Fair Work inspectors were ordered to withhold information about new provisions for unions unless they were specifically asked by the business industry, under the leadership of former agency chief Nigel Hadgkiss, internal emails reveal.
The email trail emerged in Federal Court documents on Friday. Mr Hadgkiss resigned from his $426,160 a year job earlier this week after admitting he contravened the Fair Work Act by instructing staff to not publish legal changes to right-of-entry rules for unions.
ACTU president Ged Kearney. Photo: Paul Jeffers
Internal email trails tabled as evidence to the Federal Court on Friday shed further light on Mr Hadkiss’s leadership of the Fair Work inspectorate in preventing the publication of information about new laws passed by the former Labor government in late 2013. The laws took effect from January 1, 2014 and have not been changed.
An email from Adam Copp, director of stakeholder engagement for Fair Work Building and Construction on January 9, 2014 to senior staff including Mr Hadgkiss outlined the agency’s advice to industry as follows:
Labor’s employment spokesman Brendan O’Connor Photo: SMH
“Inspectors should familiarise themselves with the new provisions, but only provide advice on the provisions that will be rolled back if specifically asked by a building industry participant. Presentations should not include slides regarding the new provisions.”
Another internal document refers to FWBC “not changing its public-facing content to reflect the changes”.
On December 19, 2013, an email referred to Mr Hadgkiss having “canned” any changes to the agency’s right-of-entry advice to industry.
The emails show Mr Hadgkiss led the strategy to not publish the new right-of-entry rules because he thought the new Coalition government would repeal them in February.
Minister for Employment Michaelia Cash Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
This was despite the fact the Greens and Labor would hold the balance of power in the Senate until July.
In an email sent to Adam Copp on January 9, 2014, agency executive Jeff Radisich wrote: “Do we have any idea when the roll-back will occur? I thought we would be stuck with these provisions until the Senate change-over in July. If that’s the case we are running something of a political and industrial risk by withholding info on the law as it currently stands”.
Former Fair Work inspectorate chief Nigel Hadgkiss Photo: Jesse Marlow
The email turned out to be prescient because the misinformation formed the basis of a prosecution against the CFMEU over its use of a lunchroom, which the new rules allowed.
Replying to Mr Radisich, Mr Copp wrote: “To be honest, I do share your concerns and talked to Nigel about it late last year.
“However, he was absolutely adamant that he didn’t want us to change anything as the government intention is to change the legislation. He said he was extremely comfortable handling it in estimates or the media or wherever. He felt pretty strongly about it.”
Labor’s employment spokesman Brendan O’Connor on Friday questioned whether Employment Minister Michaelia Cash should have informed the Prime Minister and Cabinet in October 2016 that Mr Hadgkiss was the subject of legal proceedings at the time she said she first learned of the CFMEU’s allegations against him.
However, a spokesman for Senator Cash said the law was clear there was no formal Cabinet appointment process for his position. The Australian Building and Construction Commission legislation provided that Mr Hadgkiss, as head of the FWBC automatically became the head of the ABCC
ACTU President Ged Kearney has called on Senator Cash to resign or be removed from Cabinet.