Turnbull Ally Accidentally Implies PM Misrepresented ABCC Laws

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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull may be threatening to dissolve the Senate if it fails to pass laws reintroducing the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), but if one of his major allies is to be believed, the PM doesn’t actually understand what the legislation is all about.

Chief Executive Officer of Master Builders Australia, Wilhelm Harnisch, has been lobbying hard to have the Howard-era building construction industry watchdog reintroduced.

That should make him a useful foot-soldier for Turnbull as he tries to sell the laws to the public. But if Harnisch’s morning interview with the ABC is anything to go, that might not be the case.

In a chat with Jon Faine, Harnisch agreed that the proposed body was supposed to act as an industrial relations regulator, not an anti-corruption body.

“That’s correct, and that’s exactly what the Bill is about,” Harnisch said. “So those people who are saying this is about dealing with criminality and corruption are missing the point about the ABCC bills.”

 “The matter of criminality and fraud are totally separate from the Australian Building and Construction Commission,” he said.

Unfortunately for both Turnbull and Harnisch, the latter’s sentiments were in stark contradiction to the Prime Minister, who yesterday wrote to the Governor-General explaining the need for the Senate to urgently pass the laws thusly:

The Government regards this legislation as of great importance for promoting jobs and growth, improving productivity and also promoting workplace safety through taking strong measures to deal with widespread and systematic criminality in the building and construction industry [Emphasis added].

Awkwardly for Turnbull, Harnisch is right: the ABCC would not have the power to investigate allegations of corruption or criminal breaches the law.

Like the PM, Attorney-General George Brandis appears to be having a little trouble with the distinction, forced to sidestep a question on Lateline last night.

You can see why there might be confusion.

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash has taken a shine to fielding Dorthy Dixers from Senate colleagues inviting her to opine on just how corrupt and criminal the Construction, Forestry Mining and Energy Union really is when discussing the proposed laws.

The builders’ employer association boss did go on to modify his argument, and said the reform “is about attacking the very culture that can lead to corruption and criminality”.

“The ABCC then has the power to refer these matters to other authorities like the ACC [Australian Crime Commission] and other national crime authorities for them to deal with it,” he said.

If Harnisch and Turnbull are going to convince Australians that these laws are about more than taking a free shot at the union movement, they might want to get their story straight first.

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