Federal Politics

Michaelia Cash considers building industry compromise in fight for Senate support

The Turnbull government wants its building industry watchdog approved by the Senate by early March and is considering attaching a sunset clause to the legislation to win over wavering crossbenchers.

The government will reintroduce a bill aimed at resurrecting the Australian Building and Construction Commission into Parliament's lower house on Tuesday as its first order of business in the election-year Parliament.

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash is in negotiations with crossbenchers over the building industry watchdog.
Employment Minister Michaelia Cash is in negotiations with crossbenchers over the building industry watchdog. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash is in intensive negotiations with Senate crossbenchers in a bid to get the bill through the upper house, which rejected the government's plan six months ago.

If the Senate rejects the bill again, it will give the Coalition another double-dissolution election trigger.

Liberal Democrat senator David Leyonhjelm wants an eight-year sunset clause.
Liberal Democrat senator David Leyonhjelm wants an eight-year sunset clause. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

But Senator Cash hopes that doesn't happen.

"I am having constructive discussions with a number of the crossbenchers and I will continue to press the case for support," she said.  "I'd like to see the ABCC legislation dealt with by March 3."


With Labor and the Greens staunchly opposing the bill, the government needs the votes of six of the eight crossbenchers.

Family First senator Bob Day's vote is secure  and South Australian senator Nick Xenophon is also expected to support it.

Senator John Madigan abstained from the previous vote.
Senator John Madigan abstained from the previous vote. Photo: Andrew Meares

Libertarian David Leyonhjelm says he will support the bill only if there is an eight-year sunset clause attached.

"There are some very non-liberal elements to it and I wouldn't want it to stay on the books indefinitely," he said.

Senator Cash indicated she was open to the idea: "I'm prepared to work with David in relation to that."

That means the government will need to win the support of three of the remaining five crossbenchers: John Madigan, Zhenya "Dio" Wang, Glenn Lazarus, Jacqui Lambie and Ricky Muir. The latter three voted against the bill last year.

Senator Cash will attempt this week to win over senators Wang, Lazarus, Lambie and Muir by giving them a glimpse into the secret volumes of Dyson Heydon's royal commission report into union corruption.

The senators will be given access to the documents under strict conditions of confidentiality.

Labor and the Greens have also made formal requests to see the secret volumes but Senator Cash is concerned they want them disseminated too widely.

"There's is a very wide-ranging request. I'm currently considering our position but releasing them to the general public is not going to be happening."

Senator Madigan abstained from the vote last time.

The government also intends to reintroduce a strengthened Registered Organisations Commission bill in the coming months after being twice rejected in the Senate. That bill seeks to improve union governance.

Labor scrapped the Howard-era ABCC after it won office in 2007. Senator Cash said it was essential to get a cop back on the building industry beat.

"Industrial laws and penalties in this industry are seen as no more serious than a parking ticket. The fine is paid, the cost is charged to the client or union members and then the conduct is repeated again and again," she said.

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