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Issue #1872      June 12, 2019

Editorial

Your rights under attack

The current federal government’s attack on journalists and whistle blowers (see “This warrant relates to … ”), should be seen in light of the undermining of democratic rights by the ruling class using the arms of the state machine to attack the rights of working people.

The legislation setting up the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) goes much further than criminalising and imposing massive fines on unions and workers for legitimate trade union activities. It denies building industry workers and their unions other fundamental, internationally recognised democratic rights that are afforded to all citizens.

The ABCC legislation contains strong parallels to the repressive anti-terror laws, but even surpasses these in some of its draconian provisions. These laws are completely unwarranted. They don’t belong in the workplace, they have no place in worker-employer relations; in fact they have no place in a democratic society.

The Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act gives the ABCC Commissioner the power to summons anyone who he believes “on reasonable grounds” “(a) has information or documents relevant to an investigation; or (b) is capable of giving evidence that is relevant to an investigation.”

The Commissioner may, by written notice given to the person, require the person to give information or to appear before the ABCC Commissioner, or an assistant, at a specified time and place and answer questions “relevant to the investigation”.

These powers could require the person being summoned to:

Reveal all their phone and email records, even if of a personal nature; report on their own activities and those of their work mates; reveal their membership of an organisation, such as a union; report on discussions in private union and other meetings of workers.

These provisions are not restricted to anyone suspected of breaking the law. They cover: workers in the building industry not under suspicion of any wrong doing; union officials and other union staff; the families, including children of any age, of workers in the industry; innocent bystanders; journalists and academics.

Basic principles of law are overturned, including the right to silence.

The operation of this section of the Act is not limited by any secrecy provision relating to communication and the divulging of information of other laws unless specified in the Act. Whether intended or not, this puts the ABCC law at a higher level than the national security laws themselves in relation to secrecy provisions.

The Act also ensures that the Commission’s coercive powers override any protection of journalists’ sources; privacy law; secrecy provision of other laws.

Failure by anyone to supply information, attend interrogation or answer questions is punishable by up to six months in jail. No provision is made for fines. It’s jail or jail.

“Unlawful industrial action” is punishable by fines of up to $42,000 for individuals and $110,000 for a trade union. The court has the power to impose personal payments for union officials.

Workers, trade unions or anyone else subjected to the powers of the ABCC have no right of appeal or to an administrative review, not even the limited right to review provided for under the anti-terror laws and ASIO laws. Warrants are not issued – hence there is no third party judicial or other scrutiny. The ABCC does not have to justify its actions to anyone.

Review under the Administrative Decision (Judicial Review) Act is excluded. The ABCC is a law unto itself, above accountability and beyond the basic principles of justice that govern other laws.

The ABCC has extraordinary powers that exceed even those given to police in investigating major crimes. The ABCC’s powers cannot even be described as police powers because they go far beyond what the police have been given.

If the ABCC asked, “Are you or have you ever been a member of a trade union?” failure to answer that question could result in jail, without you having done anything wrong, or even the suspicion of any wrong doing.

This law has no place in a modern system of industrial relations: in a nation that the major political parties keep claiming prides itself on its political and industrial freedoms.

Next article – Traditional Owners: last line to stop Adani

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