Allegations the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) tried to control the price charged by Canberra scaffolders have been dropped and the failed prosecution has been described as an “abuse of power” which should never have made it to court.
On Tuesday (17 August), the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP) withdrew criminal cartel charges against the CFMEU and its ACT secretary Jason Lawrence O’Mara in the ACT Magistrates Court.
In February, the CDPP had alleged union members contacted Canberra scaffolders over 2012 and 2013 to hold meetings on a proposed enterprise bargaining agreement and encouraged businesses to come to an understanding where they would not charge below an agreed minimum price for their services.
Both the union and Mr O’Mara fought all accusations.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) began an investigation that the CDPP decided to prosecute before withdrawing all charges.
“In this case, the decision to withdraw was made in the context of the extended period of time which has elapsed since the alleged conduct occurred, and the challenges that posed for witnesses’ memories of relevant events,” ACCC chair Rod Sims said.
“While there can be challenges involved in bringing criminal cartel prosecutions, we will continue to place a high priority on deterring, detecting and dismantling cartels that can harm Australian consumers and businesses, and will continue to refer serious cartel conduct to the CDPP.”
In February, the CDPP also withdrew similar charges against the CFMEU and Mr O’Mara over allegations involving steelfixing services.
After Tuesday’s development, CFMEU national construction secretary Dave Noonan said the entire cartel case was an “abuse of power” by the ACCC and should never have gone to court.
“All of the charges against Jason O’Mara have been withdrawn at committal and the ACCC must explain how this case proceeded when they knew the charges were unsupported by the facts,” he said.
“It is another example of the appalling abuse of legal process and failed prosecutions stemming from the discredited Heydon Royal Commission.
“The ACCC has attempted to weaponise the Consumer and Competition Act to attack the right of trade unions to collectively bargain.
“The federal government sank significant funds into this case, continuing its endless war against the rights of working Australians and the trade unions that represent them.”