Questions to Senator Eric Abetz regarding the CFMEU

Senator McGRATH: My question is to the Minister for Employment, Senator Abetz. Can the minister inform the Senate of any recent court findings against the militant construction union, the CFMEU, and of any recent judicial commentary about the conduct of that union? 

Senator ABETZ: I can inform Senator McGrath that on 1 May the Federal Court yet again found that the CFMEU had brazenly broken the law by trying to pressure Hazell Bros Group to sign an enterprise agreement. When Hazel Bros asked about the consequences if they refused to sign, a CFMEU official said things were 'going to get ugly', together with a string of expletives for good measure. When the company refused to sign, the CFMEU blockaded the site. Hazel Bros representatives reminded the union that they needed a right of entry permit, to which a CFMEU official retorted, 'We don't have to comply with the act.' Police were required to attend the site. FWBC inspectors also attended the site and Justice Tracey found that the inspectors were treated with disdain and subjected to uncouth remarks as they went about their work. This is not surprising given that this is the same CFMEU whose recent newsletter said of inspectors—and I quote from that document: 'The leeches get treated with the contempt they deserve whenever they slither onto a job.' These are Commonwealth public servants. Justice Tracey rightly condemned 'the CFMEU's sense of entitlement to pursue its objectives by any means, lawfully or unlawfully'. He also said its conduct bespeaks a deplorable attitude to its legal obligations. What makes this more disgraceful is that this is the union that has donated $6.4 million to the Labor Party since 2007 and, when this union's conduct comes under question, Mr Shorten rolls in Labor frontbenchers to try to defend the CFMEU. (Time expired)

Senator McGRATH: Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister inform the Senate of any other judicial commentary about the attitude of the CFMEU and its officials towards the rule of law?

Senator ABETZ: Unfortunately, I can confirm for Senator McGraththat the incident which I related is not an isolated one. There have been at least 87 industrial cases against the CFMEU since 1999, most involving multiple instances of lawbreaking. Since 2001, the CFMEU has been found guilty of contempt of court on six separate occasions and fined over $1 million as a result, in addition to its legal costs. This is members' money. Judges have repeatedly condemned the union's contempt for the rule of law, finding that the concept of the rule of law was 'anathema' to it. They said, in another quote:

…the CFMEU is to be regarded as a recidivist.

It has a 'dismal' record and an 'attitude of indifference' to compliance with the requirements of the legislation. It has shown a depressing litany of misbehaviour. And who supports them? Mr Shorten and the Labor Party. (Time expired)

Senator McGRATH: Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Will the minister inform the Senate of any other recent findings against the militant construction union, the CFMEU?

Senator ABETZ: The Heydon royal commission has found a 'culture of wilful defiance of the law which appears to lie at the core of the CFMEU'. That commission has heard recordings of death threats and other threats of violence made by senior CFMEU officials. There have recently been 72 CFMEU officials before the courts at once, including the national secretary and several state secretaries. Victoria Police has confirmed it has intelligence showing that the CFMEU has organised crime figures to act as debt collectors, and outlaw bikie gangs to engage in activity on their behalf—engagements that often involve commissions of serious crime. This is the union that continues to donate millions of dollars to Mr Shorten's Labor Party. And the Labor Party, in turn, rolls its frontbenchers into Senate estimates to defend the CFMEU. It is time for Mr Shorten to show national leadership.