workplace Relations Minister in the Gillard Government.

After a 2016 bid to resuscitate the ABCC triggered that year’s double dissolution election, the Turnbull government finally re-established the commission with Senate crossbench support, but Shorten has vowed to wind it up again if elected this year.

Master Builders SA is warning the State Government against an outbreak of union militancy, after recent upheaval at the state branch of the Construction, Forestry, Mining (Maritime) and Energy Union saw longtime secretary Aaron Cartledge squeezed out amid an effective takeover by the powerful Victorian branch.

“South Australia’s construction industry has been on fire over the past two years… the last thing we need right now is the toxic behaviour of the CFMMEU spilling over the border from the eastern states,” Markos told InDaily.

“The CFMMEU has been fined almost $2 million for flouting industrial laws over the past six months and there is a staggering 800 further contraventions currently before the courts… the Australian Building and Construction Commission is the only authority holding the CFMMEU to account.”

Markos said given “the takeover of the South Australian branch by militant interstate officials, we fear our industry would be completely exposed if the ABCC was abolished or neutered”.

“If Shorten is elected and abolishes the ABCC, or renders it so toothless it is unable to fulfil its original objectives, we would strongly urge the Marshall Government to introduce a body similar to the Construction Code Compliance Unit that was operational in Victoria prior to the election of the Andrews Government,” he said.

But CFMEU acting state secretary Andrew Sutherland hit back, saying “that seems to have been the rhetoric they’ve run since I’ve arrived here” a year ago, in which time “there’s not been one matter brought against myself or any of my officials”.

He said state money would be better spent holding the top end of town to account for issues such as wage theft.

“Enough money’s been wasted federally on a body set up to destroy unions, specifically the CFMMEU, and that money would be better spent in the state by setting up a department that goes after their [Master Builders’] members that engage in sham contracting arrangements and unpaid superannuation – and getting some tax and revenue back in to the state,” he said.

“Whilst they can run that ideological agenda and keep banging on that we’re something we’re not, I think they should address where the money should be spent – and that’s their industry and its lawful obligation to paying superannuation to our members.”

In December The Advertiser published a letter from Cartledge to the union resigning his membership, citing “a failed attempt to implement east coast militancy into the state without talking to members first”.

“The branch was continually undermined throughout my time as secretary including Victoria assisting a member to run against me in an election,” Cartledge wrote.

“The CFMEU has a lot of good people and members but unfortunately only two states with a couple of people dictating the policy and strategy federally in the construction division is very detrimental to the division and a one size does not fit all states.”

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