Law Council slams Abbott's building commission bill

THE Law Council has slammed the Abbott government's bill to re-establish the building and construction commission as breaching common law rights, including the burden of proof and the right to silence, and an executive powers over-reach.

Due to face a Senate inquiry into the bills today on Wednesday in Melbourne, the Australian Law Council's submission to the inquiry also highlighted an "absence of judicial oversight" of the commission's "extraordinary" proposed powers.

While the bill aims to re-create an agency with powers to investigate criminal allegations within the building industry, the Law Council and the Scrutiny of Bills Committee are concerned about potential legal over-reach in the legislation.

The Law Council, which usually takes a limited scope in criticism of new laws, wrote the commission's proposed "coercive information-gathering powers" were a "clear breach of the right to silence and the privilege against self-incrimination".

It also questioned the delegation of more executive powers to the commissioner, writing that there did "not appear to be a sufficient safeguard against the misuse of this power".

"This means that there is an absence of judicial oversight in the process of authorising the use of the extraordinary coercive information-gathering powers described above," the submission reads.

It also warned the current Senate inquiry did not have enough time to consider the issues raised by the bill, urging the committee to analyse its impacts "in light of the significant impact they have on individual rights and privileges".

However, a submission from Employment Minister Senator Eric Abetz argued the extensive powers were needed to ensure the commission could "carry out its investigations effectively.

"They were a key element in the commission's success in breaking down the entrenched 'culture of silence' in the sector which allows illegality to prosper," he wrote.

"The powers in the Bill were recommended by the Cole Royal Commission, which noted that the commission would 'need to penetrate the veil of silence behind which many decisions to take unlawful action are hidden'."

The Law Council will be among a host of witnesses before Wednesday's hearing, including a raft of unions, most of which are expected to outright oppose the re-establishment of the commission.


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