Message from Dave Noonan
Abbott's bright light ignores bigger picture
The royal commission on union corruption turns a blind eye to business
The Abbott government's announcement of a royal commission on unions, including the CFMEU, continues a rich tradition of Liberal governments calling royal commissions on unions.
In construction, there have been four in the past 40 years, all called by Liberal leaders. In a speech to the National Press Club in 1981, Lionel Murphy noted that royal commissions tended to have predetermined outcomes, particularly if generated in response to allegations of criminal behaviour. This was, he noted, the reverse of the court system: in royal commissions, as in Alice's wonderland, the verdict precedes the trial.
The CFMEU and our members know this only too well. The Cole royal commission was called by Tony Abbott, then a minister in the Howard government, after he commissioned a report from his ''employment advocate'' who alleged widespread corruption and criminality in the construction industry.
The $66 million circus which followed resulted in no convictions for criminality and one civil prosecution of a company for paying strike pay. Instead, Cole established a template for the industrial laws which became WorkChoices.
Construction workers had the bizarre experience of being admonished for the generosity of their wages and conditions by a retired judge whose salary was a cool $660,000 per annum.
Liberal governments have more form than Darcy Dugan when it comes to using royal commissions as a political weapon to attack their opponents in the labour movement. If Abbott was sincere in shining a very bright light on wrongdoing, corruption and illegal activity, then why do the commission's terms of reference exclude this kind of activity in corporate Australia? It's not as if there's a shortage of allegations.
A few days ago in The Australian newspaper, a former executive of UGL accused the company of ''cooking the books'' and alleged that it engaged in racial discrimination.
Last year, as The Age revealed, allegations regarding Leighton involving bribery, kickbacks, corruption and improper conduct in the highest echelons of the company dominated the media for weeks on end. It was reported that the company allowed the allegations to fester despite senior management knowing about them for a year.
Two weeks ago, we saw press reports that Walton Construction, which collapsed late last year owing $50 million to workers and small businesses, was a major funder of the Liberal National Party. At the time of the collapse, the company was paying ''rent'' to a property trust. According to AEC records, Altum P/L (which is a Liberal National Party front) received $1.4 million from Walton Construction, some while the administrator believes Walton was insolvent.
In 2012, following the revelation of financial reporting irregularities by Lend Lease on large government projects in Queensland and Victoria, the CFMEU called for a government inquiry. Instead, a few senior executives quietly resigned, while Lend Lease held an internal inquiry and promptly cleared themselves.
As regular as clockwork, there are reports of allegations of serious corporate wrongdoing in the construction and other industries. When a union is the subject of allegations, Abbott and his henchmen shout them from the rooftops. When corporate Australia is accused of crimes or rorts, Liberal laryngitis is the disease du jour.
Some other countries seem to treat these issues more seriously. In 2012, following investigations by the FBI in the United States, Lend Lease chief James Abadie pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit fraud by overbilling the company's clients for more than a decade. Lend Lease was ordered to pay $56 million in penalties to the US federal government and restitution to victims of fraud and to institute far-reaching corporate reforms.
The real scandal – workers unpaid
If politicians and journalists are looking for a scandal in the construction industry they need look no further than the workers in Sydney protesting for wages owed for work they have done. They were employed by Steve Nolan Construction - a company that has gone broke owing $30 million to workers and small business owners. Steve Nolan Construction has also donated generously to the Liberal Party - both in NSW and federally - a total of $200,000.
Will the royal commission look into this? Or will the money some companies have paid to Liberal ''slush funds'' insure them against the glare of our Prime Minister's bright light?
Construction workers need a strong union
CFMEU members work in an industry full of risk - both physical and financial - on a daily basis. It is the union that chases companies for lost wages and entitlements; it is the union which tries to instil safety measures and regulations on sites; and it is the union which has to deal with unscrupulous employers who take shortcuts to increase their bottom line.
And it is the union that our Prime Minister has in his sights. The vast majority of CFMEU members, delegates and officials are honest people doing their job as best they can. The union will not defend or accept corruption in its ranks; after all any unionist who accepts a bribe has betrayed their members and made common cause with the employer who offered the bribe. When corruption has been proved the union has acted in the past and will act in the future.
A politician serious about combating crime would properly fund the Australian Crime Commission, which has all of the powers of a standing royal commission. This would not, however, serve Abbott's political agenda.
You don't have to be a rocket scientist to work out that Abbott doesn't really want a royal commission to fix criminality and corruption, rather he wants to damage his opponents, in particular the union movement which defeated WorkChoices in 2007.
The Prime Minister's claim that he is on the side of the honest worker rings hollow when we see him lie about workers' wages and conditions at Toyota and SPC. It is clear he is determined to allow corporate Australia to keep their darker activities away from the beam of his carefully directed spotlight.
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