Two public screenings of Constructing Fear have been held in Brisbane — the first on September 19 to an enthusiastic crowd of 200 people at the University of Queensland organised by the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU). The film exposes the role of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, the anti-union taskforce set up by the Howard government following the recommendations of the Cole Royal Commission.
The ABCC was established in 2005 and has targeted hundreds of construction workers. It conducts closed tribunals and seeks individual fines of up to $28,600. Those summonsed cannot refuse to attend a hearing; they cannot refuse to answer question; they cannot tell anyone what happened in the hearing; and they have no right to silence while being questioned. The penalty for not cooperating with the ABCC is a mandatory six month prison sentence.
Grace Grace, general secretary of the Queensland Council of Unions, spoke at the screening, saying the campaign to abolish the ABCC would not stop at the next election. Grace pledged to represent workers if she was elected in the by-election for former premier Peter Beattie's seat of Brisbane Central. Senate candidate for the Greens, Larissa Waters, called for the ABCC to be abolished.
Two construction workers facing charges for taking industrial action on the Perth-Mandurah rail project also addressed the audience, explaining that they had no chance of being able to pay the fines that they had been issued with, and that the prospect of facing prison sentences had severely affected them and their families. The film's director, Joe Loh, said: "The stories of the workers in the film shocked me, but their strength and courage gives me great hope. The film belongs to them."
Dave Noonan, national secretary of the CFMEU, gave some background to the creation of the ABCC and the nature of the construction industry: "Construction workers are treated as second class citizens under the law ... the penalties for taking industrial action are higher for construction workers than they are for any other worker. However if Howard is returned, these attacks won't be restricted to the construction sector. Irrespective of who is in government we will continue to campaign for the rights of all workers."
The Socialist Alliance held a screening of the film on September 26, which was attended by 30 people. The event marked the Brisbane launch of the Socialist Alliance's Workers' Rights Charter. The crowd was addressed by the Socialist Alliance's Griffith candidate, Jim McIlroy, and former Electrical Trades Union strike leader Bernie Neville, who spoke of the need for unions' independence, which requires them to break away from the ALP. The vibrant discussion that followed covered the need to build a strong trade union movement to abolish the ABCC and to defend and extend all workers' rights, regardless of the election outcome.
A copy of the film can be downloaded from http://www.constructingfear.com.au.