“I was wrong,” expert witness recants

Victoria Police is backing the most extreme elements of Tony Abbott’s anti-union agenda, according to a top Melbourne cop.

In extraordinary evidence to Abbott’s trade union royal commission, Assistant Commissioner Stephen Fontana, outlined a legislative wish list that could have been lifted straight off a HR Nicholls Society propaganda leaflet.

His headline demands are for the anti-union Fair Work Building Commission to get back coercive powers removed by the Gillard Government, and a funding boost.

But Fontana didn’t stop there. He wants a number of other changes, including:

–   extending the Protected Disclosures Act to cover union officials and their activities

–   introducing a Fit and Proper Person Test for union officials

–   giving police the right block people from union office, regardless of whether or not they have criminal convictions

–   police able to keep secret their reasons for declining Fit and Proper Person applications

–   stronger protections for trade union “whistleblowers”

–   adoption of Cole Commission recommendations on union finances

–   and, presumably, further tightening safety and right of entry restrictions

“It is the view of Victoria Police that the OHS Act is misused by union officials to gain access to a site for the purpose of engaging in criminal activity,” Fontana says.

“It is the view of Victoria Police that provisions allowing for entry to sites by union officials, under the OHS Act and the Fair Work Act, do not effectively prevent authorised entry where the entry is for an ulterior purpose.”

These views mimic lines being run by Abbott, Liberal Party hardliner Eric Abetz and FWBC chief, Nigel Hadgkiss, in their clamour for beefed-up anti-union laws.

Like them, Fontana felt no obligation to provide evidence for his claims.

The one solid claim he made, on behalf of police intelligence, resulted in a back down and apology.

Pressed for something to support his assertions that CFMEU officials were members of criminal motorcycle gangs, Fontana named Comancheros Sergeant at Arms, Norman Meyer.

It seemed this intelligence was drawn from a newspaper photo of Meyer, a building worker, at a union rally.

Informed Meyer was not and never had been a union official, and, in fact, was not even a financial union member, Fontana backed down.

“I got that wrong. I apologise,” he said.

He conceded no CFMEU official had ever been charged with blackmail, corruption or drug crimes, despite his claims they were involved in those activities.

Under cross examination, Fontana admitted he should have also called for employers, including labour hire operators, to face Fit and Proper person tests.

The Fontana statement was an odd mixture of middle management gibberish, inaccuracies and political talking points.

Fontana appeared to contradict previous Victoria Police statements on the Norm Meyer photograph while his legislative prescriptions, seemed at odds with evidence his chief commissioner gave to a recent Senate inquiry that, in seven years of full coercive powers, FWBC investigations had not led to a single criminal conviction.

He testified to Victoria Police’s commitment to “multi-jurisdictional, multi-agency interoperability”, its targeting of “serious crime thematic issues” and its strategy for “target hardening vulnerable markets”.

But, he didn’t appear to know that Australian union officials already face a Fit and Proper Person Test to get right of entry permits.

CFMEU construction division national secretary Dave Noonan said he was not prepared to jump to conclusions about the politicisation of the Victorian police.

He approached the deputy commissioner after his evidence and reiterated written offers to meet and discuss concerns.

“Our union is opposed to criminality in the building industry, or any other industry,” Noonan said. “The CFMEU has a no tolerance policy for any person involved in corruption or criminal activity.

“No tolerance, for officials and employees of this union, means the sack but we won’t act without evidence and neither should the police.

“It is probably no coincidence that these fears about criminals in the industry come after a decade of the FWBC running interference on union efforts to deal with phoenix operators, tax cheats and employers who systematically rip off their employees.

“We have tried to tell them that these are the people who open the door for hardcore criminals.”

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