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Thursday, 19 March 2015
Page: 1950

Workplace Relations


Senator McKENZIE (Victoria) (14:09): My question is to the Minister for Employment, Senator Abetz. I refer to the report in today's Financial Review about Tuesday's Federal Court decision against the CFMEU and officials, including John Setka, Shaun Reardon and Craig Johnston in relation to the Grocon dispute that shut down parts of Melbourne CBD in 2012. Will the minister inform the Senate about the details of this case and the Federal Court's findings about the use of violence and threats of violence by CFMEU officials?


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:09): This week, the Federal Court found that the CFMEU and its officials had acted unlawfully during the Grocon blockade of 2012. Justice Tracey's judgement describes a most disturbing incident in which Victorian CFMEU secretary John Setka and three others shoved security firm manager Mr Smith into a Melbourne alleyway and proceeded to assault him both physically and verbally. The court's decision describes Setka's acts of violence: 'pinned him to the wall', 'hurled abuse at him', 'knocked his helmet from his head' and 'took turns to ram him into the wall'. When Mr Smith protested that he was being held against his will, Setka threatened that he would, 'Shut him up permanently.'

In a separate incident, Setka abused a Grocon worker. He punched the windscreen of the van he was driving, told him to remember his face because he would come after him and told him that he hoped he would die from cancer. The worker was actually suffering from cancer at the time. Workers who wanted to actually get to work had to be bussed in, given a special path in with the protection of police fencing and given special duties to hide from the verbal assaults hurled at them by the union protesters, calling them scabs, dogs, rats and worse, and hurling threats including, 'You will die. You're going to cop it. I'm going to kill your family.' When police attempted to escort workers on the site, union crowds blocked and punched their horses, egged on by John Setka, Sean Reardon and Craig Johnston. These are the acts of violence that unfolded in Melbourne in 2012. What have we heard from the Australian Labor Party and the Australian Greens in response? Absolutely nothing. Their silence tells us everything we need to know.


Senator McKENZIE (Victoria) (14:11): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Will the minister inform the Senate whether other CFMEU officials have in the past condemned this kind of violence and thuggery?


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:11): In fact, the exact opposite has occurred. Yesterday, we heard about Craig Johnston's balaclava rampage through a Melbourne office, which left the employees, including a woman who was five months pregnant, distressed and cowering in fear.

Following this act of thuggery, a number of high-profile members of the union movement actually defended Craig Johnston. After he was sentenced to jail, a group of union leaders created a Craig Johnston trade union support committee and issued a statement calling for Johnston's release, claiming that he was:

… only doing his job as a union organiser. We will be waiting there at the gates when he comes out.

One of the members of that committee was none other than Dave Noonan of the CFMEU. Even after Craig Johnston engaged in vicious acts of thuggery and intimidation towards women in their workplace and he was imprisoned, Dave Noonan stood by him. (Time expired)


Senator McKENZIE (Victoria) (14:13): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Will the minister inform the Senate of any efforts by the CFMEU to deal with violence and abuse and of whether these efforts have been or are likely to be effective?


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:13): My attention in recent times has been drawn to a CFMEU press release from October 2013. It reads:

Real men don't abuse women.

In it, CFMEU official Dave Noonan is quoted as saying:

… more of us need to speak out and stop the silence around this issue

Unfortunately, Mr Noonan does not apply this standard to his own male comrades. Last year, when one of his officials, Luke Collier, hurled four letter words of abuse at a female inspector, what did Mr Noonan do? Did he speak out and stop the silence around the issue? No, he did the exact opposite. He issued a press release saying that swearing on building sites is nothing new.

That is the level to which the CFMEU has sunk. I say to Dave Noonan: I agree, real men do not abuse women. I also say to Mr Noonan that real men do not defend men who abuse women.