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Issue No. 138 31 May 2002  

Demonising Unions
There's a common streak running through the Liberal Party's prosecution of its witch-hunt of the building industry unions and the federal ALP leader's push to reduce the influence of trade unions within the Party. That's the view that unions are on the nose.


Interview: The Star Chamber
CFMEU national seretary John Sutton surveys the limited progress of the Cole Royal Commission.

Politics: The Odd Couple
After spending years yelling at each other, a couple of young factional players started talking to each other in the name of refugees.

Tribute: I-Conned
A rogue priest and Philip Ruddock have combined to leave master artist, Rados Stevanovic, living in a suburban park, as Jim Marr reports.

Media: Audiences Before Politics
The real challenge facing the new managing director of the ABC is how to make audiences central to what the national broadcaster does, argues Tony Moore.

International: The Off-Side Rule
It may be kick off time at the World Cup but unions in South Korea and around Asia are using the world�s biggest sporting event to focus attention on workers� rights, as Andrew Casey discovers.

Economics: The Fake Persuaders
Companies are creating false citizens to try to change the way we think, writes George Monbiot.

History: Terror Tactics
As the Howard Government prepares terror legislation to ban organisations, Neale Towart remembers a similar attempt at censorship in the name of security.

Poetry: Food, Modified Food
That old school yard joke "what do you get if you cross a ... with a ...?" is becoming startlingly true. The latest development is a featherless chicken.

Review: Spiderman Spins Out the US
Red Pepper's Rick Giombetti scales the big screen and puts Spiderman in his place, flying in the face of right wingers who would claim the Marvel Comic legend as their own.

Satire: England's World Cup Disaster: Star Hooligan Breaks Foot
The English World Cup 2002 campaign is in tatters after star hooligan Gerard Wilson of Chelsea broke his foot.


 Cole Suffers Credibility Crisis

 Councils Armed To Drown Sweatshops

 Miners Win Record Payouts

 Bracks Crew Not Family Friendly

 Time to Charge Directors

 Waterfront Truth One Step Closer

 Speedy Flow-On for NSW Workers

 Star Sin-Binning Prompts Inquiry Call

 New Chief Puts ABC Back In The Picture

 Getting it Wrong on Training

 Gravy Train Gets Richer For Max and Mates

 Reward For Delegate Who Stood Up

 Casino Workers Hit Mat Leave Jackpot

 Drug Haul Sparks Security Warning

 East Timor�s MPs Take Australia On

 ACTU Officials Denied Visas Into Fiji

 Commemorate 100 Years of Votes for Women


The Soapbox
Modernising Labor?
NSW Labor Council secretary John Robertson argues that genuine reform of the ALP would go beyond the 60-40 rule, to increase the voice of unions within the Party.

The Locker Room
Juego Bonito
Forget the dour contests of the Premier League and Serie A, it�s the World Cup which transforms football into the beautiful game. Noel Hester analyses the form.

Week in Review
He Who Pays The Piper
Money comes in all colours but, in politics, the hue is usually blue, as Jim Marr discovers �

Rich Pickings
Australia's wealthiest were on display this week as BRW released its annual Rich 200 list.

About Last Night
The CFMEU's Phil Davey, on an APHEDA -Union Aid Abroad delegation to Palestine, recounts his experience trying to get back to his hotel after dark.

 Simon and the Creanites
 In Defence of Latham
 Swans A Pathetic Con-Job
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The Star Chamber

Interview with Peter Lewis

CFMEU national seretary John Sutton surveys the limited progress of the Cole Royal Commission.


The Royal Commission has been travelling around the nation for most of this year, what do you think it has achieved so far?

Very little to this point. A great deal of public monies have been expended. I have to say the majority of the money and resources has been chewed up on stuff that is pretty irrelevant to any agenda about reforming or improving the building industry. The vast majority of the time has been spent on judicial style hearings in a courtroom full of lawyers where union officials and union members are put under immense pressure in the witness box. Usually the incident that is being examined is a petty incident and certainly this kind of process won't lead to any lasting improvements in productivity or any kind of sensible reform of the building industry.

Do you get a sense that the Commission has a sense of the direction of where they want to take this, or are they still fishing for angles?

Well, I think it is a bit of both. Obviously the personnel that would have been chosen to run this Commission have an anti-union bias. It has been quite clear from day one. So they have not been put there to do any favours for the union movement. And generally they would favour prescriptions that would be about restricting our capacity to represent our members and bringing in a range of new laws that would make life more difficult for unions.

Their problem however, is knowing exactly what laws to bring in, and what kind of mechanisms that they might be able to deploy to achieve their goal. It is one thing to have the broad goals, but another thing to know exactly what you want to do.

When he announced the Royal Commission, Tony Abbott really fingered you in an effort to get legitimacy. He said that your comments about corruption within the industry was why he was setting the Royal Commission up. Have any of the concerns that you raised at the beginning, actually been dealt with?

That I think is one of the very ironic parts of this Commission. 99% of the public resources to date, have been used on largely irrelevant petty disputes in the industry, and indeed looking at the agenda for the next five weeks in Sydney, the vast majority of the complainers against the unions are small businesses with absolutely petty complaints. Very few of the allegations that I have looked at would even get a hearing in the Industrial Relations Commission, let alone be the substance of Royal Commissions.

Now, having said all that, it just seems ironic that the Commission, which was ostensibly established to examine serious criminality and corruption and matters like that, seems to have spent precious little time on getting to the bottom of those types of allegations.

I'm not sure of the answer to that. If the Commission was to spend some of its resources on nailing real criminals, particularly those employers in our industry who have got very poor track records in terms of ripping off - not just workers - but ripping off the government - if they went after some of those chronic offenders in the industry, that would be money well spent. But of course there is no sign of them doing that.

I think there is no end of examples in the industry of crooked operators, and indeed some that are even prepared to go the full extent of using colourful identities in their misdeeds, but to date the Commission seems to have spent precious little time, apart from one or two examples in Victoria, where $250,000 was paid to some colourful identities. Apart from that example, it is hard to think of many instances where they have even gone near big time criminality.

So, I am not sure why it is, but I certainly know that the Commission's resources have been very poorly used to date.

$19 million in legal resources to the Commission, we hear today. How has the CFMEU been able to match that sort of firepower?

$19 million chewed up on lawyers. I think it is just outrageous, and I think the public - certainly if you listen to talkback radio in Sydney and Melbourne today - is giving a predictable public reaction that it's profligacy of the worst kind. And when you think of the irony of these characters that have got their snouts so far into the trough - all these lawyers - are down there investigating collusive practices and lack of transparency and all that sort of thing in relation to workplace arrangements. I mean the irony just jumps out for anybody to see.

It is quite clear that the Royal Commission we should be having is into the rorts of the legal profession. $19 million on what? What productivity? What assistance has this industry got to date - and there is not much sign that it is likely to get any for the rest of the Royal Commission - for all this money being spent on this vast battery of lawyers.

I just think it is an outrage and the public understands that.

Do you have any sense of the response of your rank and file to the hearings to date?

We do. We have in fact just completed a survey of our members in three States and the results that have come back are quite startling. The membership in that survey demonstrates an understandable scepticism - even hostility - to the Commission. It demonstrates that they don't believe that the Union is going to get a fair hearing in this Royal Commission, and that is quite clear from the survey results.

The survey is interesting in other regards too. It shows that there is a very high support amongst the membership for the Union and for its current leadership, and it also, much to Tony Abbott's disappointment no doubt, shows that the more that Abbott confronts us, the more the members are willing to take up cudgels on behalf of their Union. It shows that they have got a lot of faith and commitment to their Union.

I think in fact that the most telling statistic is that if there is an attempt to deregister our Union, 73% of the members would be prepared to go on strike, and about another 17% are prepared to take other forms of supportive action. There was only something like about 10% of the members who didn't volunteer any kind of action in response to an attempt to deregister us.

Now, I think that is an amazing figure for 90% of the members to come back and say that they are prepared to be active around defending their organisation when in fact we are such a big organisation. We are not a small craft society or anything; we are a very big organisation. It shows that the leadership must have been doing something right to attract that kind of support amongst the membership.

Finally, what would the Commissioner need to do to convince you that he is serious about delivering a non-partisan report?

I think it is well past the time that he has to realise that queuing up a vast amount of resources on judicial style hearings into petty disputes is not the best use of the $60 million he has available. If he wants to hold judicial style hearings and examine and cross examine witnesses ad nauseum, it is also well past the time when he ought to start to look at some of the chronic employer offenders in this industry. It is well know that we have given about 10 boxes of examples to the Commission of employers who have repeatedly breached the standards, both legal and customary standards, in this industry. In fact we have provided more than 200 examples of those kinds of breaches.

But to date, six months into the Commission, there has not been one of those employers put through the judicial style hearings. In fact, it is quite telling that the Commissioner has said he doesn't see his courtroom as being a place to investigate breaches of awards and enterprise agreements by employers. He believes that is the proper province of the Industrial Relations Commission.

So we are sort of in a bit of a bind here where the Commissioner has ruled out looking at employer breaches in the public domain - or through the kind of public hearings that he is conducting.

So, if that is to be the way he is conducting it, he ought to forget public hearings altogether and we ought to start to go into more tripartite discussions of all of the serious industry players - because the ones who know about this industry are the people who work in the industry, and they ought to be committing their time to serious discussions about reforms and improvements to the industry.

It is quite clear to me, that if he is not going to look at any employers in the context of public hearings, then I just can't see why we are going to waste much more time on these public hearings with a courtroom full of lawyers that are just queuing up for public monies at an incredibly fast rate.


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