Speech: Nigel Hadgkiss’ Vendetta Against Unions
Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (21:12): Nigel Hadgkiss, director of the Fair Work Building and Construction inspectorate, has framed his career and, indeed, his life, as a crime fighter, exposing corruption, drug runners and criminals. His backers, from employment minister, Eric Abetz, across to the Institute of Public Affairs, clearly believe he is the man with the drive and the attitude to deliver on their wish list to restrict union rights and to destroy the CFMEU.
The work Hadgkiss drives through the FWBC, if successful, stands to reshape Australia. Unions would be weakened until they were no longer effective in representing workers attempting to organise collectively: industrially for improved wages and conditions, and politically on social and environmental issues. Hadgkiss and his team do not just have the CFMEU in their sights. This is about reducing the pay workers that take home at the end of the week and reducing the rights of workers to ensure they have a safe workplace.
With Hadgkiss the man driving these changes, it is only legitimate that Australians know who he is. Born in the English Midlands, Hadgkiss early in his career took a job with the Hong Kong Police Force. In 1989, as a Winston Churchill Fellow, the Hadgkiss CV tells us that he studied methods for combating organised crime in Northern Ireland. I understand he also did a second stint in Northern Ireland in 2002, when he worked for Australia's National Crime Authority. The Royal Ulster Constabulary—known as the RUC—was the local police force in Northern Ireland until 2001, when it was renamed the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
This is where Senator Abetz's favourite public servant owes the Australian public a full explanation of his time in Belfast. In 1989 the RUC was not an exemplary police force. It is now on the historic record that the RUC was involved with paramilitaries in carrying out brutal crimes, including murder. The RUC was not fighting organised crime; it was the organised crime outfit of Northern Ireland.
There is no suggestion that Hadgkiss was involved in crimes committed by the RUC. However, why does he promote this visit as a study trip to examine methods of fighting organised crime? What did he study when he visited Northern Ireland in 1989? The actions of members of the RUC are shocking criminal acts. Probably the most serious crime committed by the RUC in 1989, the year that Hadgkiss was apparently first in Northern Ireland, was the murder of the Belfast solicitor Patrick Finucane. He was shot 14 times as he sat eating his Sunday lunch with his wife and three children in their Belfast home. His wife was injured, while his young children witnessed the murder as they sheltered under the kitchen table.
In 2001 a retired Canadian Judge, Peter Cory, was appointed by the British and Irish governments to investigate allegations of collusion by the RUC, the British Army and the Gardia—the police force of the Republic of Ireland—in a series of murders including the killing of Finucane. When one reads about the extent of collusion between the RUC and paramilitaries, it is hard to imagine what form combating organised crime could have taken in Northern Ireland in 1989 and what a visiting police officer from Australia would have studied. British Prime Minister David Cameron has acknowledged what he described as 'shocking levels of collusion'. He issued an apology to the Finucane family. The RUC crimes are not just linked with one murder in 1989. One of the British government instigated investigations found that the RUC was aware of two previous plans to kill Finucane earlier in the 1980s. They failed to notify him of the threat.
The report of the inquiry headed by prominent British lawyer Sir Desmond Lorenz de Silva states that, notwithstanding the apparent seriousness of the threat to Finucane's life, the decision was taken by RUC special branch, supported by the Irish Joint Section of MI5 and MI6, to take no action to warn or otherwise protect him because to do so could compromise an agent from whom the intelligence derived. Prime Minister Cameron noted in his comments on the Finucane case that he accepted that the RUC branch was 'responsible for seriously obstructing the investigation'. It is also on the record that Prime Minster Cameron's former director of security and intelligence, Ciaran Martin, had warned him that senior members of Margaret Thatcher's government may have been aware of 'a systemic problem with loyalist agents' at the time of Pat Finucane's death but had done nothing about it.
Hadgkiss cannot use the excuse that the crimes perpetrated by the RUC were not known when he visited. The evidence that the RUC colluded with loyalist paramilitaries—murdering gangs—is not new. The comments associated with the British prime minister—the reports, the apologies, the speeches in parliament—provide an insight into the brutal work of the RUC. Juxtapose this against Hadgkiss's public statement that the RUC provided him with an opportunity to study how to fight organised crime. There is an extreme disjunct here. What did Hadgkiss study In Northern Ireland? What lessons did he learn? Did he gain an insight into the crimes being committed by the RUC that were so serious they warranted an apology from the conservative prime minister of Britain? Did he observe any activities at the RUC that he should have reported?
I urge Hadgkiss to provide details about his past. Such information is relevant to how the FWBC director undertakes his job and to determine if Hadgkiss should be in such a powerful position. We do know that Hadgkiss's career has been under a cloud at least since the 1990s. In 2005 the Building Industry Taskforce at the time, headed up by Hadgkiss, said it lost interview records at the centre of former Detective Sergeant Michael McGann's accusations of payback and victimisation against Hadgkiss after McGann was effectively forced out of his job at the taskforce.
In the 1990s McGann and Hadgkiss had clashed at the Wood royal commission into corruption in the NSW Police Force. Hadgkiss was director of operations for the Commission. McGann, who had been awarded the Valour Award, the NSW police's highest bravery medal, was adversely named over an alleged assault on a thief and paedophile. All charges against McGann and four other police officers were dismissed by a magistrate who found the evidence to be unreliable. McGann maintained that Hadgkiss's investigators working at the Wood royal commission fabricated evidence and that Hadgkiss should have known about it. McGann told the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs in 2003 that in his case Hadgkiss's investigators falsified witness statements and then forced the witness to sign the statement on the threat of going to jail themselves. Understandably, McGann believed his past run ins with Hadgkiss were linked to his dismissal from the Building Industry Taskforce. I doubt you would find details of these events on the Hadgkiss CV.
The Fair Work Building and Construction Inspectorate Hadgkiss heads up is part of a network of commissions and inquiries the Liberal-Nationals government has set up that are squandering millions of dollars of public money and resources on what we could call the ultimate in corporate welfare. This is one of the key objectives of coalition governments: to use public money to assist companies to boost profits by reducing the share of income going to wages. This corporate welfare is being laid on with a mighty big trowel. In the last budget the FWBC picked up a 17.25 per cent increase in funding to take them to $34.3 million. This included a 32.6 per cent increase in spending on staff. Last year Hadgkiss received a $90,000 pay rise to take his annual salary to $406,000. All this in a climate of budget cutbacks across the entire public sector, excluding the spy agencies and defence. Meanwhile, Hadgkiss's FWBC has offloaded any responsibility for employees' unpaid entitlements and sham contracting to the Fair Work Ombudsman, the corporate regulator ASIC and the tax office. These agencies have all suffered budget cuts, unlike the FWBC.
I think the evidence is well and truly in that Hadgkiss has a deep level of bias against the CFMEU and construction unions and that his work is designed to assist the plan of this conservative government to drive down and abolish penalty rates, reduce wage increases and limit workers ability to fight for a safe workplace. Hadgkiss is putting himself out there as the celebrity police officer riding into town to extend his fight against organised crime into the Australian union movement. If that is how he wants to be portrayed and we can assume be remembered, surely he needs to provide an accurate record of his public life with the Royal Ulster Constabulary and with the fabricating of evidence at the Wood royal commission.