The Guardian 20 July, 2005

"Put up or shut up"

Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews is being challenged to "put up or shut up" over accusations of criminality against building workers. Construction Division national secretary of the CFMEU, John Sutton, threw down the gauntlet after Andrews claimed last week that the industry was the scene of ongoing "thuggery and intimidation".

Andrews levelled the accusations in defence of a government blacklist of employers who do not agree with its hard-line industrial relations stance.

"This government's legislation, and its code, has nothing to do with thuggery", Sutton said. "They are attempts to hold down the living standards of building workers and their families.

"Efforts to wrap that agenda in a law and order cloak are blatantly dishonest and they insult tens of thousands of building workers. It's time for Kevin Andrews to put up or shut up."

Last week, Andrews again urged industry employers not to sign collective agreements with building workers. In case they are tempted, he confirmed they would be barred from access to tens of millions of dollars worth of government work.

Mr Sutton said the Minister's emotive language fitted a pattern the government has used since coming to power in 1996.

In that period, he said, it had spent $65 million on a Royal Commission into the Building Industry that utilised more than 120 investigators to dig dirt on CFMEU members; written special legislation for the industry that bars almost all forms of industrial action, including meetings, on pain of imprisonment; established a special Building Industry Taskforce and given dozens of its officers, mostly lawyers and former police officers, sweeping coercive powers; written a Code for the industry which uses a blacklist to try and dissuade employers from negotiating with the union.

Mr Sutton said for all the "colour and dirt" of the Royal Commission, where sensational evidence dragged on in state capitals for more than a year, it resulted in only one prosecution, nationwide, and that was of a Western Australian building company.

He said the federal government campaign appeared to be built on the theory that if you repeat a lie often enough it becomes the truth.

The actions of the Taskforce, he said, had unmasked its true agenda.

"The Taskforce spends millions of dollars chasing union members and trying to hold down wages and conditions but turns a blind eye to any illegality when our members are on the receiving end", Sutton said.

He said Taskforce boss, Nigel Hadgkiss, had admitted as much when he conceded issues of importance to workers were "outside his remit".

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