Australian Building and Construction Commission puts CFMMEU on notice after cocaine bust

NSW Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union assistant secretary Michael Greenfield has pleaded guilty to cocaine possession after being caught up in an undercover police sting along with two other union officials.


In Victoria, CFMMEU Secretary John Setka has indicated his will plead guilty to harassing a woman, prompting calls for him to resign. 

Mr McBurney, who said he could not comment on specific cases before the courts, vowed to use his renewed mandate to uphold the law in the construction industry.

“We need to take action to ensure that serious criminal convictions are taken into account in whether someone has the privilege of holding a right of entry permit,” he said.

Former Labor leader Bill Shorten had promised to abolish the ABCC – which the union movement maintains has no other purpose than to “harass and intimidate” workers and their representatives – if he became prime minister.

The re-elected Morrison government’s new industrial relations minister Christian Porter now faces employer pressure to pass the union-busting Ensuring Integrity Bill that it has been unable to get through the Senate, while Labor goes back to the drawing board on its policies.

The ABCC, established after former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull called a double-dissolution election to secure the passage of legislation setting it up, will get an extra $3.7 million over the four years from July 1 as promised in the federal budget.

Mr McBurney said the ABCC would use the funds to boost enforcement in Queensland, where it had observed an upswing in alleged unlawful union activity, and pursue employers in the industry who fail to properly pay workers and subcontractors.

He defended the ABCC’s investigation of individual union members who participated in the Australian Council of Trade Union’s Change the Rules rallies last year, which resulted in court action against employees of a steel manufacturer.

“They didn’t get written permission [from their employer],” he said.

ACTU assistant secretary Liam O’Brien said the way the ABCC had approached the rallies was “completely inappropriate and designed to deprive working people of their right to protest and express dissent toward the Government”.

But Mr McBurney said workers could exercise their democratic rights on their own time.

“Where people repeatedly contravene the law we need to take strong action as a regulator and will continue to put them before the court,” he said.

The commission is pursuing Tasmanian CFMMEU organiser Richard Hassett in court for a fourth time over an alleged right of entry breach, and plans to seek a further personal payment order against him after he was fined $22,000 in a separate matter this week.

Mr Hassett was found to have entered a work site in Devonport for a safety inspection and when asked for his “notice” by management, gave the “middle finger” and said: “Get f—ed, that will never happen.”

The union was ordered to pay $115,000, putting the CFMMEU’s total fines for this financial year at more than $4.1 million.

Mr McBurney said that while other unions performed work in the construction industry, they rarely got into legal trouble, while the CFMMEU had 42 cases before the Federal Court.

“The fact that Mr Hassett’s got three convictions in three separate cases and a fourth matter before the court speaks volumes for the union’s disregard for the law,” he said.

The CFMMEU declined to comment.

Dana is health and industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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