By Joe Montero
Last Friday, Federal Court judge Tony North has blasted the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) for wasting time and taxpayers’ money on taking two Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) officials to court for “having a cup of tea with a mate”.
He said that the spending of up to $100,000 on the case was a waste of taxpayers’ money and a waste of the court’s time.
The case has brought to attention that the ABCC is a body put into existence to carry out a political campaign and not to exert justice on building sites around Australia. It must go. The existence of a body, specially crafted to hunt down and treat a section of the population differently and then deny what is normal due process in the justice system, is not something that should be tolerated in Australia.
Justice North said it was “astounding” that Commissioner Nigel Hadkins had briefed silk and conducted days of hearings with dozens of participants, including the Australian Federal Police, over “such a miniscule affair”.
He added that the affair had been beaten up. “It was just a really ordinary situation”.
“For goodness sake, I Don’t know what this Inspectorate is doing,” he said.
What had happened is that CFMEU officials had dropped by the McConnell Dowel construction site in Melbourne to visit a friend, who also happened to be the safety representative. The visit was not for union business. They were talking about holidays and four wheel drives over a cup of tea, when a project manager turned up and asked them to leave, or he would call the police, because they had failed to give the required 24-hour notice.
The Federal Police were notified and the ABCC decided to accuse the CFMEU of breaching the Fair Work Act by not giving the required notice, for meeting employees during work hours, threatening retaliation and remaining on site by waiting for the police to arrive.
The so-called threat was that an upset official had asked the manager if he could talk to his mate for another 5 minutes. The manager refused, the official replied with “you are starting a war”.
Justice North said that this was a human reaction and not a threat.
He added, “I’m looking at the central reality of this case. It was an hour on site. There was no aggravation, no stoppage of work, between people who got on well. I mean, really and truly, if this is what the Inspectorate thinks is worthy of its attention I would be amazed.”
A problem is that the law compels employers to report, because they can be fined if they don’t, in situations where it would be sensible not to.
The judge has reserved his decision, but warned the ABCC, “you can be quite sure I will so express my views”.