Australia: Turnbull’s double dissolution threat built on lies

On 21 March Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced that he will dissolve both Houses of Parliament if the Senate doesn’t pass bills to reconstitute the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), a move which could pave the way for an election on 2 July.

The controversial ABCC was established in 2005 under the Liberal John Howard government, to address the “militarism and illegality” that had apparently plagued the Australian building and construction industry. The reality is that both then and now, the ABCC was a state-sanctioned union-busting machine designed to attack BWI partner organization the CFMEU. It was for this reason that the ABCC was dissolved by the subsequent Labor government in 2012 and replaced with Fair Work Building and Construction, a watchdog with diminished investigative powers.

Recently, in support of the revamped ABCC legislation, Turnbull told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s '7.30' programme that the ABCC had reduced the number of days lost to industrial disputes and “improved productivity by 20%”, citing a report from an economics consultancy Independent Economics which claimed the ABCC could save Australian consumers A$5.5 billion.

However mounting evidence seems to oppose those conclusions. A 2014 report from the Australian Productivity Commission (a public body), for example, states that the evidence for aggregate productivity increases and costs savings has little basis in the data, and that “[t]he evidence that the ABCC stimulated material improvements in aggregate productivity or achieved cost reductions is weak.”

This adds to previous criticisms of Independent Economics’ research. A 2010 Griffiths University paper found that earlier versions of the report had not accurately used data about the cost of commercial and residential jobs, concluding that if there had been any savings through higher productivity they have been taken as higher profits rather than lower prices. In 2014 one of the report’s authors, Professor David Peetz, noted that the A$5.5b cost saving claim had “no solid basis”, informed by cherrypicked data and erroneous assumptions.

Based on these studies, CFMEU are right to assert that Turnbull has called the election on a lie. When Turnbull was elected the Australian public saw him as a more progressive option than former Prime Minister Tony Abbott; he believes in climate change, supports gay marriage and his Cabinet had many more women in prominent positions. However on the issue of worker and trade union rights he has proved to be just as bad as his predecessor.