Libs’ war on unions backfiring big time

When the Abbott Liberal-National Government came to power in September 2013, they made attacking unions and workers one of their biggest priorities. They immediately set up the Trade Union Royal Commission (TURC). 

Headed by pro-Liberal judge, Dyson Heydon, the Commission went about investigating and discrediting unions and their leaders, including over events that happened decades back. 

But the TURC turned out to be a TURD.

Five years later and millions of dollars wasted, the union witch-hunt has produced pretty much nothing. Instead, a series of backfires has forced the Turnbull government into at least a temporary retreat and a severely wounded minister has now been taken off the field.

Round One: John and Shaun: Boral lies and Liberal spies

In May, the Victorian Public Prosecutor’s case against the CFMMEU Secretary, John Setka, and Assistant Secretary, Shaun Reardon, fell apart, ending the much-watched committal hearing amid huge embarrassment for the Liberals.

Police had relied on evidence given by Boral managers, Paul Dalton and Peter Head, during Abbott’s Royal Commission that they were blackmailed by the pair during a meeting at a North Melbourne café in April 2013. 

However, under a grilling from the defence team the case quickly crumbled.

The meeting in question was arranged by Boral. They apparently wanted to discuss the union’s health and safety campaign against builder Grocon, to which Boral was providing cement for the construction of the Emporium building. No original records of this meeting have survived and in the months that followed, the bosses of Boral made no mention of the supposed blackmail threats to anyone. The company was in discussion with then Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his IR Minister Eric Abetz (both viciously anti-union) but they failed to mention the blackmail even to them.

It was only when the timing suited Boral that any of this saw the light of day. They had their lawyers draw up charges and they launched a public campaign against John, Shaun and their union.

Under the spotlight, the Boral bosses melted and it became clear to the court that Boral had actually initiated the meeting in the hope of entrapping the union officials. They wanted to publicly smear the CFMMEU as “lawless” and “a bunch of thugs”. 

The Prosecutor pulled the case the day before Boral’s chief executive was due to appear in the dock with a source describing it as “a train wreck”. 

ETU Victoria Secretary, Troy Gray, says the case shows how big business and the government were clearly out to get unions and workers.

“No union official should be criminalised just for doing our job. If a company is acting like a dog, no other company should do business with them. It’s an ethical thing. It’s as simple as that.”

“This outcome is nothing but a calamity for the conservative Government. They thought they could get John and Shaun – but they ended up tying a noose for themselves. Now everyone can see what a bunch of politically-motivated crooks they are.”

Round Two: AWU Raids: 9 Months and no answers

In 2017, police raided the Sydney and Melbourne offices of the Australian Workers’ Union on behalf of the ROC. They were searching for the minutes of the state council meeting relating to a donation to the progressive advocacy group, Get Up!

As chance would have it, the media was tipped off to the time and place of the police raids. The media took the extraordinary step of naming Michaelia Cash's office as its source. The tipster had emphasised that the AWU was the former union of Bill Shorten, and that they should focus on that detail in their coverage.

Nine months later, and we’re no closer to knowing what really happened. Michaelia Cash’s behaviour has been appalling. She refused to answer questions about the raid and famously hid behind a whiteboard to avoid scrutiny following a grilling by her Senate colleagues over her silence. 

On the 30th of July the AFP referred their investigation to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions. All up, it was a humiliating episode that exposed just why the Liberals hate unions so much: to try to hurt Labor. We wait to see what comes next as the CDPP considered the case against them.

Round Three: Johnny Lomax beats the AFP

The Liberal-AFP war against CFMMEU ACT Branch Organiser, Johnny Lomax, began in July 2015, when, like John and Shaun, he was charged with blackmail based upon evidence heard during the TURC.

Lomax had been accused of blackmailing Canberra painting company Nel Trading into signing a union enterprise agreement.

The accusations relate to when Lomax told Nel Trading’s director, Woong-Yul Park, that the company had to pay the union rates on the Bloc Construction Queanbeyan site, or risk being replaced by a company that did. After Nel Trading signed up to the industry standard, Lomax helped get rival companies who were under-cutting off the site.

According to the police, demanding Nel Trading pay the industry rate caused him “financial losses” because, “due to being tied to EA-mandated wages, the lowest [Park] can pay his workers is $26 an hour”. The charge sheet said that “competing companies often pay workers as low as $17 an hour”.

By asking the company to pay what’s fair, the police said this constituted an “unwarranted demand” on the company. Under the ACT Criminal Code, blackmailing is punishable by a maximum penalty of a $238k fine, 14 years in prison, or both.

In a major embarrassment for the Liberals and the ACT Director of Public Prosecutions, the charges against Lomax were dropped just months later, in late 2015. 

In the wake of the dropped charges, Lomax took the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to court claiming the prosecution was malicious in nature.

Only now has the case come to a complete close when, in May this year, the AFP settled the case. Lomax received a confidential payout. 

As CFMMEU National Construction Secretary Dave Noonan said, Lomax was “doing nothing more than advocating higher wages for the union’s members”.
"John Lomax is not accused of doing anything to put one cent in his own pocket."

“He negotiated a pay rise for workers, that’s not a crime in any civilised country in the world.”