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CFMEU on interim Union report

The Minister for Employment Eric Abetz released the Interim Report of the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption. The Royal Commission has not found any corruption in the CFMEU. Instead they have made recommendations and findings regarding industrial disputes the union has been involved in.

That’s not surprising for our industries where a worker is killed or seriously injured every 6 minutes and where employers frequently underpay and rip off workers’ entitlements. The CFMEU makes no apology for standing up for its members.

CFMEU on the Royal Commission.

The Royal Commission was set up by the Abbott Government to pave the way for a raft of anti-worker initiatives including the Australian Building and Construction Commission and the recently announced Productivity Commission Review of the Fair Work Act, which will seek to cut penalty rates and rights at work. (On Productivity Commission see

If Abbott and Abetz get their way our wages will be cut and workplace health and safety compromised.

Not only is the Royal Commission a massive waste of taxpayers’ money – $50 million and counting- it does nothing to fix the real problems facing our country: the increasing cost of living, rising unemployment and the highest rate of youth unemployment in decades.

On rising and continuing unemployment

The CFMEU notes that the report of the Royal Commission released today contains a number of findings relating to CFMEU officials with recommendations that matters be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions and other agencies.

The Royal Commission is not a court of law and does not exercise judicial power.

Its interim report makes no specific recommendations for legislative change and does not make any findings of corruption against any CFMEU official.

The Royal Commission does not conclude that any CFMEU official ‘has engaged in conduct that was a breach of the law.’ Instead the Commissioner recommends that his findings be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions and other agencies in order for them to ‘consider’ whether such breaches have occurred and if any action should be taken.

In respect of the matters that are referred to the DPP and other authorities, the CFMEU will deal with those issues as they arise

It is worth noting that the Royal Commission is not independent of the government. It has been initiated and established under terms of reference written by the Abbott Government. Like previous Royal Commissions, the Heydon Commission is politically motivated to produce outcomes to justify the introduction of anti union laws.

This is clear from the prejudiced and biased findings of the Royal Commission that reflect the ideological bent of the Abbott Government and their hatred of unions.

This Royal Commission is a colossal waste of taxpayers’ money that will not produce one extra job or train one apprentice. It has been a blatant politicised process the ultimate aim of which, is to take away workers’ rights.

The CFMEU will continue to do what it does every day: protect and defend workers’ safety, working conditions and their legal rights in our industries.

And the winner of the Concrete Gang’s 2014 Scallywag of the Year on Radio 3CR 855AM at 9.30am Sunday was….
Nigel Hadgkiss, Comissioner of ‘Fair’ Work Building and Construction for his unswerving efforts to harass, prosecute and fine building workers out of exercising our rights.

Also feeding anti-union gossip to the press and the Royal Commission, running around the country on the public purse trying to gee up bosses to get on board Abbott’s anti-union drive, absurdly naming Adelaide as the worst place in Australia for building industry ‘lawlessness’, bragging in private how his new strategy was to prosecute and fine individual workers.

Back when he was 2IC at the Australian Building and Construction Commission, Hadgkiss was very much part of the bungling of the case against Ark Tribe, which cost them around $1 million.

When he was asked by Senator Doug Cameron where he got the information that the CFMEU has links with bikies he replied ‘The Australian’ newspaper, Rupert Murdoch’s national s**t sheet.

So a truly deserving Scallywag of the Year, but 2015 might not be so good for Nigel. He has overreached in prosecuting 76 Perth CFMEU members who attended a rally for local jobs. This is set to become a major free speech issue next year, with Nige on the wrong side of the argument.

the right to strike as a last resort

the right to strike as a last resort


Liberal Party leaders have since made it clear they want to …
– further restrict the ability of unions to visit their members
criminalise industrial activity
– restrict the ability of unions to defend workplace safety
– limit what workers can bargain on
– drive worker reps off boards and other decision-making bodies
– pass laws that allow construction workers to be jailed for failing to attend secret questioning, and,
–undermine industry super in the interests of the banks and finance companies

The Abbott Government established its trade union royal commission to deliver the smokescreen it needed to advance these goals.

From Jim Marr
‘And, the heavier-sounding the findings Stoljar can get from Royal Commissioner John Dyson Heydon, a fellow silk at upmarket Eight Selborne Chambers in Sydney, the happier those paying his salary will be.

They won’t take a blind bit of notice of Stoljar’s legal niceties when it comes to dirtying-up opponents.

That was clear even as Stoljar defended findings he is seeking, in some cases without calling any union evidence at all and, in others, without subjecting the testimony of accusers to any level of testing.

Employment Minister Eric Abetz certainly wasn’t waiting for findings, criminal or otherwise. He was happy to cite Stoljar’s untested recommendations to demand elected CFMEU officials, including Victorian branch secretary John Setka, lose their jobs.

His colleague, Justice Minister Michael Keenan, told parliament the commission had “revealed” crimes including “blackmail, extortion, kickbacks, intimidation and cartel behaviour”.

While Victorian Senator, Bridget McKenzie, was happy to just make stuff up. Counsel Assisting, she announced, had already made “findings” that the CFMEU engaged in “boycotts, cartels, blackmail, extortions and even death threats”.

Their friends at the Herald Sun used bold 56 point type to scream at Victorians, in the days before their state election – ‘CFMEU secretary John Setka should be charged with blackmail’.

“Mr Setka committed the offence of blackmail,” the story below quotes Stoljar as saying.

In this 24-paragraph article, the Herald Sun, does not bother to mention that Stoljar chose not to call Mr Setka, or any other union witness, to give evidence before reaching his conclusion.

This is what politicians expect of their royal commissions – recommendations they want to enact but don’t have the ticker to put before the electorate.

And that’s why “findings” are important to them.

Counsel assisting chose to move on the legal implications of “findings” as commission processes were savaged by experienced legal practitioners.

Barrister Paul Glissan lashed the whole undertaking as an “unhealthy conservative political polemic”.

He said its official title – the royal commission into trade union governance and corruption – and its terms of reference, both assumed the evidence that would be led, and, indeed, the outcome.

The Transport Workers Union counsel told Dyson Heydon his inquiry had uncovered no evidence of systematic corruption that would justify a further clamp down on unions.

He was particularly scathing of the way counsel assisting had addressed the issue of superannuation, arguing the commission had ignored the fact that industry funds out-performed for-profit alternatives, lessening the burden on governments and taxpayers.

Simply, he said, the commission was out of its depth and didn’t have the expertise to inject itself into the political debate about retirement savings policy.

CFMEU counsel, John Agius, came straight out and accused counsel assisting of lacking balance.

“There has been a palpable lack of balance in the approach adopted by counsel assisting in the conduct of hearings,” Agius said.

Agius, who himself assisted the Cole Royal Commission, said the team, headed by Stoljar, had failed to test anti-union evidence, even when it was unsupported or otherwise suspect.

Agius said their submissions took no account of law, laid down by the High Court, on the need for a royal commission to be “reasonably satisfied on the evidence’ before making an adverse finding. Nor had they taken account of the requirement to have regard to the “seriousness of the allegations” or the “consequences of any adverse finding” in determining whether an issue had been proved to the commission’s “reasonable satisfaction”.

Specifically, Agius said, counsel assisting were wrong to seek findings in relation to alleged criminal offences. “Such a finding would be beyond the power of this commission.”

In looking to preserve their criminal “findings”, counsel assisting appeared to change their formulation.

In responding to CFMEU submissions, Stoljar said, as a general rule, counsel would not even seek “concluded opinions” but rather “a view to the effect that the conduct appears to it (the commission) to evidence unlawful conduct”.

On that basis, he said, counsel would ask the commissioner to “recommend” that the relevant prosecuting authority “consider” whether or not a named person should be charged.

The problem, of course, is that these legal distinctions will mean nothing to Abetz and his allies, including those calling the shots at the Australian Financial Review and the Herald Sun.’

Read the whole article here

See earlier on what Abbott is attempting against building unions

Vigilant or Militant – It’s what our OHS Reps do
CFMEU OHS Coordinator Dr Gerry Ayers

Joe Bageant, author of Deer Hunting with Jesus, claimed that one of the slickest things the conservative right ever did, was to re-label necessary social costs as ‘entitlements.’

Bageant writes about how white working class Americans have been exploited and betrayed by the very people – in big business and in government – for whom they work and vote for. It’s worth a read.

In a similar way, the Liberal Party through institutions like Fair Work Building Construction (aka the ABCC) and many conservative media owners and commentators, are relabelling what our vigilant OHS Reps do in keeping construction workers safe and alive, as nothing more than ‘militant and out of control CFMEU action’.

A cursory look at any English thesaurus, will show you that the words vigilant and militant are different. Under ‘vigilant’, are listed terms such as watchful, attentive, alert, wary and observant. And I’m sure you’d agree, that our highly trained and knowledgeable CFMEU OHS Reps are all that and more.

Rights on site campaigns to abolish the ABCC

Rights on site campaigns to abolish the ABCC


Under the word ‘militant’, terms such as radical, rebellious, and even revolutionary appear. These aren’t words that are normally associated with the work our CFMEU reps do on a day-to-day basis. But what happens when our OHS Reps aren’t listened to, when they’re ignored? What happens when they are pushed to the limits and left with no other choice available to them, if they are to continue to save the lives of workers?

“And while some may disagree with the action we take, we make no apologies”
You see, in the day-to-day role of a CFMEU OHS Rep, while the distinction between the terms vigilant and militant is obvious in theory (and on paper), on site, there is often a natural metamorphosis of one into the other.

I’ll never apologise for, and will always be proud of, the role our ‘vigilant’ OHS Reps play. But when push comes to shove, and when it comes to saving lives in our industry, there are times when we have to take action. When it comes to saving a life, that’s what our members expect us to do.

No apologies
And while some may disagree with the action we take, we make no apologies.

The great shame in all of this is the misrepresentation and misreporting of the vigilant work that our reps undertake keeping workers alive and safe. While that story is never told, there’s no holding back from the press when we decide to take action.

But if that’s what it takes to ensure our members’ safety, we have to do it.

And don’t forget,Dare to struggle, dare to win – Safety is union business.

Emma Clancy: Further analysis

Media role in TURC: Giving credit where it’s due
Since 2011, the Liberals have viewed ‘union corruption’ as both their ticket to power and as a central tool in their attempt to condition the Australian public for their industrial relations agenda.

It’s easy to forget the ferocity of the Liberal campaign against then federal Labor MP and former leading Health Services Union official Craig Thomson that was unleashed in 2011. The opposition bayed for blood and fostered a media frenzy over allegations of his corrupt behaviour as a union official in the belief that the minority Labor government, which then held power in the federal parliament by a single seat, would fall.

Liberal strategists saw the opportunity to tarnish then prime minister Julia Gillard with the same brush of ‘union corruption’ by dusting off old rumours about legal advice she was alleged to have provided in connection with the Australian Workers’ Union slush fund. Weak as the evidence was, and tenuous as the ‘union corruption’ link was, it would have to do.

Still apprehensive about the united and effective Your Rights at Work campaign that forced the Howard Liberal government from power in 2007, the AWU and HSU scandals combined did not quite amount to the ammunition the Abbott government needed to mount a full-scale attack on the trade union movement immediately following his election in September 2013.

Fairfax & ABC’s ‘joint investigation’

But the ABC and Fairfax Media stepped in to provide the government with the justification it needed to broaden its promised judicial inquiry into the AWU into a fully-fledged royal commission which targeted five trade unions and demanded the last seven years’ worth of financial, contractual and personnel records from every branch of the named unions.

A joint investigation by the ABC’s 7.30 Report and Fairfax Media resulted in a series of stories being published and aired on January 28 and 29, 2014, which alleged widespread criminality, intimidation and corruption in the construction industry. Dramatic CCTV footage of Comanchero bikies apparently trying to collect a debt from the Master Builders Association’s Trevor Evans at his home opened the 7.30 Report. The reporter failed to explain how this incident was connected with construction workers or their union.

Since January last year, the 7.30 Report in particular has provided a platform to anyone with a grievance against the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU). This has ranged from disgruntled union officials to dodgy builders, from organised crime figures with scores to settle to the head of the Fair Work Building Industry Inspectorate (FWBC), Nigel Hadgkiss.

The central allegation reported in Fairfax Media in January last year was: “Union officials have formed corrupt relationships with organised crime figures, receiving kickbacks in exchange for arranging lucrative contracts in the construction industry.” The ABC alleged “systemic bribery” of union officials. The investigation claimed that six Victorian CFMEU officials had received bribes.

Victorian organiser Danny Berardi resigned from his position when journalists provided evidence that he had accepted free renovation work in exchange for helping two companies get contracts. However, aside from Berardi, no other details or names were provided: “For legal reasons specific details cannot be aired,” the ABC said.

The 7.30 Report ran a story on 28 January featuring an interview with CFMEU NSW official Brian Fitzpatrick who alleged that there were links between NSW union officials and companies run by alleged crime figure George Alex.

The following night it ran a story featuring an interview with Victorian builder Andrew Zaf, who claimed he had provided $10,000 in roofing material to CFMEU Victorian Secretary John Setka, then a union organiser, in the mid-1990s. He also claimed he had written a cheque for $10,000-$12,000 to pay for Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams to visit Australia. Against footage of Adams’s 1999 visit, reporter Nick McKenzie said: “When the union brought Irish republican leader to Australia, Zaf was asked to chip in.”

Widening the scope

The ABC and Fairfax both claimed credit for the government’s move to establish the Heydon Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption, which was announced less than a fortnight after their joint investigation. “The scope of the inquiry was dramatically widened into a royal commission after extensive reports in Fairfax Media,” Fairfax journalists wrote in a subsequent article.

In the same edition of the 7.30 Report on 29 January that featured Andrew Zaf, host Leigh Sales later interviewed Treasurer Joe Hockey and helpfully opened with: “The revelations of union corruption have given the Abbott Government ammunition to argue both the case for more union oversight and for an inquiry into corruption.” Then, to Hockey: “Do you think that a royal commission into union corruption is warranted?”

He replied: “Well certainly we promised before the election to have a judicial review, but there is mounting evidence now that there are systemic problems in the union movement that need to be fully exposed and addressed.”

Later in the year, businessperson Jim Byrnes starred in an episode of the 7.30 Report in which he claimed he had seen his rival George Alex pass an envelope, which conveniently had “$3,000” written on it, to NSW CFMEU organiser Darren Greenfield at a meeting. Byrnes’s is to date the only “eyewitness” account of a union official accepting a bribe. Greenfield denies ever having been in any meeting together with Byrnes in his life.


The royal commission itself has since shown many of the claims made by the ABC and Fairfax to be either totally false or unsubstantiated.

There’s a big difference between widespread corruption in the construction industry and widespread corruption in the construction union.

CFMEU leaders said they were in full agreement with the view that organised crime was rife in the industry, and that they had been pressing for years for the police and the corporate regulator, Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), to investigate criminal activity.

It also pointed out that the union plays “no part in deciding whether particular labour hire companies got contracts on construction projects,” nor is it “in a position to check the property, or other interests or connections of employers and managers of companies”.

Before the Fitzpatrick allegations about CFMEU officials in NSW collaborating with George Alex were publicly aired, the claim was already the subject of an internal union investigation and the NSW branch of the union had recovered $250,000 in unpaid workers’ entitlements from Alex companies.

As the CFMEU legal team wrote in their response to the final submissions of Jeremy Stoljar, Counsel Assisting the Commission, “The investigation into allegations made by Mr Fitzpatrick about the relationship between the NSW Branch and the Alex Companies is ongoing. The most serious of the allegations arising from that investigation, that officers of the NSW branch received cash bribes, was, as Counsel Assisting submits, unsubstantiated. There was insufficient evidence. A similar allegation by [Lis-Con boss Eoin] O’Neill that officers in the Queensland branch sought cash payments is also described as unsubstantiated.”

Jim Byrnes, who later repeated his allegations before the Commission following his September appearance on the 7.30 Report, admitted on air that he had fallen out with Alex and said: “I’d like to see him in prison. Cause I’d like, I’d like him to have someone just lean over his shoulder and whisper my name in his ear.” Byrnes served time in jail for supplying heroin and assault before acting as an adviser to notoriously corrupt and bankrupted businessman Alan Bond, and has been banned by ASIC twice from managing companies.

An allegation – reported as fact by the Herald Sun in August 2014 and repeated by Victorian Police Assistant Commissioner Stephen Fontana to the Heydon Royal Commission in September 2014 – that one of the Comancheros collecting a debt in the 7.30 Report’s January 2014 footage, Norm Meyer, was a CFMEU official, was categorically denied by the union.

Fontana claimed in the Commission that he had police intelligence that showed several “union officials” were “members of outlaw motorcycle gangs”.

In a cross-examination by CFMEU counsel John Agius, which really ought to be immortalised in song, Fontana admitted that by “union officials” he meant “union official”, specifically Norm Meyer, and by “police intelligence” he meant a photo of a union rally he had seen in the Herald Sun.

After Agius informed him that not only was Meyer not a union official, he had not even been a financial member of the union for the previous two years, Fontana admitted: “I got that wrong. I apologise.” Pressed further by Agius who asked, “So there’s no intelligence or evidence that any union officials of the CFMEU are members of an outlaw motorcycle gang?,” Fontana replied, “Not to my knowledge.”

Fontana then conceded under questioning that no CFMEU official had ever been charged with blackmail, corruption or drug crimes despite his opening claims that he believed union officials were involved in these crimes. This didn’t stop the Herald Sun from running an utterly dishonest editorial on 20 September 2014 in which Fontana’s initial claims, but not his retractions, were reported. It was titled, “Muzzle union things now”.

And as for Andrew Zaf, he has emerged as the most thoroughly discredited witness to appear before the Commission yet, with the exception of Kathy Jackson. The trip by Gerry Adams to Australia that Zaf referred to was organised independently by Irish solidarity organisations, not by the CFMEU, and the international air fares were purchased by Sinn Féin’s Belfast office.

Zaf had claimed in January that he paid for the trip that occurred in 1999; before the Commission on 17 September 2014 he said his records from ANZ Bank show he had written a cheque for $10,000 in 1997, and moments later he said he wrote this cheque prior to 1994. It’s on the public record that Adams was denied an entry visa to Australia until 1999, after the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998.

In July Zaf told the Commission he had “no personal enemies” only to be threatened by Hells Angels over a disputed debt four days later. In his September appearance Zaf was forced to deny having pulled a gun on then CFMEU organiser Maurice Hill in 1994. Evidence was produced showing the Victorian Trades Hall Council had passed a motion condemning the incident at the time.

Finally, in November, Slater and Gordon lawyers acting for the CFMEU wrote to the Commission enclosing a statement from Victorian Trades Hall Council Secretary Luke Hilakari that included information about Zaf from a former associate that challenged the evidence he had provided to the Commission. Heydon agreed to omit any reference to Zaf’s allegations from his interim report.

Shoddy and unsubstantiated

So what was actually demonstrated by the ABC-Fairfax joint investigation was that motorcycle gangs and organised crime figures are involved in the construction industry, and that one junior CFMEU official acted corruptly and immediately resigned after the union leadership was made aware of this. Hardly a justification for a royal commission into the entire trade union movement.

Generally when a media outlet claims it cannot publish specific details or name names for “legal reasons”, that means it doesn’t have the evidence to back up an allegation that could withstand a defamation suit. Given the dubious quality of the “whistleblowers” the ABC and Fairfax are relying on for these “specific details”, and the unbelievably woeful fact-checking of the journalists, you’ll forgive me for looking at their entire investigation with a healthy amount of skepticism.

These sensationalist, poorly researched and unsubstantiated articles, which were enthusiastically seized upon by the Abbott government to launch the Heydon royal commission, should be a source of embarrassment to the ABC and Fairfax Media, not a source of pride.

EARLY in the morning on 27 November, while Australia was deep in shock over the freak incident that had felled cricketer Phillip Hughes two days earlier, Jorge Castillo-Riffo clocked on as usual for his job as a concreting labourer on the $2 billion Royal Adelaide Hospital construction site.

Less than 90 minutes later, Jorge also was fighting for his life. Later that day, it was announced that Phillip Hughes had died; about 24 hours later, Jorge Castillo-Riffo was also dead.

In an eerie parallel with 25-year-old Phillip Hughes, Jorge’s death was the result of a traumatic workplace injury.

Jorge Castillo-Riffo, 54, wasn’t a famous sportsman and the fatal moment that caused his death was not televised, or replayed ad nauseum to millions of viewers.

He was alone when, for reasons still not fully understood, the scissor lift he was working on crushed him under a concrete slab.

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