29 March 2016
by Kaye Lee

Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the most corrupt of all?

When Malcolm Turnbull wrote to the Governor General requesting the urgent recalling of parliament he gave the following reason:

“The Government regards this legislation as of great importance for promoting jobs and growth, improving productivity and also promoting workplace safety through taking strong measures to deal with widespread and systematic criminality in the building and construction industry.”

The only problem is, as Dave Noonan, National Secretary of the CFMEU, pointed out in his debate with Innes Willox at the National Press Club this week, the ABCC is an industrial relations regulator that cannot deal with corruption or criminality.

This fact was also expressed by CEO of Master Builders Australia, Wilhelm Harnisch, who told the ABC “those people who are saying this is about dealing with criminality and corruption are missing the point about the ABCC bills. The matter of criminality and fraud are totally separate from the Australian Building and Construction Commission.”

Michaelia Cash, in an interview with David Speers, said the case for the establishment of the ABCC had been made 13 years ago by the Cole Royal Commission. What she neglected to mention was that the Cole RC led to no prosecutions and that the ABCC would not have the power to investigate allegations of corruption or criminal breaches the law.

From the outset, the Heydon RC telegraphed its intent. Even the title, and the terms of reference, assumed its findings in advance – Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption.

Justice Minister Michael Keenan, told parliament the commission had “revealed” crimes including “blackmail, extortion, kickbacks, intimidation and cartel behaviour” before any court proceedings had taken place.

Their first attempt at prosecution for “blackmail” was against John Lomax. The charge stemmed from evidence at the commission, where it was alleged that Mr Lomax blackmailed a Canberra painting company and its principal into signing a union enterprise bargaining agreement in April 2014.

The business owner alleged the EBA forced him to pay much higher wages to workers, and that he signed the deal because he believed he would be blocked from working in the ACT and NSW if he refused.

Police alleged the owner suffered a financial loss as a result because the EBA required him to pay his workers $26 an hour, when he claimed he could have paid as low as $17.

In October last year, the charges against Mr Lomax were dropped and costs were awarded against the Department of Public Prosecutions. Mr Lomax’s lawyers are considering whether the prosecution was malicious in nature and may take legal action for the damage to Mr Lomax’s reputation.

As Dave Noonan said, “He negotiated a pay rise for workers, that’s not a crime in any civilised country in the world.”

Another blackmail case is being prosecuted against CFMEU unionists John Setka and Shaun Reardon stemming from the Grocon dispute and alleged approaches to Boral to block supply to Grocon with threats to boycott Boral if they failed to comply.

In June 2015, the CFMEU reluctantly agreed to pay $3.55 million to building company Grocon over the blockade of several of its sites in Melbourne in 2012.

Dave Noonan said the dispute was always about the safety of workers and that the payout was not an admission of liability.

“This company has by far the worst occupational health and safety record in the construction industry and the situation is that the money that’s been paid is paid with great reluctance,” he said. “But the legal advice is that the union need to settle this and it represents payment essentially of the company’s legal costs.”

In 2014, Grocon pled guilty to a breach of a workplace safety law which resulted in the death of three people when a large brick wall blew over in Carlton. It was fined $250,000.

The fines seem disproportionate. As John Setka said, “we get fined for protesting about safety and yet people kill people at work, innocent people at work and they get a $250,000 fine.”

Rather than going to union headquarters where both men work to arrest Mr Setka and Mr Reardon, Mr Setka was pulled over by police while driving with his family and two young children. Mr Reardon was also arrested in front of his family.

Dave Noonan said treating union officials like fugitives was designed to create maximum political damage, with little regard for their families.

“The CFMEU has co-operated with every request from the royal commission, and the police could have conducted their business at the office during working hours,” he said.

An article published in the Herald Sun quoted Council Assisting Jeremy Stoljar as saying “Mr Setka committed the offence of blackmail.” What it didn’t say was that Stoljar chose not to call Mr Setka, or any other union witness, to give evidence before reaching his conclusion.

The case has been adjourned until November when the men intend to plead not guilty.

The unions have complied with every request made of them, paid fines when directed to do so, and been prepared to defend themselves in court when required.

Unlike the Liberal Party who have delayed providing information until the three year statute of limitations has expired.

Not only have they refused to comply with the electoral commission’s requirement for them to disclose political donors, today, Kate McClymont revealed that when Arthur “I don’t recall” Sinodinis, along with a number of AWH’s former and current directors, was being sued in the Federal Court for misleading and deceptive conduct, he apparently settled out of court leaving the other defendants high and dry.

“The other defendants, who deny the claims, were furious. To this day they still do not know on what terms Senator Sinodinos, who had separate legal representation, extricated himself from the case.

One of the plaintiffs in the case confirmed to Fairfax Media that a confidential settlement had been reached with Senator Sinodinos.”

Mr Sinodinis is also threatening legal action if his name is not removed from the statement by the electoral commission freezing electoral funding on the grounds that they never asked him to provide the requested documentation and it wasn’t his job to do so. We’ll just ignore him not recalling a donation from a company he was the Chairman of to an organisation he was Treasurer of.

The findings of the Heydon Royal Commission have been splashed all over the press while ICAC’s have been withheld. Legal battles have delayed the release of the findings of these two investigations.

Operation Spicer investigated allegations that certain members of parliament and others corruptly solicited, received and concealed payments from various sources in return for certain members of parliament and others favouring the interests of those responsible for the payments. It is also alleged that certain members of parliament and others solicited and failed to disclose political donations from companies, including prohibited donors, contrary to the Election Funding, Expenditure and Disclosures Act 1981.

Operation Credo investigated allegations that persons with an interest in Australian Water Holdings Pty Ltd (AWH) obtained a financial benefit through adversely affecting the official functions of Sydney Water Corporation (SWC) by: including expenses incurred in other business pursuits in claims made on SWC for work on the North West Growth Centre; drawing from funds allocated for other purposes; and preventing SWC from ascertaining the true financial position, including the level of the executives’ remuneration.

The Commission also investigated whether public officials and others were involved in the falsification of a cabinet minute relating to a public private partnership proposal made by AWH intended to mislead the NSW Government Budget Cabinet Committee and obtain a benefit for AWH, and other related matters.

Who is more corrupt – unions who fight for workplace health and safety and a decent wage for their members or politicians who accept illegal payments and who use their position to seek financial benefit for themselves or their donors?