The Office of the Australian Building and Construction Commissioner (ABCC) ceased operation on 31 May 2012. This Annual Report covers the period from 1 July 2011 to 31 May 2012.

While it is appropriate for me, as the then ABC Commissioner, to report to Parliament on the operations and effectiveness of the ABCC, which indeed this report does, it would be remiss of me not to also report my observations of the agency in relation to the commotion of debate it still seems to generate.

Royal Commissioner Cole made findings that indicated a culture of lawlessness on building sites, to which the then Government’s policy response was the formation of a specialist regulator of workplace relations to focus on the special problems that the industry faced. That policy has seen some considerable success in both the reduction of harms and the appropriate penalties against those who perpetrated them.

However, despite the broad consensus about both the culture of lawlessness and the need for a specialist regulator, the ABCC generated – and continues to generate – feverish, ill-informed and doctrinaire rhetoric from both sides of an important area of our national policy debate.

ABCC officers, quite simply, investigated alleged wrongdoing by building and construction industry participants, sought to intervene to rectify ills where it was within the agency’s authority to do so, and brought civil penalty proceedings in cases where no other redress could be found and the public interest was to be served.

During the reporting period, the agency’s achievements in this regard included:

  • investigating 474 matters across a broad spectrum of Commonwealth workplace laws
  • responding to 1,913 enquiries from industry participants
  • undertaking some 1,500 site visits
  • recovering over $650,000 in unpaid wages and entitlements for workers
  • initiating 18 proceedings in courts and tribunals, with the result that we secured:

- more than $1.2m in civil penalties

- $97,695 compensation

- $49,000 costs.

Having commenced operation on 1 October 2005, it was in its last 11 months that the ABCC achieved some of its strongest outcomes.

In these 11 months:

  • 33 per cent of all investigations were conducted
  • 14 per cent of all proceedings were commenced
  • 22 per cent of all civil penalties were secured
  • 40 per cent of all compensation was recovered for affected businesses.

This outsize achievement came even as the agency was delivering a much-expanded range of regulatory services.

Despite the many challenges it faced, the ABCC has been an effective force in supporting the industry and encouraging cultural change. In this, its last annual report I acknowledge the tremendous work of all those who contributed to its impressive regulatory endeavour.

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Leigh Johns