Senate debates

Thursday, 12 November 2015


Workplace Relations

7:04 pm

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Before I commence my adjournment speech tonight, I seek leave to table three documents.

Photo of Christopher BackChristopher Back (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Until the documents have been sighed—

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The documents have been sighted.

Photo of Christopher BackChristopher Back (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

If you could commence, Senator McKenzie—

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am seeking leave for my documents to be tabled.

Photo of Christopher BackChristopher Back (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

At the moment leave is not granted until colleagues have had a look at them. So would you like to pause or proceed?

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I will pause.

Photo of Christopher BackChristopher Back (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Pause the clock.

Photo of Anne UrquhartAnne Urquhart (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The point I want to make is that it would have been helpful for us to have had the documents much earlier to be able to have a good look at them. I want to make that point to Senator McKenzie.

Leave granted.

7:06 pm

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank Senator Urquhart for that, and I appreciate it. It has been a back-to-back day. Tonight I want to talk about bad bosses: bad bosses who treat their employees like dirt; bad bosses who let bullies, thugs and criminals control their workplace and do nothing; bad bosses who fail to take action against workplace bullies who intimidate their staff; bad bosses who ignore victims of bullying when they speak out; and, even worse, bad bosses who take the side of the bullies and then victimise, sack and smear the victims. There are two bad bosses I wish to focus on. They are responsible for the construction division of the CFMEU. They are the national construction division secretary, Dave Noonan, and the national CFMEU secretary, Michael O'Connor.

Today I wish to draw the Senate's attention to the recent sackings in the CFMEU of three officials who blew the whistle on the corrupt culture within the union. In response, they were intimidated, threatened, vilified and driven out of the union. They have recently commenced proceedings in the Federal Court against the union, and tonight I was able to table the affidavits from those three individuals and draw the Senate's attention to some of the most disturbing evidence that they contain.

Andrew Quick, Brian Miller and Brian Fitzpatrick are all former CFMEU officials who have recently been purged from the union. This followed soon after they raised concerns within the union about corrupt behaviour by senior officials of the union and its apparent infiltration by, amongst others, the organised crime figure George Alex. Mr Quirk first raised concerns in 2011 regarding the union's New South Wales secretary, Brian Parker, whom he alleged was corrupt, with a lifestyle that was out of sync with his income. According to the affidavits, soon after Brian Parker became New South Wales state secretary in 2012, George Alex began to be regularly seen in the union's headquarters and was closely associated with its leadership. Evidence to the Heydon royal commission last year showed that senior CFMEU officials Brian Parker and Darren Greenfield were regularly seen at George Alex's house. According to the evidence, Mr Alex's house was regularly full of men described alternatively as 'bikies' or 'bodybuilder' types.

The affidavits go on to state that, soon after one of George Alex's companies went bust, leaving CFMEU members employed by the company out of pocket, an alleged phoenix company was started by Mr Alex. Brian Parker agreed to an EBA with the company that had been negotiated by Darren Greenfield. When concerns were raised about Mr Alex by Mr Fitzpatrick, he received a death threat from Mr Greenfield, who said words to the effect:

You've gone too far this time you fat c**t. Your're dead. I'm going to come out there tomorrow and f**king kill you. I don't care how many police you have around you.

When Brian Parker was informed of this threat, he refused to take action.

As the influence of Mr Alex grew and Mr Greenfield continued to cover for him, Mr Quirk raised his concerns with Dave Noonan in mid-2013. He informed Mr Noonan that he had concerns over the safety of himself and his family. Noonan took no action. Noonan in fact replied that he was 'busy with the federal election' and never got back to him. Soon after, Mr Quirk raised his concerns with Michael O'Connor, who also did nothing. Mr O'Connor contacted Mr Quirk several days later from an overseas airport stating that he had gone on holidays in the aftermath of the federal election.

There is a consistent theme here. It seems that for Messrs O'Connor and Noonan their priorities as Labor Party powerbrokers are far more important than their duty of care to their staff or protecting their union from the infiltration of criminals. Mr Quirk finally met with Mr O'Connor late in 2013, where he spelt out his concerns. In particular, Mr Quirk states that he asked Mr O'Connor to investigate why the Victorian branch of the CFMEU was entering into an EBA with a George Alex company and whether this was as a result of corrupt behaviour. Mr O'Connor responded that he would not.

Andrew Quirk previously revealed on the 7 30 program on 16 October 2014 that O'Connor had ignored his concerns about corruption. Mr Quirk said:

I gave Michael specific information that George Alex and a organised crime figure from Melbourne had co-invested in a Sydney company. Right? And I'm saying to Michael, "Look, you've got a problem here. You've got a problem in Melbourne here and you've got a problem in Sydney, mate." Right? "There's no good running away from this. We're not talking about, you know, stealing the tuckshop money here." Right?

7 30 reported:

Quirk left the meeting believing O'Connor wasn't prepared to take action.

If Michael O'Connor's response was to do nothing, then what was Dave Noonan's response? Star chambers and sackings.

Following the 7.30 story on 16 October, Dave Noonan issued a media release smearing the whistleblowers. Noonan's release absurdly claimed:

... there is a faction operating within the NSW branch of the CFMEU that is attempting to destabilise the current leadership and is using the Royal Commission as a vehicle to pursue their political objectives.

Noonan also issued a so-called summons to the whistleblowers for them to attend a star chamber meeting of the CFMEU divisional executive to answer a so-called charge under the union's rules. This charge was that the whistleblowers were charged with 'gross misbehaviour' in that they had spoken to the media 'without authorisation of the union' and made comments 'adverse to the union'. Noonan's letter also tried to intimidate the whistleblowers into silence, warning them that:

... the Divisional Executive has directed that you make no comment to any journalist or any media outlet about matters pertaining to the union until the charge of gross misconduct is dealt with.

All three affidavits that I have tabled tonight also show how they were fitted up with false claims of workplace misconduct as part of the CFMEU bosses' campaign of vilification and intimidation against them. Of course, none of this would have been possible if not for Michael O'Connor's tacit approval.

In contrast to the fate of the three whistleblowers, numerous notorious CFMEU officials continue to hold office. The CFMEU's hall of shame—and I have spoken about it in this place numerous times—now includes the following office holders. John Setka, recommended by the royal commission for criminal charges, still runs the Victorian branch, in my home state. Setka's deputy, Shaun Reardon, found to have engaged in a prolonged campaign of stalking and harassment of a female public servant, still holds his office in the branch. Brian Parker, found by the royal commission to not be a fit and proper person to hold such an office, still runs the New South Wales division. His sidekick, Darren Greenfield, found to have made death threats against another official who blew the whistle, is still in his position. And Luke Collier, reported to have seriously bashed his female partner and recently charged with a separate criminal offence of intimidating a female public servant, remains on the CFMEU payroll as an organiser in WA.

Meanwhile, those who did speak out against corruption and thuggery, such as Brian Fitzpatrick, Brian Miller and Andrew Quirk, have been ruthlessly purged by Dave Noonan whilst Michael O'Connor stood by and did nothing.

The CFMEU's motto includes the words 'Stand Up. Speak Out.' I commend Senator Lines on her previous adjournment speech. It is difficult to imagine a more dishonest slogan for this union, given the fate of those who have had the courage to stand up and speak out. For this, the national leadership of the union must bear responsibility. Those responsible are the two bad bosses, Dave Noonan and Michael O'Connor. Michael O'Connor is now the Sepp Blatter of the union movement—he presides over an organisation that is a crooked farce. His attempts to cover up the corruption in his organisation, and his attempts to downplay his own responsibility for them, are as laughable as those of Mr Blatter. But they are more than just laughable. For those who are aware of the criminality and bullying that he has condoned, they are downright sinister.

Senate adjourned at 19 : 16