“OUR two weapons are fear and surprise… and ruthless efficiency. Our three weapons are fear, surprise, and ruthless efficiency … and an almost fanatical devotion ….” Cardinal Jiminez, 1970
A BRISBANE mum is teaching her kids how to contact lawyers in case she is suddenly arrested and taken away, Tony Abbott’s royal commission against trade unions has heard
Cherie Shaw, who has worked in the Queensland CFMEU office for six years, said she had taught her eldest boy how to ring lawyers after police from the royal commission taskforce grilled her for 75 minutes in front of her partner and four children.
She was one of at least four union admin staff shaken by unannounced, night time visits from federal police in the first week of September.
Another woman, married to a Queensland police officer, described the attention as “pretty horrible”, while a third, intercepted in the Customs Hall at Brisbane Airport, said she felt she had been “humiliated”.
At least three of the four had requests for legal representation brushed aside by police, they told the commission.
Ms Shaw said her family was finishing dinner, around 8.30pm, when police barged into her home. She said she had no warning and was “extremely nervous”.
The finance officer said she asked to contact lawyers but was told there was “no need because they were just going to ask me a couple of questions”. However, the two officers questioned her for another hour and a quarter.
“Afterwards, I didn’t want to be at home, I didn’t want to be at work. I didn’t want to be by myself in case they turned up again, and … I had to tell my 14-year-old if he was ever home and I was not home, if the police turned up he had to ring lawyers to let them know what was going on,” Ms Shaw said.
“Because, I feared that they would turn up again and that I might be arrested.”
Media officer, Jessica Kanofski, who started with the Builders Labourers Federation (BLF) as an office junior eight years earlier, was distressed and more than a little angry about the way she felt federal police had used her husband, a Queensland police officer.
A: They came to my house with my husband who they picked up from work.
Q: Do you know how they came to be speaking to your husband?
A: No. They just turned up at his work and called him off the job, because he’s a police officer, and then escorted him to our place and spoke to me.
Q: How did you feel?
A: It was a pretty horrible experience. I was very shaken up by it. The last thing you expect is for your work and personal life to be sort of mixed together.
In an interview with Commission Watch, she expanded on that concern.
“They pulled my husband off the job and made me feel I was backed into a corner and had no option about speaking to them,” she said. “At the time, I didn’t think it was the right thing but I felt I had to.
“They got my husband to tell me I couldn’t make any phone calls and not to contact anyone at the union.
“You just don’t expect this. I was freaking out, I was very, very nervous.
“They kept waving a piece of paper in my face and telling me I could go to jail if I accidentally left anything out of my statement.
“They were fishing and, I think, they thought I was going to be the weak link because my husband was a copper. That really did get to me.”
Ms Kanofski said there was no doubt constant allegations from political foes of the union had put pressure on the young couple’s marriage.
She said she and her husband held different political views and that was fine but she drew the line at people attempting to use him to get to her.
Ms Kanofski also revealed she had limited confidence in police assurances their interview had not been recorded.
“I asked and they said it wasn’t being recorded but I still think, probably, it was,” she said.
“Honestly, I don’t know but they asked me virtually the same questions I was asked in the royal commission and I gave them the same answers.”
Industrial Officer Michelle Clare got the shock of her life at the end of an exhausting flight home from Europe, via the middle east.
Customs officers pointed her to three people who introduced themselves as “part of the Trade Union Royal Commission”.
She didn’t have to introduce herself, police made it clear they knew exactly who she was and the time her plane had been scheduled to land.
Ms Clare told them she wanted a lawyer but “they told me only people being investigated require a lawyer and I wasn’t being investigated”.
“I had my parents waiting in the arrivals lounge,” she said. “I managed to send my father a message when I was being questioned that I was … well … something was wrong, just so he knew.”
Q: How did you feel?
Q: Did these people ever make an attempt, to your knowledge, to contact you again?
A: I told them that I was back at work on Monday and that they could contact me on Monday when I was back in the office but they never turned up. The last thing I heard was I had received a summons to appear.
The women were grilled as the commission sought information to support its theory that this year’s annual office clean-up was really an attempt by branch secretary, Michael Ravbar, to evade a Notice to Produce – a criminal offence punishable by up to five years in prison.
The commission used allegations from a secret recording of former union official David Hanna. He was lashing out at Ravbar as he sought to cut a deal during an internal investigation into behaviour his political rival alleged had been corrupt.
Hanna’s BLF had amalgamated with the CFMEU on the very day of the office clean-up – April 1, 2014. This was also the day the royal commission said its notice to produce should have landed in Ravbar’s email inbox at 4.16pm.
Ravbar told the commission the CFMEU office had been a mess, thanks in no small part to 15 new staff going onto the payroll that day, renovations still being finished and hundreds of boxes of assorted material arriving with the Builders Labourers.
He said he had been going through material for days and that, on April 1, he had stood at a work bench all afternoon and into the evening ensuring material for the dump was either “crap” or supported by electronic copies.
Ravbar said he had ascertained there were back-up versions with relevant senior staff Paula Masters, Jacqui Collie and Ms Shaw. He said he hadn’t checked his emails until the following morning.
Those women all supported Ravbar’s version of events, in the face of aggressive questioning from royal commission senior counsel Sarah McNaughton
It wasn’t lost on observers that three of the four admin staff police had confronted at night had come across with Hanna as a result of the amalgamation.
Despite that, every one of them, including one who has since left the union to work for a cleaning company, gave strong, confident evidence that the clean-up appeared routine and above board.
None of them supported a royal commission theory that Ravbar would have appeared panicked. None heard any discussion about a Notice to Produce.
Ms Kanofski said federal police actions had made her “feel like a criminal”.
“I think we all felt like that. We felt we were being intimidated but, at the end of the day, we had nothing to hide.”
And, for her personally, she conceded, there had been a tinge of sadness.
“The whole situation was pretty disappointing really,” she explained. “I have been doing this work for eight and a half years and I really believe in it.
“Dave Hanna introduced me to this world and made me passionate about the work we can do for our members.
“It was a sad day but all I could do was in go in there and tell them the truth.”