The Guardian 9 March, 2005

Taskforce went "missing"

While building workers at Multiplex sites were staring down death threats and extortion bids last week, John Howard's Building Industry Taskforce was running a "hopeless" case against their union. The hapless Taskforce copped another judicial spray as NSW CFMEU Construction Division Secretary, Andrew Ferguson, revealed it had gone "missing" when industry participants closed ranks against an extortionist who threatened to kill union members.

The CFMEU, Multiplex and police shared intelligence in a bid to head off a stand-over merchant who said he would shoot crane drivers if their employer did not hand over $50 million.

But Mr Ferguson said the Building Industry Taskforce, headed by Nigel Hadgkiss, had shown no interest.

"The Taskforce was non-existent", he said. "When the industry was rocked by a major extortion racket and threats of murder, it was nowhere to be seen. They talk about zero tolerance for unlawful behaviour but, apparently, this didn't register on their radar.

"They are a one-trick pony whose only interest is intimidating workers and trying to hold down their living standards."

Australian taxpayers were left with the bill after the latest Taskforce case against the CFMEU went belly-up in the Federal Court.

Last Friday, in the middle of the Multiplex scare, the court ordered the Taskforce to pay costs incurred by the CFMEU in defending allegations it had tried to force a Wollongong contractor to join up.

Justice Wilcox slammed the "hopeless" case put before him by Hadgkiss' organisation.

"Even on the view of the facts propounded by the applicants, their case was hopeless", Justice Wilcox said. "It was instituted without reasonable cause."

Meanwhile, Hadgkiss has initiated legal action against the Victorian government for refusing to grant a contract to a demolition contractor that dusted Yallourn with asbestos.

In documents filed in the Federal Court, Hadgkiss seeks fines of up to $33,300 for alleged breaches of Howard government laws. He claims the company was excluded from a Gippsland tender process because it wanted employees to work on a non-union agreement.

But in a re-run of arguments heard before the Cole Royal Commission, workers say Able Contractors has an abysmal safety record.

"In the past this company imploded a chimney at the old power station, blowing asbestos all over Yallourn", said John Parker, Secretary of the Gippsland Trades and Labor Council. "They let a worker fall through a sheet of asbestos."

There are also allegations that it blocked health and safety inspections by an independent hygienist, Worksafe officers and unions at the Lurgi Gas Plant.

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