Fiery rebel CFMEU Construction division official John Setka is officially paid under $100,000 per annum. And yet, when slagged off by a politician, he is able to find a rich man’s solution: a Will Houghton QC, a $12,000 a day Queen’s Counsel defamation barrister who is normally retained by Seven Network and other large media companies who aren’t short of a quid.
Setka complains that Tony Abbott defamed him by accusing him of acting in an intimidatory way, telling employers:
“Because so many of you have got to go onto [building] sites every day and you’ve got to deal with the John Setkas of this world every day and the last thing you need is home visits from some of the gentlemen associated with some of the industrial organisations that you have to deal with every day,” Mr Abbott said.
“Those home visits we know take place. We know they take place because people like Mr Setka have told us that they take place,” Mr Abbott said.
Sources familiar with the the proceedings say the associated costs are likely to run both sides as much as $500,000. Who’ll be paying? Couldn’t possibly be the union, with all the fuss about rampant corruption and money laundering at the Health Services Union, could it?
POWER IN A UNION
Setka – whose past criminal convictions are extensive – has been elected to succeed Bill Oliver as state secretary of the Construction union from January 1st next year.
He has advertised his arrival in the recent Grocon dispute where his members shocked the public by punching Police horses on the nose and ignoring Supreme Court orders such that the union is being sued by Grocon for $10.5 million.
Using the union as a throbbing instrument of his power, Setka is believed to have hopes of winning ALP preselection for his blue-eyed militant good lady, Emma Waters, once famous for an office liaison caught on closed-circuit camera at the CFMEU office. Mrs Setka has now moved on to Slater & Gordon and is believed to have invited notables as impressive as Mick Gatto to her child’s christening, as you would.
The Financial Review had an interesting story on Wednesday about the CFMEU Construction division in NSW (regarded as far more civilised than Setka normally).
It claimed the NSW branch diverted $1 million from a drugs charity it set up to the union. Possibly even more.
The Fin reported that most of the board of the Construction Industry Drug & Alcohol Foundation quit in disgust when they became aware of the wrongdoing. One of them, the boss of the Fairfield RSL, which had itself given many hundreds of thousands of dollars to the charity, Anthony Sobb demanded a forensic audit. He resigned when CFMEU bosses refused.
In Queensland, the CFMEU Construction union ran a two-month long strike delaying the construction of a much-needed Children’s Hospital in Brisbane. To call it unpopular industrial action is putting it mildly.
There is very little public support left for them, making it hard for Labor politicians to defend them and creating considerable opportunity for conservatives to have a go at them.
WHAT IS TO BE DONE?
Industry insiders familiar with the CFMEU Construction division’s practices say that all the government needs to do to get tough with the CFMEU is strictly enforce right-of-entry laws already on the books. The fines generated by a rigorous enforcement would quickly become unmanageable, even for the rich CFMEU Construction division, sources say.
While a few cranks get excited about what Julia Gillard’s lefty boyfriend did in the early 1990s with his union election slush fund, we think Labor has a big vulnerability with its continuing and formal affiliation with the CFMEU Construction division.
While the CFMEU positions itself as militant lefties, Victoria’s Socialist Left faction won’t have a bar of them. The union has probably never been more politically isolated because of the unpleasant nature of their activities.
The Coalition doesn’t make much of it but could. Too many of them get distracted by the latest bit of Gallery scuttlebutt, a bit like when “big-swinging-dick” Jamie Briggs was spreading nasty and false gossip about Abbott Chief-of-Staff Peta Credlin. Briggs – by the way – is considered the most avid leaker from the Coalition front-bench, continuing to white-ant influential and well-regarded front-bench colleagues like Kevin Andrews with chums like the dashing Peter van Onselen at The Australian who repeatedly demand Briggs be promoted at his expense. These Rudd-esque antics don’t play well. His indiscretion is likely to make further promotion unlikely, especially if Abbott remains. Most say he was only promoted because Abbott needed a South Australian after Cory Bernardi’s bestiality resignation.
We found it particularly strange that backbencher Andrew Laming dared call the PM corrupt when most consider him lucky to have escaped corruption charges over entrepreneurial arrangements relating to his taxpayer-funded printing allowance. We should presume him innocent, of course, despite the Police raids on his premises, but he’s not innocent of leading with his somewhat exposed chin. It would have been smarter to question Labor’s ongoing relationship with this repeatedly rogue union.
And in Victoria, punting the Construction division could serve Labor’s Daniel Andrews well, if, as expected, under John Setka’s imminent rule, they commit further public atrocities like stopping work on cancer hospitals and engaging in vicious cruelty to innocent Police horses.
Unless they clean up their act, we suspect the Construction division of the CFMEU, despite the fanatical enthusiasm of its highly-paid members and having net assets of tens of millions of dollars in Victoria alone, is living on borrowed time.
UPDATE: The Age’s Ben Schneiders reports Setka as pledging to have a “second go” at Grocon and expressing fury that the union backed off earlier this year. Next year is going to be ugly.