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Font Size: Decrease Increase Print Page: Print Ewin Hannan and Patricia Karvelas | June 16, 2009
Article from: The Australian

FORMER ACTU president and now federal Labor MP Jennie George has declared building unionists have fewer rights than “most hardened criminals”, underlining ALP caucus unrest over plans to keep coercive powers for the construction industry.

Tasmanian Labor MP Dick Adams also hit out at the retention of the powers and Victorian senator Jacinta Collins said she was yet to be convinced the government would introduce adequate safeguards to deal with her concerns.

Several other Labor MPs raised concerns about the proposed laws at a special briefing of the employment caucus group last night, with some vowing to push their opposition in a broader caucus meeting today.

Despite the unrest, Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard is expected to succeed in getting a bill retaining the powers through caucus. One prominent left-winger, who would not be named, said the government had “stitched up” the issue and it would be difficult to seriously oppose it. “They’ve locked everyone in,” the MP said. “None of the left-wing ministers or parliamentary secretaries can say anything now.”

The bill’s final passage faces delay, as the Greens will refer it to a Senate committee when it comes before the upper house next week. A day after former union leader and now senator Doug Cameron attacked the coercive powers, Ms George differed from fellow former ACTU presidents, Simon Crean and Martin Ferguson, who have both backed their retention.

“Like many people, of course, I have concerns about the use of coercive powers against trade unionists, powers that don’t even apply in the case of most hardened criminals, who under our laws still have the right to silence,” Ms George told The Australian.

She said she would have a more detailed position once she had examined the legislation, including proposed safeguards.

“As a matter of principle, I think the use of coercive powers in the manner that has been used hitherto, where people are hauled before people and asked to dob in their mates and if they don’t there is the threat of penalty, it just seems to me that is not something that I would condone.”

Ms Gillard will highlight an array of safeguards that were recommended by former judge Murray Wilcox.

It is expected any notice to compulsorily interrogate a person would be issued only by a presidential member of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, who would have to be satisfied that the worker had information or documents relevant to an investigation; that the information was important to the investigation’s progress; and if there was no other way of obtaining the information.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman would monitor the compulsory interrogations and report to parliament annually. The legislation governing the interrogation powers would be subject to a five-year sunset clause.

Mr Adams said it was wrong to have two sets of laws and they would be resisted.

“I believe that everybody should be treated equally,” he said.,25197,25642552-2702,00.html

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