Lawyers for Australia’s biggest construction union have applied for a federal police investigation into a series of leaks of damning evidence to be heard at the royal commission into union corruption.
John Agius, SC, representing the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, has told the first sitting of the commission in Melbourne on Monday that it should be a “matter of grave concern” that leaks of untested accusations to the press, including Fairfax Media, have trashed the reputation of union officials.
The CFMEU was denied the opportunity to challenge the allegations of witnesses, Mr Agius said.
Royal Commissioner Dyson Heydon refused a CFMEU request that he order a federal police investigation into allegations the inquiry into union corruption was leaking information to the media.
Mr Heydon referred to a Fairfax Media article of June 3 and said there was “no support whatsoever” to the union’s claims that royal commission officers or witnesses were the sources.
The union could refer the matter to the federal police itself, Mr Heydon said.
Mr Agius said the hearing was not adhering to the practice adopted by the Cole Royal Commission of providing parties with statements of evidence prior to witnesses taking the stand.
The Royal Commission is examining the practices of superannuation giant Cbus, after revelations the fund was involved in large-scale leaking of workers’ personal details to the CFMEU.
The media reports centred on allegations by Peter Chiavaroli, a builder and developer at the old Pentridge prison site in Coburg, about intimidation, threats and corrupt demands by senior union officials.
The Pentridge site was largely non-union until a worker was killed in October 2009. After the death, the CFMEU mounted a fierce campaign to unionise and control the worksite, claiming it had been issued a ”record” amount of safety notices by Worksafe.
Another report outlined claims that a Labor Party official demanded $50,0000 to protect the Pentridge Prison re-development from CFMEU industrial action.
“It does appear that there has been no adequate explanation as to how the press would have this information,” Mr Agius said.
“How could it be understood by the press other than if the information had come from somebody with connections to, if not somebody working in, the royal commission.
“We seek to have that matter investigated.”
Mr Agius said it was a matter of public interest for the leaks to be investigated to ensure that whistleblowers would not be detered from giving evidence.
“It’s a matter that seriously effects the commission in the long term,” Mr Agius said.
The union at the centre of the claims has condemned the Royal Commission as a political “distraction” from the Abbott government’s unpopular budget.
“I think even blind Freddy knows this is all about politics,” said Dave Noonan, secretary of the CFMEU’s construction division.
“The Abbott government set this up in order to deflect attention from their budget. They knew they were going to have a horror budget, they knew they would need a distraction.
Mr Noonan said the CFMEU was proud of its role in recouping millions of dollars of superannuation entitlements a year.
“Tens of millions of dollars are ripped off from workers every year by employers who don’t pay or underpay superannuation entitlements in the construction industry.
“Our union takes this very seriously … we don’t make an apology for it; in fact, we are very proud of it.”
Mr Noonan said Cbus had a “very clear” policy around the provision of limited information for unions seeking to recover money owed to workers.
“The fact is that the regulators in this space – the Australian Tax Office and Fair Work Building and Construction – are asleep at the wheel. If they were doing their job there would be a lot less money for the union to go around and recover.”
Office of the Royal Commission chief executive Jane Fitzgerald strongly rejected the suggestion that anyone at the commission had briefed journalists on operational matters.
“Any suggestion to the contrary is false,” she said.
“The Office of the Royal Commission does not provide commentary or opinion in response to media enquiries. It provides factual information about hearings, procedure, evidence and witnesses before the commission.”
Counsel assisting the commission, Jeremy Stoljar, said the CFMEU’s submission for a police probe was an attempt to derail Monday’s hearings.
The commissioner said he would look at the issue in due course.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.