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Issue #1473      22 September 2010

The disgraceful pursuit of Ark Tribe

ABCC under a microscope as Ark returns to court

Hundreds of supporters rallied outside the Adelaide Magistrates court in support of Tribe when his court case resumed on Monday 13 September. They cheered him on as he entered court for closing submissions. Union members and supporters also joined a rally outside the Australian Building and Construction Commission’s (ABCC) headquarters in Sydney.

Marching with Ark Tribe – Unions/Workers/Activists, May Day this year in Sydney.(Photo: Anna Pha)

Inside the court, Michael Abbott, QC, for Tribe, argued the ABCC had not exercised its power correctly in ordering Tribe to front the interview. He said the notice was invalid because it had not been issued by the Commissioner.

Steven Dolphin, also acting for the defence, said a ruling in Tribe’s favour could have a broader significance on the way the ABCC conducts its business.

The case could result in every previous ABCC investigation being placed under the microscope, according to one of the unionist’s lawyers.

CFMEU national secretary Dave Noonan urged the federal government to scrap the ABCC regardless of the outcome of the trial.

Ark must now wait another seven weeks to learn if he will be jailed for six months until Magistrate David Whittle hands down his judgement in November.

The 47-year-old is accused of failing to attend an ABCC interview in 2008 in relation to an unauthorised safety meeting at an Adelaide building site.

“This is the eleventh time I’ve been back to court for this crap,” Ark Tribe told supporters after climbing onto the scaffold stage in Adelaide’s picturesque Victoria Square on Monday. The threat of six months jail has been hanging over his head for almost two years.

“No Australian worker should have to face what I have just for withdrawing their labour from an unsafe situation.”

Ark was working on a site where workers took action after the builder refused to address safety concerns. Safework South Australia backed up their claims.

The ABCC, given extreme powers by the Howard Government to push anti-unionism in the construction industry, jumped in to try and fine the CFMEU under laws that have been condemned by the Intenational Labour Organisation seven times. The ABCC was not interested in breaches of safety by the employer, but in the union’s defence of safety.

The Rudd/Gillard government made no attempt to repeal the legislation, instead putting forward legislation (still not passed) to shift the ABCC under its Fair Work umbrella. Gillard was adamant about keeping “a tough cop” on the beat in the building industry.

Ark Tribe’s brave refusal to bow down to a secret police investigation of a legitimate safety matter has exposed the ABCC as a threat to the rights of all Australians.

Abuse of powers

“We’ll have to wait for the court to make its decision, but clearly on any analysis these are very, very serious powers that have been given to the ABCC,” Mr Noonan said. “There are some real questions presented as to whether there’s been a serious abuse of those powers. “We would urge Labor to put to the parliament a Bill that returns full rights to construction workers and treats all Australian workers equally.”

Victorian CFMEU Senior Vice President Noel Washington, paying tribute to Ark, said “the stand he is taking is a stand for all of us. If anything happens to him they will be taking us all on.”

Noonan pointed out how the ABCC’s hounding of Ark had drawn attention to the way the secretive body conducts itself. “We have shone a light on the dark side of the ABCC and some disturbing details have emerged,” he declared. “They have always claimed their coercive powers are only used as a last resort.

“But the incontrovertible evidence before the court is that the only efforts they made to contact Ark before ordering him to report for a meeting under threat of jail were two calls to a mobile phone number they thought might be his.”

“So they have lied. The extreme powers are being used as a first resort and every Australian ought to be concerned about this.”

The CFMEU legal team believe they have made a strong case that the ABCC failed to abide by the building industry Act and as such Ark cannot be found guilty.

The CFMEU and other building unions have promised a national strike if Ark is jailed.

As this historic case reaches its dramatic conclusion, Australians must consider whether a country where workers can be jailed over a safety meeting is a place they want their kids to grow up.  

Next article – “Fair Work” Ombudsman turns blind eye to underpayment of international students

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