Government’s Attack Dogs Raid Union Properties

by Sonia Hickey

The Australian Federal Police (AFP), working jointly with NSW Police Force, executed search warrants earlier this week on several trade union-related properties in Sydney, including the headquarters of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) and the home of one of its senior officials.

The AFP has disclosed little information about the raids, but have said the actions are part of the Trade Union Task Force, set up after the Trade Union Royal Commission in 2014.

AFP Assistant Commissioner Ian McCartney has released a statement to the press claiming there is “sufficient evidence and information to obtain search warrants”  which relate to “a serious offence under Commonwealth law.”

No charges laid

The AFP has previously raided CFMEU Offices in Canberra and Brisbane, although neither of those raids resulted in criminal charges being laid against any union official.

While the CFMEU has confirmed it is cooperating with police, it has also expressed the view that it is being unfairly targeted by the Coalition – whose interests it believes are aligned with big business and against the protection of workers.

The raids come at a time when the Union is in the middle of negotiations over its controversial new industry agreement, with some of its alleged conduct under investigation by the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

A costings analysis report released earlier this year found that the new agreement, if it goes ahead, would increase the price of projects by more than 9 per cent and threaten delays and penalties for construction companies due to what it calls “restrictive conditions”. The agreement also promises a five percent pay increase fand fixed rostered days off for workers, many of whom have already signed up.

The CFMEU is also currently preparing for an election of officials, including its state president. The ballot is due to open in January.

No one has been arrested or charged with criminal offences as a result of the Sydney raids.

Misaligned interests

The CFMEU and federal government have a long and contemptuous relationship.

Last year, Attorney-General Christian Porter (who is also the minister for industrial relations) went on a media rant claiming that the CFMEU was “the most unlawful organisation in the history of Australia’s industrial laws …”, reiterating this sentiment in parliament only a few days later.

In 2016, AFP officers were accused of intimidating a senior CFMEU official in the ACT, and a complaint was made to the Commonwealth Ombudsman.

In the wake of the recent raids, Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus questioned why police were focused on the CFMEU and not raiding “banks for money laundering and child exploitation … politicians’ offices for funding rorts and fundraisers with developers … companies for tax rorts and wage theft.”

The AFP Trade Union Taskforce

The AFP Trade Union Taskforce was established in 2014 in the wake of conduct uncovered by the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption. It is coordinated at a federal level but also comprises police teams in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria.

After hearing the testimony of more than 500 witnesses across the country, the The Royal Commission delivered its final report in 2015, referring 34 criminal matters to the AFP taskforce, the majority of which relate to allegations of bribery, extortion and blackmail offences within various unions.

Author

Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer, magazine journalist and owner of 'Woman with Words'. She has a strong interest in social justice, and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team.

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