THE HEFTY $1.25m FINE handed down to the CFMEU today in the Supreme Court of Victoria — along with convictions on a range of criminal and civil charges — strikes a smashing blow against union thuggery and bastardry; the trade union movement in Australia (and building unions especially) have for too long gotten away with behaving as a law unto themselves, and today’s developments come down hard on the side of the law, and what is right.
I should like to open my remarks on this matter by pointing out that whilst the story of the penalties handed out in the Supreme Court is being prominently covered in the Murdoch press, Fairfax appears not to have bothered reporting on it in its online portals (or if it has, it has opted to hide its coverage somewhere in those portals that is not conspicuously apparent).
Fairfax does little to live up to its charter or its hype about “independence” by kicking own goals like this, and a cynic would be entitled to say that it quite independently decides to ignore anything that goes against the grain of a left-wing editorial agenda. It would rather publish divisive crap about Australia being a country “without honour” for electing a Catholic Liberal as Prime Minister than incline to balanced, impartial reporting of national events (or, in this case, even acknowledge the existence of those events at all).
So anyone from the Left who objects to the Murdoch version should really direct their anger toward Fairfax Media.
And there is plenty to be angry about here, at least insofar as decent folk are concerned; I’ll share The Australian‘s version of today’s events with readers, who will mostly (I’m sure) agree that it’s high time the kind of lawlessness and bastardry that unions like the CFMEU routinely engage in is thumped away by the full weight of the law.
The penalties meted out to the CFMEU today are among the heaviest ever awarded against a union in Australia; the headline figure of $1.25m is just the fine, and as there is a costs order also pending against the union the final hit to CFMEU coffers could be well in excess of $2 million.
I think it is an affront to decency that militant unions like the CFMEU — where union labour is neither desired nor hired — have for decades been able to raise merry hell in obstructing the work of construction firms that want nothing whatsoever to do with them: as The Australian‘s article notes, the CFMEU blockades against Melbourne construction giant Grocon at the heart of today’s court proceedings were “retaliation for the company’s decision not to bow to union pressure to gain control over its building sites.”
The article also notes the CFMEU position that the blockades were in fact over safety issues on the Grocon sites in question; it is common knowledge that unions for years (and especially in the face of declining membership) used “safety issues” as a gold-plated pretext to obstruct large builders who refuse to have union labour on their sites, and to drive smaller firms out of business.
The developments in the Supreme Court are appropriate, and the penalty suitably substantial to send the clearest message possible to unionists across the country that illegal acts will not be tolerated. Even so, there are some that simply don’t get it.
Victorian ALP leader Daniel Andrews is on the record as saying the CFMEU blockades were “appalling,” and making noises about nobody being “above the law.” Even so, it’s fairly clear the CFMEU believes it is above the law — today’s fine was comprised entirely of penalties on contempt of court provisions — but it is Andrews who saw to it that the CFMEU’s place in the Victorian ALP stable continues to be, under his leadership, secure.
The point is further underlined by the fact the CFMEU faces a move to deregister it in Victoria, in moves reminiscent of those taken against the BLF 31 years ago by the Thompson government. Andrews, for all his principled talk, refuses to distance the Victorian ALP from the CFMEU, and this is the true test of the sincerity of any of his utterances on the matter.
There is no law that says union labour must be used on large-scale commercial construction projects in this country.
In the absence of any such ghastly edict, militant thuggery, bastardry and intimidation are no substitute, reasonable or otherwise.
Contrary to the views of some within the union movement, there is no “mandate” for unions to behave in such a fashion; there is never a legitimate mandate to excuse illegal actions of the kind the CFMEU has been found at law to have engaged in on Grocon building sites.
And “concerns” about “safety” on building sites — once the honourable and substantial bedrock on which the industrial aspect of the unions’ legitimacy rested — has been so patently and flagrantly abused so many times over too many years for most reasonable people to be swayed by them.
If anything, the incessant obstruction on the grounds of fictitious concerns over safety issues that do not exist have become tantamount to crying “wolf,” and anyone at the CFMEU (or any other union) who actually cares about their members’ safety ought to contemplate the fact that such tactics might be counterproductive.
The only quarter from which opposition to the Abbott government’s move to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission emanates is the union movement, and — by extension — its patsies in the federal ALP and fellow travellers on the broader Left.
If the matters that are at the nub of the penalties handed down today are any indication, it is no surprise that ordinary folk are — based on the available evidence — unmoved by the unions’ protestations of pending victimisation at the hands of the Abbott government and its Employment minister, Eric Abetz.
In fact, this kind of conduct merely reinforces the imperative for the Heydon Royal Commission into the union movement: today’s outcome in the Supreme Court is welcome, to be sure, but the matters it relates to are by no means isolated or the exception when it comes to conduct typical of construction unions in Australia.
If a builder wishes to undertake work without capitulating to all manner of unproductive union demands, it should be free to do so, and in that sense today’s fines strike a blow for democracy.
But in the wider context of precisely the kind of tactics that led to that outcome eventuating at all, it is a win for decency also: unions that seek to survive and prosper in the long term must accept that neither the business community nor — increasingly — the general public is prepared to tolerate the insidious outrages that are the bread and butter of Australia’s more militant unions.
It is to be hoped those in charge at the CFMEU take those messages on board in light of the huge fine doled out to it today. More — and worse — will surely follow if it chooses to ignore them.