POLICE are sharing speaking platforms with activists campaigning to drive unions out of Canberra workplaces.
At least one AFP officer, attached to Tony Abbott’s royal commission against trade unions, has spoken at a gathering organised by the ACT branch of the Master Builders Association.
And, in a statement to the Canberra Times, ACT Policing confirmed its officers had attended “several forums”, last year, at the request of the virulently anti-union organisation.
The public admissions came after CFMEU branch secretary, Dean Hall, blew the whistle. He revealed people who had attended MBA gatherings had reported police appeared opposed to employers having any relationship with the union.
The confirmed taskforce appearance occurred in October as the MBA was winding-up its campaign against union involvement in negotiations over wages and working conditions.
It came less than two months after Canberra MBA leaders, and representatives of several MBA-linked companies, gave controversial evidence to the royal commission in Canberra.
They were called to support three specific theories advanced by royal commission counsel – that, despite a number of deaths, safety concerns in the construction industry are little more than a cynical union stunt; that union reps are corrupt; and that the construction union has corralled employers into a cartel, or series of cartels, that inflate the cost of doing business.
The royal commission’s 57-strong police taskforce, established by Tony Abbott on January 1, 2015, began making public interventions in support of those theories with July’s arrest of former rugby league international, Johnny Lomax.
Its blackmail charge stemmed from Lomax’s success in negotiating a workplace agreement that provided a wage increase for painters.
It had been a central contention of royal commission counsel that CFMEU attempts to protect established wages rates and conditions, or even enforce legally-binding agreements, were illegitimate uses of union power.
They served up at least two anti-union witnesses in Canberra – Petar Josifoski of MPR Scaffolding and formwork contractor Elias Taleb – who were, at the time, facing legal action for allegedly underpaying employees.
The Lomax charge was dismissed at a brief hearing where prosecutors offered no evidence to support the taskforce position.
In August, after MBA witnesses had given evidence in their hometown and before the commission hauled Lomax and Hall to Sydney to appear, around 22 armed police staged a 13-hour raid on CFMEU offices in the Canberra suburb of Dickson.
They confiscated phones and thousands of electronic and hard copy records, after denying initial requests to show their warrant and, according to the ACT Supreme Court, “improperly and unduly” impeding union officers from observing the search.
In declaring police actions unlawful, Justice Refshauge, found they had withheld information from a magistrate in seeking a second search warrant.
In March, a Brisbane court dismissed a criminal obstruction charge the royal commission taskforce had brought against Quensland CFMEU organiser, Andrew Sutherland.
Apparently, this brief of evidence, relating to an incident alleged to have taken place in 2012, found its way to the desk of the deputy director of public prosecutions before the decision was taken to offer no evidence.
Also in March, highly-publicised allegations against Dean Hall were dismissed, again without going to court.
Access Canberra announced the ACT Director of Public Prosecutions would not lay charges against the CFMEU branch secretary over the alleged intimidation of a Worksafe Inspector.
In fact, prosecutors explained they couldn’t have laid charges even if they had wanted to, as the case was statute barred – something that would surely have been known by Heydon, a former High Court judge, when he referred Hall to prosecuting authorities.
Hall has labelled the intimidation allegation a “fit-up”.
“They knew they couldn’t possibly get a result out of this,” he told the Canberra Times.
He said the recommendation, like many others, had been made to smear and weaken the union, and to try to intimidate unionists who were vigilant about the health and safety of construction workers.