No evidence to back bringing back building commission

UNIONS have claimed the Abbott Government has presented no evidence to back its moves to re-establish a national building and construction commission.

The claims from the Australian Council of Trade Unions came during a heated Senate inquiry into the government's planned recreation of the Australian Building and Construction Commission on Wednesday.

Bills for the commission have already been criticised by the Law Council and Scrutiny of Bills Committee for executive power over-reach, breaches of common law rights and a lack of judicial oversight.

ACTU assistant secretary Tim Lyons told the inquiry on Wednesday that "no case has been made to justify the changes", arguing criminal activity in the construction industry should be investigated by the existing police authorities.

He said the government had undertaken a "deliberately misleading campaign in public" to conflate the proposed commission with broader allegations of unlawful behaviour recently aired in the press.

The government's case for the commission has largely rested on recommendations from the Cole Royal Commission, and a rise in industrial disputes after the former commission was disbanded.

But Mr Lyons said "the world has moved on" from the Cole Inquiry, saying that numerous reforms had taken place since then, and the inquiry itself did not actually result in any criminal convictions.

Under heated questioning from senators on the committee, Employment Department officials further admitted that a rise in industrial disputes did not necessarily represent a rise in "unlawfulness" or criminal behaviour in the building industry.

That was despite Employment Minister Senator Eric Abetz repeatedly telling the committee of anecdotal evidence showing otherwise, despite being unable to provide the evidence to the committee on Wednesday.

In response to questions about oversight of the proposed commissioner's activities, Sen Abetz gave ground only in saying: "There are checks and balances; it's the extent of them".

Mr Lyons said the entire case for the new commission was built on a "combination of assertions and media allegations which wouldn't be dealt with by the commission anyway".

Sen Abetz and other witnesses who gave evidence supporting the government's proposal said more evidence would be provided to the inquiry.

But with the government's deadline on the inquiry's report looming in only two weeks, it is unclear whether the information will be made public before the committee must report to parliament.


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