A wide-ranging royal commission into corruption in the unions is expected to be approved by cabinet today. It will look at union slush funds, corruption and the behaviour of union officials.
A leaked letter, written last year by the national secretary of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), Michael O’Connor, shows that the union has already asked for an independent investigation to take place. The investigation will look into claims that the Lack Group paid for a union official’s family holiday on the Gold Coast. The Lack Group is a Queensland-based group of companies which provide traffic management and labour for builders in Queensland and New South Wales.
The ABC has also reported that it was told the Lack Group had paid inducements, including cash bribes, to a group of CFMEU officials, in exchange for help in obtaining an enterprise bargaining (EB) agreement with the union.
The CFMEU is one of Australia’s largest unions. It was formed in 1992 when unions representing a number of different trades were amalgamated. The CFMEU is the union for bricklayers, carpenters, concreters, crane drivers, glaziers, labourers, painters, plant operators, plasterers, steelfixers, stonemasons and tile layers, amongst others. The union has branches in each of Australia’s capital cities, as well as in major regional centres.
Other allegations against the CFMEU include a building company owner who claims he was encouraged by a senior CFMEU official to sponsor the South Sydney Rabbitohs in exchange for the union’s support in his job tenders. Building union whistleblower Brian Fitzpatrick has also claimed that he received death threats from a colleague after speaking out against the union supporting an unnamed crime figure.
Fairfax Media has published information suggesting the corruption goes further than union officials. It claims to have been given access to documents which implicate a senior manager of Winslow, a large civil construction firm, as having received bribes worth at least $60,000 in exchange for rigging multi-million dollar contracts.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, a former trade union boss, has said that there is no need for a royal commission, as the issue of union corruption is one for the police to investigate. “Labor is asking the government to set up a police-led taskforce to deal with these issues. We believe a $100-million-plus royal commission is a political stunt that doesn’t do anything to assist with law and order. This is a job for police, not politicians.”
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has accused Mr Shorten of protecting his allies in the trade union movement. “We are on the side of the honest worker, we are on the side of the honest unionist, the question is whose side is Bill Shorten on?”
“Sometimes you need to shine a big spotlight, a great big spotlights into the dark corners of our national life. It is only then … that we can see the law-enforcement agencies doing their job properly.”
Bill Shorten has suggested that, instead of holding an enormously expensive royal commission (estimated at four times what it would cost to bail out the SPC cannery, which would save Australian of jobs), we instead create a taskforce within the Australian Federal Police (AFP). The AFP is highly trained in solving crimes, including corruption and bribery on a national level, and with the alleged links between unions and major underworld figures the AFP should be the responsible authority.
It seems a bit much, after this suggestion, for Prime Minister Abbott to come out and accuse Mr Shorten of wanting to “run a protection racket” as a “former union official”.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions president Ged Kearney has described the royal commission as a political stunt, saying that he felt Australians would be cynical about a move which serves the government’s political agenda. Mr Shorten called it a waste of money. “This nation does not have time to waste, or taxpayer dollars to waste, with the government pursuing political stunts, when in fact we’ve got police forces, the Australian Crime Commission, who already possess those powers.”
Australia has a long history of reinventing the wheel, and creating a royal commission to deal with this issue seems like just another song and dance to divert our attention from what should be the nation’s real priorities.
What do you think? Is this issue bigger than the Australian Federal Police? Should we spend the estimated $100 million on a Royal Commission to try and wipe out this corruption once and for all, or is this just a political stunt which will ultimately waste taxpayer dollars?
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