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Abbott Government prepares for new battle wit -

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LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: The Abbott Government's shaping up for its first big industrial stoush as it takes on one of Australia's most powerful unions: The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy union - the CMFEU.

Moves are afoot to reinstate one of the most controversial elements of John Howard's WorkChoices policy - the Australian Building and Construction Commission. Its job is to stop union thuggery and to enforce a national Building Code.

But as Adam Harvey reports, its return looks set to reopen old wounds.

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: This battle at Melbourne's Myer Emporium site was an old-style industrial dispute: no quarter was given... on either side.

It was a classic display of industrial muscle by one of the nation's most powerful unions: the CMFEU.

The union was fighting for the right to install its own safety representatives at the site.

ERIC ABETZ, EMPLOYMENT MINISTER: I'm sure most Australians will recall the very ugly scenes that we saw at the Myer Emporium site in Melbourne, where police horses were being punched by an unruly mob of individuals who were demonstrating in circumstances where the actual workers on the site were happy with the boss, were happy with their conditions.

ADAM HARVEY: The Construction Union lost this battle. Builder, Grocon, refused to accept the union's peace.

One year on, the unions' war rages on but out of sight as it targets one of Grocon's suppliers: building materials company Boral.

MIKE KANE, BORAL CHIEF EXECUTIVE: We've probably lost the equivalent of 10,000 concrete trucks worth of delivery of product in Victoria because of this action by the CMFEU.

It's probably cost us over a million dollars in legal fees; we've lost probably $7 million in revenue in the Victorian market: all attributable to this fight that the CMFEU has with Grocon.

ADAM HARVEY: Boral's concrete trucks are turned away from scores of sites controlled by the CMFEU because Boral sells concrete to one of the union's enemies

MIKE KANE: We've been dragooned into a fight that they have with Grocon that we're not a party to.

It is a bizarre situation that's unfolded, and we may be the largest target of their activity outside of Grocon, but we didn't volunteer for this, we didn't ask to be involved in it.

ADAM HARVEY: Boral has won court injunctions ordering the CMFEU to stop this secondary boycott. But to no effect.

MIKE KANE: It's become much more subtle. While they're occasionally still trying this stopping of trucks or delaying of trucks onto entry onto sites, it's become much more of an intimidation of our customer base and our customers frankly are intimidated and fearful about coming forward.


ADAM HARVEY: The National Secretary of the CMFEU, Dave Noonan, says a tough industry calls for tough tactics.

DAVE NOONAN, CFMEU NATIONAL SECRETARY: Our members make it very clear they expect a union which is active, a union which when necessary will take up their issues with the employer. I mean, construction workers have been militant since Christ was a carpenter and they expect a union which does the job for them.

JOHN LLOYD, FAIR WORK BUILDING INSPECTORATE: They're really organised, they're well resourced, they're ruthless and their approach is to play hardball day in, day out. And they don't have a high regard for the law, in my view.

ADAM HARVEY: The union's next fight is with the Coalition Government.

ERIC ABETZ: The current legislation clearly isn't sufficiently tough enough to deal with the thuggery and intimidation that has unfortunately been a hallmark of the building and construction sector.

ADAM HARVEY: To tackle the union, the Abbott Government is moving to reconstitute one of the most controversial weapons of John Howard's industrial armoury: the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

Legislation will be introduced in the first week of Parliament, in mid-November, giving the commission powers to levy big fines over disputes like the Boral boycott.

ERIC ABETZ: I don't think it's too much to ask that we actually have the rule of law abiding. All you have to do is remember the ugly scenes at the Myer Emporium building and ask yourself the question, "Who is it that's itching for a fight?" I don't think it's us, the Government. Having the CMFEU brought to heel in some of its activities will in fact enhance the reputation of the trade union movement.

ADAM HARVEY: The Government will restore the commission's powers, which included the authority to jail reluctant witnesses.

JOHN LLOYD: So the ABCC had the power to require people to give evidence. If they didn't, the maximum penalty was six months in prison.

ADAM HARVEY: The union is vowing to fight the new regime, just as it did until the commission was disbanded by Labor.

JOHN SETKA, STATE SECRETARY, CFMEU VICTORIA (archival): There's an old saying, my mum used to use the saying, I have said it once before, she used to say, "the more you touch shit, the more it smells." Well that's them; they are shit! They're the shit that they are.


DAVE NOONAN: While Abbott governs and advocates these policies, the zombies and vampires of WorkChoices never rest; they're out of their graves; they're not dead, buried and cremated; they're roaming the streets, hungry for the blood and brains of workers.

The unions have, at times a tendency, to personalise attacks. But, yes, you've got to be resilient.

JOHN SETKA: When this is all over and they don't exist anymore, they've got to work elsewhere and we will remember them 'cause we know every (bleep) one of them; We'll never forget 'em.

Thanks fellas.


ADAM HARVEY: The Coalition has just appointed the ABCC's former head, John Lloyd, as chair of the Fair Work Building Inspectorate, where he will be helping to lay the groundwork for the commission's return.

JOHN LLOYD: The industry has a history of appalling, unlawful conduct; it's widespread and it's entrenched.

The only time that the industry observe and upheld the law was during the period of the ABCC.

ADAM HARVEY: Taking on the union cost this Perth builder his business. Jerry Hanssen's sites were boycotted for weeks.

(footage of Jerry Hanssen speaking to a union representative)

JERRY HANSSEN, BUILDER: I pay the people...

UNION REPRESENTATIVE: He's lying, his lips are moving!

JERRY HANSSEN: On my side on an AWA...

UNION REPRESENTATIVE: He's lying, his lips are moving.


(to camera)

Finally I couldn't pay the bills anymore and had to wind my company up.

LINTON BESSER: He estimates he spent $2.5 million in legal fees and it took him years to rebuild his business.

JERRY HANSSEN: They sent me into hell and three years of absolute intimidation and blackmail and extortion and you name it; taught me that nothing is worse than that, so going broke was no longer an issue - I was broke.

From there on, it was only a win. You cannot sink lower than nothing.

WILHELM HARNISCH, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, MASTER BUILDERS ASSOCIATION: We're not saying that they shouldn't represent the rights of their members. All we're just saying why don't you behave like normal people? Why don't you behave lawfully? Why do you have to boast about breaking the law?

DAVE NOONAN: Sometimes unions will have to take a stand which may not always be popular, and sometimes we need to explain ourselves better, but we make no apology for putting our members' safety ahead of the opinions of a few politicians or shock jocks.

LINTON BESSER: The return of the building commission is shaping up as the first big stoush of the Abbott Government.

For Boral's Mike Kane, it can't come soon enough.

MIKE KANE: It's much better than asking police to be there to try to enforce the law at every concrete delivery. We'd expect to see that in the third world, not a first world country.

LEIGH SALES: Adam Harvey reporting.