Tuesday, 28th January 2014

A POX ON THEIR HOUSES

Prominent unionist Paul Howes last year stated that unions were facing a crisis of legitimacy and that another major scandal could wipe Australia's union movement off the map.

A joint investigation by ABC's 7.30 program and Fairfax Media has this morning alleged bribery, extortion and threats of violence in the construction industry. It's a big story and, as Howes warned, bad news not just for the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), but for the union movement in general.

Union endorsement is essential for labour hire and many other elements of major projects, and CFMEU officials have reportedly formed corrupt relationships with organised crime figures, receiving kickbacks in exchange for arranging lucrative contracts in Victoria and NSW. 

This story is about much more than union corruption. It also points to failures of policing, the influence of organised crime and the corruption in big construction companies and major projects, including Barangaroo and the Wonthaggi desalination plant.

But all the political pressure will be on unions and the Labor party. The ALP's close links with the union movement, and the financial contributions it receives from the CFMEU in particular, will ensure this story rolls on and on.

The scandal appears at a crucial moment. The government has been preparing to establish a royal commission into union malfeasance – following the Craig Thomson and AWU/Gillard stories – and also pushing for the restoration of the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

Labor (along with the Greens) has so far resisted the re-establishment of the ABCC. It now needs to weigh its support for unions, in this and in every situation, against the damage being caused by another scourge of the movement.

Nick Feik
Politicoz Editor

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CFMEU rocked by claims of corrupt dealing with crime figures in exchange for construction contracts

"Union officials have formed corrupt relationships with organised crime figures, receiving kickbacks in exchange for arranging lucrative contracts in the construction industry. A joint investigation by ABC's 7.30 program and Fairfax Media has discovered that bribery, extortion and threats of violence are used to cement the influence of crime figures on Australia's construction sites."

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