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Trade unions royal commission refers Canberra officials for investigation

ACT construction union boss Dean Hall and organiser John Lomax could be prosecuted for breaching workplace laws on the recommendation of the union's royal commission.

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Royal Commission was politically motivated: ACTU

The ACTU rejects any kind of assertion that there is widespread unlawful corrupt conduct within unions. (Vision courtesy ABC News 24)

Commissioner Dyson Heydon has also used his final report, published on Wednesday morning, to advise authorities to investigate Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union ACT branch officials Jason O'Mara and Anthony Vitler, and a number of union-linked entities.

But there was no recommendation to ACT prosecutors to consider criminal charges against Canberra officials.

The Canberra officials are among 45 people or entities nationally who the commission referred to various authorities for further investigation, including former Health Services Union secretary Kathy Jackson and Victorian MP Cesar Melhem.

The commission ran for 21 months, and heard from 505 witnesses over 155 days of public hearings.  It's six-volume report made 79 law reform recommendations, including the creation of a new unions watchdog with its own budget and investigative powers similar to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

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The report also recommended right of entry laws be tightened, and jail terms for offering, giving or receiving bribes.

In a swift response to the commission's final report, the Turnbull Government on Wednesday afternoon announced it would ask Parliament to urgently pass laws recommended by Mr Heydon, including re-introducing legislation in the first sitting week next year to re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

CFMEU's Dean Hall gives evidence at the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption before Commissioner ...
CFMEU's Dean Hall gives evidence at the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption before Commissioner Dyson Heydon. 

CFMEU national construction secretary Dave Noonan said the report's recommendations had merely endorsed Liberal Party industrial relations policy.

Mr Heydon, in his report, said the case studies examined by the commission revealed "widespread misconduct that has taken place in every polity in Australia except for the Northern Territory".

"In the ACT the secretary of the CFMEU, Dean Hall, and most of his officials may have participated in a variety of forms of misconduct on building sites," he said.

"Further, officials have either taken payments from employers, in the case of [former CFMEU organiser] Halafihi Kivalu, or failed to respond satisfactorily to what he was doing or rumours of what he was doing."

Kivalu, a former CFMEU organiser, is awaiting trial in the ACT Supreme Court on two counts of blackmail for allegedly extorting more than $150,000 from a building company.

Mr Heydon said the referral of 45 people, unions, or companies for investigation should  be considered only "the small tip of an enormous iceberg" and believed the existence of a Royal Commission had caused only a temporary reduction in misconduct.

The former judge said it would be "utterly naive" to think that the commission had uncovered all wrongdoing, or that wrongdoing had been the work of "a few rogue unions, or a few rogue officials".

"The misconduct exhibits great variety. It is widespread. It is deep-seated. Nor can the list be regarded as complete," he said.

"It is clear that in many parts of the world constituted by Australian trade union officials, there is room for louts, thugs, bullies, thieves, perjurers, those who threaten violence, errant fiduciaries and organisers of boycotts."

He said it was hard to identify most types of misconduct, as parties had a strong incentive to stay silent and whistleblowers could face reprisal.

But Mr Noonan said the report's recommendations supported the Liberal Party industrial relations agenda, and chose to ignore evidence of safety issues on Australian construction sites.

"All in all, the report is what you'd expect from a right-wing judge who is a strong Liberal Party supporter, so no big surprise," he said.

Mr Noonan said that the matters of substance in the report could have easily been dealt with using existing mechanisms such as the Federal Police.

"We have always said that we will co-operate with the police in investigating any allegations of corruption. In the construction industry there are plenty of real issues that need investigating. Safety is at an all-time low. Fatalities and accidents continue as employers cut corners and avoid their legal responsibilities.

"Phoenixing is hurting small businesses and workers as companies take advantage of legal loopholes to avoid paying debts, taxes and wages."

Master Builders ACT's industrial relations director, John Nikolic, welcomed the findings and broadly supported the recommendations of the final report, including a tightening of ACT safety right of entry laws.

Mr Nikolic said the loopholes in the laws had been "cynically used to disrupt sites for ulterior industrial and commercial agendas".

"Safety is too important to be used as a bargaining chip," he said.

Mr Nikolic also called on the federal government to reinstate the Australian Building and Construction Commission, which had been abolished the Gillard government in 2012 and replaced with the FWBC.

The building industry watchdog had been controversial during its operation from 2005 to 2012 due to its coercive interrogation powers.

Recommendations for Canberra;

  • Dean Hall has been referred to the Chief Minister, Treasury and Economic Development Directorate for consideration over whether he should be charged with and prosecuted for intimidating an inspector contrary to the Work, Health and Safety Act.
  • John Lomax has been referred to the Fair Work Building Industry Inspectorate for consideration on whether to institute proceedings against for breaches of the Fair Work Act, including coercion and inducing membership action, and unlawfully taking adverse action against a person for not becoming a union member.
  • Jason O'Mara has been referred to the Fair Work Building Industry Inspectorate for consideration on whether to institute proceedings against him for coercion and inducing membership action contrary to the FW Act.
  • Anthony Vitler has been referred to the Fair Work Building Industry Inspectorate for consideration on whether to institute proceedings against him for inducing membership action contrary to the FW Act.
  • Construction Charitable Works Limited has been referred to the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission for consideration on whether registration as a charity should be revoked.
  • Creative Safety Initiatives and Construction Charitable Works has been referred to the Australian Federal Police and the ACT Gaming and Racing Commission to investigate the commission of possible criminal offences in relation to matters concerning the Gaming Machine Act.
  • Creative Safety Initiatives and Construction Charitable Works has been referred to the ACT Government for consideration on whether amendments should be made to the Gaming Machine Act so that community contributions cannot be made by a registered club to an entity related to that club.