Desal spy scandal — Jail the real industrial crooks, not Ark Tribe!

Margarita Windisch.

Workers downed tools at the Wonthaggi desalination plant, near Melbourne, after the November 18 Australian claimed senior managers of building contractor Thiess Degremont hired the Australian Security Intelligence group (ASI) to spy on union members, union delegates and others working on the project earlier this year.

Thiess is a subsidiary of one of Australia’s largest companies, Leighton. The ASI is a company run by notorious strikebreaker Bruce Townsend, jailed in 2006 in Hobart for receiving stolen cars.

The Australian alleged that Thiess had funnelled hundreds of thousands of dollars through a Melbourne solicitors’ firm to pay ASI to spy on workers. The Australian also said ASI had compiled hundreds of pages of “alleged union rorts, corruption and disruptive work practices” for project managers.

Margarita Windisch, Socialist Alliance candidate for Footscray, made the following statement about the scandal on November 18.


There must be full disclosure, a full investigation and criminal charges should be laid over the alleged secret spy operation at the Victorian government’s $5 billion Wonthaggi desalination plant.

It is outrageous that bosses are recruiting strikebreakers to spy on workers, while Adelaide building worker Ark Tribe faces jail for defending workplace safety.

Tribe faces up to six months in jail for refusing to attend an interview with the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) after an “unauthorised” union meeting about safety issues at his worksite in 2008. He will appear for sentencing in the Adelaide Magistrates Court on December 18.

Theiss management’s pledge to investigate the allegations is a farce and ABCC head Leigh Johns’ undertaking that it would investigate to see if there had been a breach of workplace rights is a sick joke.

The discredited ABCC is desperately trying to legitimise itself by promising to investigate the Thiess spy allegations. Until now, the ABCC has shown no interest in investigating management misbehaviour.

The union movement must maintain its boycott of the ABCC. It discriminates against building union members by treating them as criminals and takes away many of their rights, including the right to silence.

Labornet says that, since the ABCC was set up in 2005, there has been a 95% rise in deaths on building sites.

The ABCC creates the political atmosphere where building employers feel they can risk recruiting spies to monitor, disempower, subvert or undermine actions taken by unions in defence of workers’ rights.

It must be abolished immediately.


We were told the 1998 MUA dispute about crane rates. But was it? Weren't government and boss in league with each other to rid the waterfront of the union in order to make more profit? The AUSTRALIAN is saying Thiess colluded with scabs to get rid of the union. So is government using this as an excuse to defer building a useless de-sal plant?