ACT News

ACT Police Minister Joy Burch defends police meeting over union concerns

ACT Police Minister Joy Burch has defended meeting with the territory's police chief to discuss concerns raised by the construction union with her over police conduct at work sites.

After the meeting with Chief Police Officer Rudi Lammers, one of Ms Burch's advisers, Maria Hawthorne, briefed ACT branch secretary of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union Dean Hall about the contents of the discussion.

CFMEU ACT secretary Dean Hall complained to Police Minister Joy Birch about police conduct.
CFMEU ACT secretary Dean Hall complained to Police Minister Joy Birch about police conduct. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

Mr Hall  confirmed on Monday that he spoke to Ms Burch in April because he believed police were being over-zealous in their treatment of CFMEU officials and needed "education" about the health and safety rights of union representatives.

Sources said the Australian Federal Police is furious that the detail of the meeting between Ms Burch and Mr Lammers was passed on to Mr Hall.

At the time of meetings, Mr Hall and his union were being investigated by the federal police as part of the royal commission into trade unions.

Master Builders ACT executive director Kirk Coningham said on Monday that the revelations about  the passing on of information to the union were "deeply concerning".


"This goes to concerns held around Canberra for a long time that the CFMEU has an inordinate amount of power within the ACT government," he said.

Ms Burch confirmed on Monday that she had raised the union's concerns at a meeting with Mr Lammers.

"The CFMEU contacted the minister's office to raise a concern about how police were interpreting ACT right-of-entry laws," her spokesman said.

"It is common for stakeholders to approach the relevant minister with queries or concerns about areas of policy.

"At a routine meeting with the Chief Police Officer, attended by officials, the minister sought clarification on how the laws were applied. The Chief Police Officer undertook to supply a flowchart explaining how police officers applied the laws. As is customary, the minister's office followed up with the stakeholder to confirm the matter had been raised." Ms Burch's office denied the minister was interfering in police operational matters.

Mr Hall said on Monday that the police had been "over-reaching" in the way they interacted with union officials visiting building sites.

He said police had started "proactively" interpreting occupational health and safety laws and "weren't getting it right".

"They were saying we didn't have a legal right to enter sites on particular occasions, there could be limited numbers of us who could enter and they could make an interpretation of when the entry could finish and when we had to leave," he said.

"What we went to Joy Burch about was the ACT government acknowledging that under the Work, Health and Safety Act, permit holders have a legitimate right to be on site and we shouldn't be hindered or obstructed or unduly delayed." 

He said he met subsequently with the Minister for Workplace Safety and Industrial Relations, Mick Gentleman, and the ACT Work Safety Commissioner Mark McCabe.

He said the government and the police agreed on a new flowchart setting out the rights and responsibilities of CFMEU officials, but the government agreed to "tweak" the chart because the union was not satisfied with the draft proposal. 

In a statement on Monday, an ACT Policing spokesman said: "The ACT government does not direct ACT Policing in relation to how it undertakes its operational activity, and has not done so on this occasion.

"ACT Policing responds on a regular basis to calls from the public to resolve disputes. When responding, ACT Policing uses appropriate laws and sound objective judgement to appropriately resolve these matters."