In sensational evidence, a businessmen from the George Alex group of companies said fellow director, Joe Antoun, perforated both his eardrums during a savage beating in a Burwood street.
The commission learned that, months later, Antoun was shot dead in front of his wife and daughter.
The witness, a former NSW police officer, said he developed “serious reservations” about his new line of employment when another business associate, Vasko Boskovski, was murdered.
Another witness on this memorable day was first spotted outside the hearing rooms wearing a NSW Corrections Department jumpsuit and the close attention of armed prison officers.
Jimmy Kendrovski, a shareholder in at least three Sydney construction businesses is banged up in Parklea Prison on firearms offences. A successful cage fighter, Kendrovski said he had been bashed in gaol and was afraid to give honest evidence.
These characters established themselves in the Sydney building industry while it was being policed, at least theoretically, by the Fair Work Building Commission Inspectorate, established by Abbott to counter “intimidation and thuggery”.
Adding in a book-keeper who turned out to be the mother-in-law of Syria-based ISIS terrorist, Khaled Sharrouf, meant this cast always going to be a hard act to follow.
But, the very next day the FWBC Inspectorate, headed by former federal policeman Nigel Hadgkiss, gave it a shot.
It rolled out five inspectors to back royal commission counsel assisting, Jeremy Stoljar’s assertion that the CFMEU tries to intimidate it.
First up, former detective Seamus Flynn, tendered a recording of a CFMEU official swearing on an Adelaide building site, then four colleagues said they had been intimidated and threatened at trouble-plagued Barangaroo in Sydney.
It was passing strange that of all the dozens of building sites where FWBC inspectors have supported employers they chose to highlight their involvement with Barangaroo where principal contractor, Lend Lease, used Alex-linked companies.
Anyway, the behaviour of these alleged killers, terrorists and standover merchants didn’t appear to bother the Hadgkiss’ crew. Certainly, none of them mentioned it in their evidence.
Matthew Barr, Adam Pascoe, Jared O’Connor and Veronica Tadros said they had gone to Barangaroo a number of times to photograph, video record and take notes at union meetings.
Much of their evidence centred around a meeting, held off-site, on Friday July 25 to consider Fair Work Commission return to work orders.
They all said union officials, at that meeting, had described FWBC inspectors as “dogs”.
Barr said one official had called O’Connor a “grub”, read out his work phone number and suggested that workers “give him a call and tell him what you think”.
Barr testified he had attended the union meeting with a Lend Lease manager who pointed out different people and identified those who spoke.
Barr: (CFMEU branch secretary) Parker then pointed at O’Connor and I, and said: ‘That’s the FWBC. They are here to prosecute workers. We have the right to go to work and to not be prosecuted like dogs. This is Australia.
A man standing in the crowd then began to yell out to the crowd. I did not know this man. This man was wearing a black beanie, had a moustache and appeared to be 50 or 60 years of age (Lend Lease manager) Blanchard said to me: ‘That’s (Name Redacted). He works for Lend Lease Structures.
I could not hear all of what (Name Redacted) said but I heard (Redacted) say the words: ‘Nazi Germany’ and ‘FWBC are Gestapo’.
Barr alleged that, after the meeting, a CFMEU organiser threatened his children. It was an extraordinary claim based on the ‘evidence’ he used to support to it.
Barr: (Name Redacted) then said to me: ‘I hope your kids work in the construction industry, then they they will come running to us’.
I took this as a personal threat to me that (Name Redacted) would harm my children if they worked in the construction industry. I believe that this threat was aimed at me to intimidate me.
Tadros said she went around the July 25 meeting taking photos. She said she went up to within 3m of where Parker was speaking to a group of workers and started taking more.
She said Parker suggested that she desist and, then, when she continued, that he would “take a fucking photo” of her. Tadros said CFMEU assistant secretary, Rob Kera, then stood between her and Parker with his back to her.
Tadros: Kera was standing so close to me that it forced me to move to the right as I felt his close proximity to be intimidating. I then observed Parker taking his black mobile phone out of his pocket and take a photo of me.
On and on it went.
Barr said when FWBC officers returned to Barangaroo for another meeting, the following week, he saw a union official spit water “in the direction of the boots” of another FWBC Inspector.
He said when he looked at the man who had spat on the ground he was told: ‘Lick it up you fucking dog”.When (Name Redacted) said this it was said with an aggressive tone. I felt like (Redacted) was making personal threats against O’Connor and I, and that this behaviour was assault.
Despite this, in the very next paragraph, he then turns away and looks back to where Parker is speaking.
Later, based on this incident, the FWBC inspector approached three police officers and laid a formal assault complaint.
None of this is edifying but it raises a very real question – who was really doing the intimidating at Barangaroo?
The trade union royal commission is not big on context but sometimes it helps.
In the build up to July 25, Lend Lease sites had been racked by safety issues and everyone in Sydney knew it.
In the preceding few months, a worker had died at Barangaroo and two serious fires had seen the site evacuated.
At the nearby UTS job, opposite Central Station, a crane caught fire and the jib toppled into a busy street at the end of the morning rush hour.
The CFMEU conducted safety audits on Lend Lease sites and called for improvements. The company dismissed those concerns as a union beat-up.
By this time, the FWBC was actively supporting Lend Lease moves to block safety inspections. It was contesting the right of union officials to visit workplaces, then shadowing and photographing them, on behalf of the company, when they did.
It was advising Lend Lease when the company suspended Barangaroo delegate, Peter Genovese, who was leading the safety push.
More than 1,000 workers registered their opposition to that action, in July, but, within 12 hours, Lend Lease had secured return to work orders from the Fair Work Commission.
Around the country, the FWBC has used similar orders to prosecute the CFMEU and chase individual members for fines of up to $21,000.
Hadgkiss has made it clear, in widely-reported statements, that his organisation will seek the confiscation of family homes if workers cannot pay those fines.
Earlier this year, he announced to supporters at the Australian Mines and Metals Association, that he had instituted proceedings against rank and file union members in Western Australia with exactly that intention.
It was against that background, that hundreds of Barangaroo workers met at 6.30am on July 25 to consider their options.
FWBC inspectors concede workers left Barangaroo and crossed the road to meet off-site. They testified they heard officials say, repeatedly, the meeting was for union members only.
However, at least six FWBC Inspectors crashed this meeting, along with armed police and, eyewitnesses estimate, between 50 and 70 Lend Lease middle managers wearing orange vests.
When this support cast was in place, FWBC inspectors took out clipboards and notebooks and made a show of recording what people were saying.
Others moved into the ruck, taking photos and videoing individuals. Someone, believed to have been from Lend Lease, set up a video camera on a tripod and started recording the meeting.
CFMEU Construction division national secretary, Dave Noonan, says Barangaroo is just one example of a long-running FWBC campaign against his organisation.
“Simply, they don’t recognise our right to exist as an active, member-based union,” Noonan says. “There is no common sense with the FWBC. They blow up minor disputes and pressure reasonable employers into taking militant, anti-union positions.
“Tony Abbott is up front about his desire to slash construction costs and he has chosen to do that by attacking wages, entitlements and job security. He has given the job of making that happen to Hadgkiss who is no more a policeman, in this situation, than I am.
”Hadgkiss is a partisan political activist. Knowingly or otherwise, this royal commission has bought into his anti-worker agenda.
“The royal commission has given us a glimpse of what the face of Australian construction will look like if Abbott and Hadgkiss get their way.
“That face looks a lot like George Alex and everyone should take a moment and think about that before it is too late.”