The ACTU has lodged a Freedom of Information request for secret documents that it believes will reveal the Government’s political motivation in calling the building industry Royal Commission.
Speaking at the opening of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union’s new NSW offices in Sydney today, ACTU Secretary Greg Combet said he believed the documents on the Cole Royal Commission would show the inquiry had been established for political reasons.
“The motivation and the timing for this inquiry is all politics,” said Mr Combet. “You can bet that the Government will seek to use the Royal Commission to throw as much mud at the CFMEU and other unions as possible before the election. John Howard’s got a simple re-election strategy – throw money around, attack the unions, and play the race card. The Royal Commission fits neatly into that pack.”
The FOI request covers documents and communications relating to the establishment of the Royal Commission between Workplace Relations Minister Tony Abbott, the Prime Minister, the Office of the Employment Advocate and all Government departments.
“If there is nothing to hide the Government should hand over these documents,” said Mr Combet. “The establishment of a Royal Commission is no small matter. It will cost a lot of money – as much as $80 million – and it should not be set up for political purposes.”
Mr Combet said that if the Royal Commission was genuinely examining problems in the building and construction industry, its terms of reference would specifically include the estimated $1 billion a year in tax evasion.
“Tony Abbott recently wrote to CFMEU NSW Secretary Andrew Ferguson and said that ‘there is no evidence that tax evasion is more prevalent in this industry than others’. This reveals Abbott to be both ignorant and naïve,” said Mr Combet.
The National Crime Authority has reported that there is systematic tax fraud in the building industry. The NCA Swordfish Task Force found that:
The businesses involved were reducing their operating costs by evading tax, avoiding superannuation payments, avoiding contributing to workers’ compensation premiums and other typical operating expenses required by Commonwealth and State laws. (Extract, Page 29, NCA Commentary 2001)
“The amount ripped off each year in the building industry was $1 billion in 1999, and has grown since then. Tony Abbott should be aware of this. That’s what he should be telling this Royal Commission to investigate – a $1 billion tax fraud,” said Mr Combet.