The Guardian 16 November, 2005

Kangaroo court begins interrogations

Perth building workers were barred from choosing their legal representatives during the first week of secret interrogations held by John Howard’s Australian Building and Construction Commission.

The decision forced at least one worker to go before investigators who were armed with sweeping coercive powers, without any representation. The performance has been labelled a "disgrace" by the Construction Division of the CFMEU which is calling for the head of ABCC Commissioner, John Lloyd to resign.

"What we saw in Perth this week was an insult to any concept of democracy or justice", CFMEU National Secretary, John Sutton, said.

"They are values Australians have fought for and we are not prepared to see them trampled by John Lloyd, or anybody else. He should either resign, or be made to resign."

The Commission was established by Workplace Relations Minister, Kevin Andrews, to investigate possible breaches of new building sector industrial laws, and to prosecute alleged offenders.

As part of its brief, it can compel rank and file workers to attend secret interrogation sessions where they are denied the common law right to silence.

Individuals who fail to attend, refuse to answer questions or produce demanded documents, can be jailed.

The Commission held its first interviews in Perth, where the Federal Government has made no secret of its intention to smash the CFMEU.

Eight rank and file building workers were dragged before Lloyd’s sidekick, Nigel Hadgkiss, who had set up a Williams St office to look like a court of law, stationing himself behind the judge’s bench.

Each proceeding opened with a warning that revealing the contents of any questions, answers, or documents seen, to anyone outside the hearing, was forbidden.

Workers were then grilled, for hours at a time by a Counsel Assisting, backed by a government solicitor, with Hadgkiss, "ruling" from his bench, on points of law.

It was Hadgkiss, a former federal policeman who became a political activist with the disbanded Building Industry Taskforce, who barred workers from using their chosen legal representatives.

At 9am on the second day, he ordered Perth lawyer, Jo Boots, out of the interrogation room, on the grounds that she had already represented another person employed by Leightons Construction on the same job.

Hadgkiss reiterated that "ruling" at 2.30pm, when Boots appeared with another worker, informing her she could not even make submissions on behalf of anyone else from the Leightons project.

Hadgkiss cited a National Crime Authority ruling for his decision.

The union’s WA branch industrial officer, Karen Scoble, said Hadgkiss and Lloyd were running the Federal Government’s political agenda of portraying industrial action as criminal activity.

"They are applying rules, invoked to break organised crime, against individuals who haven’t done anything wrong and are not even alleged to have done anything wrong", Scoble said.

"The whole process is about intimidating rank and file union members by subjecting them to star chamber proceedings that trample on their basic civil rights."

She said if Lloyd and Hadgkiss continued to bar lawyers from representing more than one person, costs would "increase massively" and eventually people could be interrogated without any legal support.

"One of the jobs their investigators are crawling over has more than 400 employees", she said. "This law gives them the right to interrogate every one of those people and there aren’t that many lawyers in Perth."

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