Tony Abbott’s selective concern about corruption

Black bans and industrial boycotts are industrial tactics, not corruption

Sarah Hathway and Sean Brocklehurst are running as Socialist Alliance candidates in the Victorian election. They released this statement on November 7.

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The federal government's concern about “corruption” is very selective.

For many months, there have been calls for a royal commission into the Commonwealth Bank and ASIC to investigate how thousands of people were stripped of their life savings as a result of fraud by dodgy financial planners working for the bank.

But Prime Minister Tony Abbott is not interested in holding a royal commission on this corruption, which has affected thousands of pensioners.

What about companies in the building industry that routinely underpay workers and use sham contracting arrangements or companies that close down without paying workers, then start up a new company?

There are many employers who are serial offenders at closing companies down to avoid paying the workers then set up a new company.

The federal government is not interested in investigating these dodgy and fraudulent construction bosses.

Why did Abbott set up a royal commission on unions rather than on the building industry? The answer to this is that the last couple of building industry inquiries mostly found corruption among the bosses. They did not find any evidence of corruption in the construction unions anywhere in Australia.

The corrupt practices of a number of officials in the Health Services Union was a godsend to Abbott. At last he had evidence of union corruption.

The use of members' money by HSU officials to fund their personal lifestyle was used by the government in the media to try to smear all unions as being guilty of this behaviour.

But the commission has not allowed room for allegations about corrupt bosses to be raised, unless they implicate unions.

On September 18, Victorian Police Deputy Commissioner Stephen Fontana made allegations in the commission that members of motorcycle gangs were officials of the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU) and were intimidating people on building sites.

Under cross-examination by the CFMEU's counsel, Fontana backtracked and said it was one person. When pressed further to name the person, Fontana named a person who has never been a CFMEU official or shop steward and has not been a financial member since 2012

The police intelligence informing this allegation came from a Herald Sun story which had a photo of a 10,000 person rally. In the photo there was a bikie gang member in the crowd. That photo was considered “evidence”.

Under the rules of the commission, any allegation can be aired and reported in the media, but the unions' lawyers are not allowed to cross-examine witnesses until three months later. This means that the media have been publishing the allegations but not the corrections when the witnesses are cross-examined.

Some allegations against Victorian CFMEU secretary John Setka were raised and disproved years ago only to be aired again in the commission. The evidence for these allegations fell apart under cross-examination.

There have been a number of cases where the CFMEU has had internal investigations into corruption, which resulted in the sacking of officials in some instances.

In a new twist, Jeremy Stoljar, the counsel assisting the commission, recommended that charges be brought against Setka over the alleged threat of a black ban of concrete company Boral for supplying concrete to notoriously anti-union company Grocon.

The recommendation to charge Setka demonstrates that the commission was not set up to target corruption.

The commission's primary purpose is to target industrially militant unions by whatever means necessary and to smear the reputation of unions among their members and the general public.

Black bans and industrial boycotts are industrial tactics. They do not amount to corruption. And yet that is what the commission is targeting.

For unions, the commission has been a huge waste of resources to defend themselves against baseless allegations.

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