The Guardian 16 February, 2005

"Payback" evidence goes missing

Nigel Hadgkiss, the head of the Howard government's union-bashing Building Industry Taskforce, has "lost" interview records at the centre of a former Detective Sergeant's claims of "payback" and "victimisation". Father of two, Michael McGann, has been unemployed since being dumped by the controversial Taskforce, last October.

This month, the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, wrote to McGann to tell him the interview notes at the centre of his claim against Hadgkiss had been "lost" by the Taskforce.

McGann had lodged the Freedom of Information request in a bid to prove his dumping was part of a Hadgkiss "vendetta". The holder of the NSW Police's highest bravery award, the Valour Medal, McGann is adamant he lost his Brisbane-based position because of evidence, critical of Hadgkiss, he gave to a 2003 Parliamentary committee.

"I told the inquiry Hadgkiss' investigators, at the Wood Royal Commission, fabricated evidence and he should have known about it", McGann said.

"As soon as I came onto his radar at the Building Industry Taskforce I was a marked man. In October, we had to reapply for our jobs and I was the only person not re-appointed."

Corporate former employers wrote recommendations on McGann's behalf but he was punted on October 26 last year.

Since then he has sought redress through the Commonwealth Ombudsman, Department of Employment and Workplace Relations and the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission.

He says he is pursuing the issue to warn Australians about Hadgkiss.

"This has cost us sleep, money and peace of mind but it is not about the job any more. It is about Nigel Hadgkiss and the way he operates", McGann said.

"This Government is going to give the Building and Construction Commission sweeping coercive powers and people in authority should be considering if this is the man who should be in charge."

The 22-year law enforcement veteran is not the first former officer to raise questions about the Taskforce supremo.

Former undercover detective, Michael Kennedy, likened Hadgkiss to American "Lord of the Files", the former director of the FBI, J Edgar Hoover.

In 2003, Kennedy gave sworn evidence to the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs that when Hadgkiss had been its senior investigator, the Wood Royal Commission had routinely used illegal communications intercepts.

Kennedy told the committee Hadgkiss had used covert recordings to fit him up for falsely accusing members of the Joint Drugs Task Force of corruption. Years later, he said, Hadgkiss, himself, had taken credit for unmasking the same people.

Kennedy said he had lodged formal complaints about the "criminal and illegal activities of Hadgkiss" and others.

In further developments, the Federal Court has upheld the right of unions to enforce workplace health and safety standards in tossing out another batch of prosecutions run by the Building Industry Taskforce.

Justice Murray Wilcox rejected allegations brought by Taskforce boss, Nigel Hadgkiss, that a Wollongong sub-contractor had been drummed off a site because he refused to join the CFMEU.

Wilcox heard evidence that the subbie, PJ and LJ Smith Plant Hire, had been operating dangerous equipment and did not have Workers' Compensation paperwork in order.

He heard that the subcontractor had failed to comply with repeated requests to update workers' comp records. "Officials of unions whose members are working in an inherently dangerous place such as a construction site have an obligation to those members to take an interest in occupational health and safety issues and the adequacy of insurance arrangements affecting workers on the site", Justice Wilcox ruled.

The reverse for the Howard Government's Taskforce came just three months after a Melbourne judge characterised its tactics as "undemocratic" and "authoritarian".

In that case Federal Court Justice Marshall ruled the Taskforce did not have the right to access the personal bank accounts of building workers employed on the Concept Blue site.

Justice Marshall criticised Hadgkiss' organisation for failing to disclose the purpose of its investigation when it ordered workers to produce the details after hearing, in evidence, that it "might not have (had) a suspicion about anything".

"Such notices are foreign to the workplace relations of civilised society, as distinct from undemocratic and authoritarian states", Justice Marshall ruled.

Days after the Marshall ruling, Workplace Relations Minister, Kevin Andrews, confirmed the federal government would further boost Taskforce powers. It has churned its way through more than $13 million taxpayer dollars to recover $15,000 in fines.

Back to index page