Union fines ‘lower under ALP’
Business and the building industry yesterday criticised federal Labor after the party confirmed the CFMEU would face lesser penalties for unlawful blockades under Bill Shorten’s policies.
Opposition industrial relations spokesman Brendan O’Connor yesterday conceded the militant construction union and its officials would not have been slapped with a record $2.4 million fine for a blockade of Sydney’s Barangaroo if Labor were in government.
He said the Construction For- estry Mining and Energy Union would have been fined at a lower level due to Labor’s opposition to the Australian Building and Construction Commission and the Turnbull government’s building code. “The penalty may have been different,” Mr O’Connor told Sky News yesterday.
“Of course there would be penalties for unlawful behaviour, the fact is we don’t accept unlawful behaviour by anybody, we have never defended unlawful behaviour, people have to suffer the consequences of breaking the law.”
Last week the Federal Court found it was “not possible to envis- age worse union behaviour” when it handed the union and its officials record fines over unlawful industrial action by 1000 workers at Barangaroo in Sydney in 2014.
Master Builders Australia chief executive Denita Wawn said the fines needed to be substantial to deter union lawlessness.
“It’s good to hear a Labor government will enforce the rule of law on construction sites, but the reality is that the size of penalties do matter,” Ms Wawn said.
“The ABCC and the building code are about changing the culture of unions that think they are above the community’s laws.’’
Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive James Pearson said watering down fines sent the wrong message to unions.
“It sends the wrong signal at the wrong time to speak of watering down fines in the face of widespread and deliberate lawlessness, and courts expressing grave concerns for the observance of the rule of law,” Mr Pearson said.
“We have already seen the damage when enforcement in this area is deliberately watered down. The community needs assurance from the alternative government this will not happen again.”
Employment Minister Michaelia Cash yesterday questioned whether the CFMEU would have received any penalties for illegal blockades if Labor were in power.
“At a time when the Federal Court has imposed a record fine on his union and concluded that even this penalty is not a sufficient deterrent, it is difficult to imagine a more irresponsible policy than Labor’s policy to give the green light to the CFMEU to break the law with impunity,” a spokesman for Senator Cash said.
Mr O’Connor turned the heat back on Senator Cash yesterday over the resignation of Nigel Hadgkiss as Australian Building and Construction commissioner.
Mr Hadgkiss resigned after admitting to breaching the law by directing that looming right-of-entry changes that were beneficial to unions not be published on his agency’s website.
Mr O’Connor said it would be “quite remarkable” for her to have not known about the breaches before they become public.
“It is a little rich for the minister to start lecturing on the rule of law when she presided over, effectively, a vigilante agency that deliberately and wilfully broke the law for 2½ years,” he said.