The Guardian 28 September, 2005

Hadgkiss’ travesty of justice

Nigel Hadgkiss’ Building Industry Taskforce is running a political agenda on behalf of the federal government, according to a senior Brisbane lawyer.

Brock Miller, a partner with Quinlan Miller and Treston, made the allegation after the Taskforce pulled three coercion prosecutions, halfway through hearings, in the Federal Court in Brisbane.

Miller likened the actions, against building industry unions and the Builders’ Labourers’ Federation (BLF) organiser John Lund, to old-fashioned show trials.

"The proceedings were a travesty of justice", Mr Miller said. "They amounted to the federal taskforce trying to win political points for the federal government.

"The claims related to alleged incidents in 2003. The trial was set down for hearing months ago but on no fewer than seven occasions the Taskforce amended the allegations it wished to put before the court.

"The federal government has deep pockets and, I would estimate, this action probably cost the parties close to $100,000, before it was abandoned."

The case turned on a memorandum of understanding between head contractor, Barclay Mowlem, and the BLF that sub-contractors should be parties to enterprise agreements.

Hadgkiss’ agency pulled the cases after the employer it was championing, Brant de Hennin of The Tile Connection, admitted, under cross examination, that he had not told the truth about the status of his employees.

Its 11th-hour withdrawal denied respondents the opportunity to recover any of the costs spent in defending themselves over the last two years.

The allegations came one week after Hadgkiss, armed by Canberra with a suite of new coercive powers, launched an overtly-political report into the activities of his agency.

Hadgkiss recycled Tony Abbott’s contention that if construction industry wages could be slashed to the level of the largely ununionised domestic housing sector, everybody would be better off.

"The Taskforce", he wrote, "has strived to help decent, honest building and construction industry participants eradicate un-Australian, lawless behaviour ..."

Hadgkiss illustrates every page of his document with unsourced quotes designed to damage the reputation of trade unionists.

Page four’s contributor says there is "One rotten egg in the industry and it’s the unions".

Other large-print quotes, generally taking up a full third of a page, include:

  • "The unions keep moving the goal posts"

  • "Unions have more power than the police, but they don’t have a uniform";

  • "There isn’t a site you can get on without being members of the union or having an EBA";

  • "Something has to be done about this. You can’t have CFMEU [building union] stewards and delegates walking around with the sort of power."

  • "Stop union thugs from doing what they’re doing"

  • "Nobody can take the unions on"

  • "Unions insist on having industrial unrest".

    CFMEU Assistant National Secretary, Dave Noonan, said the vague, unsourced allegations are part of an orchestrated campaign against the unions. The aim is to deunionise building sites and slash wages and conditions to enhance profits.

    Back to index page