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Issue No. 258 08 April 2005  
E D I T O R I A L

Be My Guest
Is anyone else confused about the current behaviour of our Prime Minister? In just a few short years he’s transformed himself from National Door Bitch to Regional Street Spruiker.

F E A T U R E S

Interview: [email protected]
Labor's Penny Wong has the job of getting more people into the workplace and keeping companies honest. In her spare time ....

Unions: State of the Union
Unions NSW secretary John Robertson unveils the annual survey of attitudes of workers to their jobs, thier lives and the union.

Industrial: Fashion Accessories
Jim Marr unpacks the unlikely claim of a suburban house to be considered the New Mecca of the New Right …

Legal: Leg Before Picket
Chris White looks at how the federal industrial changes will impact on the basic right to strike.

Politics: Business Welfare Brats
Neale Towart asks why the only form of legitmate welfare seems to be going to the top end of town.

Health: Cannabis Controversy
Zoe Reynolds looks at how drug and alcohol testing is leading to some addled outcomes.

Economics: Debt, Deficit, Downturn
As the indicators head south, Frank Stilwell wonders whether it is the way we do economics that is to blame.

History: Politics In The Pubs
Phil Doyle reports on the increasingly-popular Struggles, Scabs and Schooners day out.

Review: Three Bob's Worth
Doing their best Margaret and David, Tara de Boehmler and Tim Brunero have different takes on the new Australian flick Three Dollars.

Poetry: Do The Slowly Chokie
Workers Online bard David Peetz teaches how workers to dance to Howard's industrial laws.

N E W S

 Cash Grab Targets Families

 Wattyl Lacks Colour

 Censors Ban Workers Online

 Stink Over Water

 Cole Slurs Slide

 Table Hands Stuffed

 Sweat Shop Taxes MLC’s Patience

 Cops Strengthen Thin Blue Line

 Buses Drive Commuters Crazy

 Guards Win Rail War

 Building Families Pocket $15 Million

 Students Mark Lecturers

 Activist’s What’s On

C O L U M N S

The Soapbox
Notes From a Laneway
Mental Health Workers Alliance member Toby Raeburn shares a week on the frontline.

The Locker Room
War, Plus The Shooting
The Socceroos aren’t their own worst enemy after all, or so says Phil Doyle

Culture
Life Imitates Art
The jokes have been around for some time about the economic rationalist's approach to the orchestra, writes Evan Jones.

Parliament
The Westie Wing
Ian West takes the secret passage out of Macquarie Street to deliver his take on NSW Parliamentary Committees and other goings on.

L E T T E R S
 Out-of-sight, out-of-your-mind
WHAT YOU CAN DO
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News

Cole Slurs Slide


Authorities celebrated the second anniversary of Cole Commission findings by quietly disposing of more slurs against building workers.

Without fanfare, the Industrial Registrar wrote to the CFMEU conceding that after considering Cole’s allegations in "some detail" there were no grounds to "conduct an investigation or commence a prosecution" against the NSW branch’s Wage Claims Department.

National Secretary, John Sutton, said it was "small comfort" after allegations of wrongdoing thrown around in public.

Newspapers made headlines of Counsel Assisting's claims that millions of dollars had been misappropriated.

Essentially, Counsel Assisting Ron Gipp, accused the union of knocking off more than $4 million in recovered wages.

Despite strenuous denials, and a lack of hard evidence, Cole referred the allegation to "authorities" for investigation.

Nearly three years after the headlines were generated, those authorities have now vindicated the CFMEU.

Sutton says the wage claims outcome reflects the "complete failure" of the Commission to back-up "slanders" contained in sensational findings, published two years ago.

In a report delivered to former Workplace Relations Minister, Tony Abbott, the Royal Commissioner made 392 referrals to investigating or prosecuting authorities. He boosted that number to 482 by including another 90 instances in a "secret" document withheld from public scrutiny.

Abbott leapt on Cole's findings to claim Australian building and construction was "largely lawless" and "near anarchy".

He set up a special industry police force, the Building Industry Taskforce, with sweeping powers and promised industrial legislation to severely curtail the rights of building workers.

Two years down the track, Cole's 482 referrals have resulted in just one criminal prosecution and that was for perjury before the Commission, rather than any industrial activity.

Controversial Taskforce chief, Nigel Hadgkiss, has publicly conceded that the majority of referrals to his organisation have been investigated and will not result in prosecutions.

Yet, all the Commission's findings, and the names of those accused, are still available on its website.

Sutton says efforts to have the names of union members cleared have fallen on deaf ears.

"We wrote to the federal government more than 12 months ago, asking that it do the right thing by people who have been publicly accused and subsequently cleared. It refuses to do that, and leaves allegations that cannot be substantiated on the public record."

The government is now moving to give Hadgkiss' Taskforce increased powers to run its anti-union agenda. It will use its control of the Senate to remove the right to silence from building workers and force them to produce documents, on pain of gaol.

The Taskforce has also been given the power to run industrial prosecutions of the union, carrying six figure fines, and prosecutions of rank and file members, carrying five figure fines and possible prison terms, even when parties to disputes do not want to proceed.

Thus far, the Taskforce has churned its way through $13 million taxpayer dollars and recovered just $15,000 in fines.

The tenacity with which it pursues its anti-building worker campaign has drawn repeated judicial fire.

Last year, in the federal court in Melbourne, Justice Marshall's described Taskforce tactics as "foreign to the workplace relations of civilised societies, as distinct from undemocratic and authoritarian states".

This followed an October, 2002, judgement critical of one of its officers, Greg Alfred, who gave sworn evidence, then changed his testimony after being contradicted by a company witness.

Last month, in the federal court, a Taskforce case against the CFMEU was described as having been "instituted without reasonable cause".

Justice Wilcox ordered the Taskforce to pay the union's costs, describing its taxpayer-funded action as "hopeless".

Sutton says the federal government has given up trying to justify its $65 million Cole Commission.

"I don't think they spend a lot of time dwelling on the substance of the Royal Commission," Sutton said.

"It served its purpose but when you can count the number of prosecutions that resulted, on one finger, they realise that the more its exposed the thinner it looks.

"Now, they have control of the Senate, they don't bother trying to justify their actions."


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