The nation’s most powerful union official has demanded an inquiry into why two union officials were charged with blackmail after the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption, only for the charges to be withdrawn almost three years later.
Yesterday, the Victorian Department of Prosecutions asked that extortion charges leveled against Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) officials John Setka and Shaun Reardon in 2015 be dismissed.
Melbourne magistrate Charles Rozencwajg replied, “I think it’s a very sensible decision.”
The case stemmed from allegations that during a meeting with senior officials with Boral, the pair asked that concrete not be supplied to Melbourne worksites run by construction firm Grocon, amid concerns about worker safety. Mr Setka is the CFMEU’s Victorian secretary, Mr Reardon is the state assistant secretary.
Explosive evidence presented at their committal hearing this week suggested senior figures within the Turnbull and Abbott Governments were speaking directly with Boral executives prior to any allegations being formally raised.
Head of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Sally McManus, this morning came out swinging.
“I welcome the withdrawal of these charges – they should never have been laid,” Mc Manus said.
“The possibility that members of the Abbott/Turnbull Government were closely consulting with Boral over events that led to these discredited charges is deeply disturbing. This possibility should be fully investigated.
“This is the same Government that orchestrated the ROC raid, wasted $80 million on a union witchhunt, and is the successor of the Coalition government that conspired to ruin the lives of waterfront workers 20 years ago,” she added, a reference to the infamous Patrick Stevedores dispute led by retired Liberal Minister Peter Reith.
“It is not acceptable for any government to attack the elected representatives of working people in order to advance their political agenda.
“John Setka and Shaun Reardon have stood up for working people in the Victorian construction industry. They stood up for safety in an extremely dangerous industry.
“And for doing that they have faced unwarranted and discredited criminal charges. Working people deserve answers about how this happened.”
Former Abbott Government minister Eric Abetz, who served in the workplace relations role at the time, was uncharacteristically quiet as the news broke yesterday.
“John Sekta has a history of making very inflammatory statements and it’s not worth responding to them,” Senator Abetz said.
“Whilst he’s had a win today I would suggest to him that he be exceptionally careful in relation to the sort of allegations that he wants to throw around.”
Outside court yesterday, the pair’s lawyer, Peter Gordon said Boral’s credibility had been “shredde” during the committal hearing, and described the entire episode as a “dark chapter” in Australia’s political and union history.
“What we do know is that gross and unlawful distortion took place, and that’s the only way in which these charges could have ever been brought,” Mr Gordon said.
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