Another ongoing matter, in which union members were accused of threatening workers crossing a waterfront picket line in Fremantle with death, prompted maritime division WA secretary Will Tracey to allege the watchdog was “compulsively bringing cases without evidence or justification”.
“All of the evidence available to both sides completely disproved their version of events,” he said.
However, earlier this month the Federal Court fined the CFMMEU and three officials a combined $840,000 after the ABCC prosecuted them for coercive action at Brisbane construction sites last year.
Labor went to the election promising to abolish the commission, with Burke previously confirming it would be defunded this financial year. But, as a statutory authority, its removal will have to be legislated and its passage through the Senate is not guaranteed.
The ABCC has 39 prosecutions afoot, 23 new legal matters introduced in the past financial year.
Asked what he expected the watchdog to do with the cases, Burke replied: “An agency that has been wasting taxpayers’ dollars on policing what flags are displayed on worksites and what stickers are on workers’ helmets shouldn’t continue to receive taxpayers’ dollars.”
The Federal Court in March upheld the commission’s pursuit of the union and builder Lendlease for flying the Eureka flag on worksites, in an appeal decision that is now the subject of further appeal.
The commission declined to comment on Burke’s stated expectation, instead referring to a June 23 report in which it pledged to continue investigating and prosecuting matters until it was abolished.
“Absent a change of legislation, legal proceedings will continue through the courts as normal,” the report says.
The Master Builders’ Association, with campaigned vigorously for the retention of the agency during the federal election, declined to comment.
The Coalition’s industrial relations spokeswoman, Michaelia Cash, said Burke needed to explain what would happen to the dozens of live cases.
“These matters can’t just be dropped – there are serious allegations involved that must be dealt with,” Cash said.
“This is exactly the sort of chaos we predicted would ensue under a Labor Government. They are once again putting their union mates ahead of law and order in the building and construction industry.”
But Adelaide University industrial relations expert Andrew Stewart said it was difficult to believe the government was going to behave as if the ABCC had been abolished “when it still exists legally”.
“The answer here is it’s going to be something in between,” he said.
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