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Former minister Peter Reith demands investigation into allegations of CFMEU corruption

Article by Stephen Drill published in the Herald Sun 8 July 2013

A ROYAL commission into alleged corruption and criminal activity in the building industry is urgently needed, says former Howard government minister Peter Reith.

Mr Reith, who is speaking at the HR Nicholls Society's conference in Melbourne today, said unions were out of control.

He singled out the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union's ongoing dispute at the Yallourn power plant and the Myer Emporium battle as prime examples of excessive union power.

"We need a royal commission into union corruption. This is an urgent need," he said.

But CFMEU state secretary John Setka said a royal commission would merely be class warfare and a waste of taxpayers' money.

Mr Reith, who was the leader of the anti-union crackdown on the Melbourne docks in 1998, said he was concerned about alleged bribes in the building industry.

"What about all the cash floating around on building sites?" he said.

"It's all part of the corruption we've got in the union movement. There's a lot to be done."

A royal commission has coercive powers to question people and could refer allegations for police investigation. It would be the second time in a decade that the building industry was probed by such a high-level investigation.

The 2001 Cole royal commission into the building industry found that the rule of law was not respected.

"There needs to be a recognition by all participants that the rule of law applies within the industry," Mr Terence Cole said.

"It requires that they abide by industrial, civil and criminal laws. At present, they do not."

The CFMEU stopped work on Grocon's Myer Emporium site for 16 days last year in a dispute over who appointed shop stewards on site.

Protesters were still camped out in front of EnergyAustralia's Yallourn power plant yesterday after the company locked out striking workers last month.

Talks over a pay deal to resolve the dispute were to continue this week but production at the plant has continued using non-union labour.

Mr Setka said Mr Reith was engaging in a political stunt.

"Mr Reith and the Liberal Party should spend less time on wasting taxpayers' money on political stunts and class warfare and more time on preventing deaths in our industry," he said.

"This year we have already seen four fatalities in Victoria alone, maybe they should think about a royal commission into that."

Unions holding us back, says Cochlear chief

Article by PATRICIA KARVELAS published in the The Australian 8 July 2013

THE boss of bionic ear maker Cochlear will today warn that unions have been given too much power by the Rudd-Gillard governments and have held back growth for the past five years, and that Kevin Rudd's new engagement with business cannot be trusted because he will not wind back union control.

Chris Roberts, managing director and chief executive of Cochlear, will give a keynote address at the HR Nicholls Society annual conference in Melbourne on the theme "Unions in Control".

Dr Roberts will say the recent revival of the contentious plan to give unions more power to force "intractable" disputes into arbitration -- such as the six-year dispute involving his own company, Cochlear -- proved Mr Rudd did not deserve re-election.

"I think it would be a tragedy for business in Australia for the Rudd government to be re-elected," he told The Australian yesterday.

"If you objectively look at how the Rudd government and the Gillard government have been thinking about business and the sort of regulation that they have been introducing and how it has missed the mark -- and industrial relations is a very good example -- it would be a tragedy for the future prosperity of Australia if we don't get a change.

"It's only a few weeks ago that Gillard wanted to actually introduce compulsory arbitration.

"That would have been a huge backwards step."

He said Labor's industrial settings had damaged his business and created a class war that had taken the nation backwards.

"If the unions want a future in Australia, the unions have to redefine their role as well and they have to move beyond this class warfare.

"This broad class warfare battle is a nonsense and I think it's a very, very dangerous route to go down in Australia, but particularly in industrial relations -- it's not how modern companies work."

He was hoping the Coalition under Tony Abbott would offer a further winding-back of the Fair Work Act's excesses in its first term if elected, but he understood the difficulty given the scare campaign the unions would launch.

"It's very easy to scare people and I think the unions ran a successful scare campaign before, so these reforms aren't necessarily easy to do, but I encourage both sides of politics to actually relook at how the world's changing. The issue isn't what Australia is like today versus 10 years ago or 20 years ago or 50 years ago; it's what Australia is like compared to the rest of the world today -- that's what we've got to do if we want to be globally competitive."

He said the six-year union dispute Cochlear had been engaged in had hurt.

"It has been a huge, huge distraction and hugely costly, and it's been a disgrace because it was based on this premise that productivity and collectivism are somehow linked, that collective bargaining would drive productivity, and the literature does not support that," he said.

"You can certainly find individual cases where a collective agreement in a particular firm helped productivity, and you can find just as many cases -- Cochlear is a good example -- where a collective agreement didn't help productivity."

He believed a big industrial relations debate must start in Australia and it should start at the school level. "Kids have to come out of school knowing how society creates value," he said.

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