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VICTORIA Police is demanding sweeping new laws to stamp out blackmail in the construction industry, saying outlaw bikies use stand-over tactics to intimidate builders.
A 43-page report has revealed a “climate of fear” in the building industry, detailing how bikies are used as “hired muscle” to collect debts and how builders are compelled to bribe unions to negotiate pay deals.
The report, which was submitted in response to a discussion paper by the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption, says police are often powerless to intervene in disputes before they escalate.
And it says union officials wear fines as “badges of honour”.
Victoria Police has said the construction industry is “over-represented” in criminal investigations.
Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton has also called for the re-establishment of a construction industry watchdog, which is due to be voted on in the Senate this year.
The report, a month after a royal commission taskforce charged Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union bosses John Setka and Shaun Reardon with blackmail, argues for “specific criminal offences” aimed at union officials and builders.
Police say they also have intelligence that outlaw motorcycle gang members, including from the Rebels, Comancheros and Bandidos, are engaged in “debt collecting” and even making threats to victims’ families to “dissuade” them from making a criminal complaint.
“It appears OMCG debt collectors are well aware of what might be prohibited debt collection practice and have therefore used implied, rather than actual, threats such as the wearing of club colours as an intimidation tactic,” it says.
“It is difficult to charge and convict such people since victims are reluctant to make a complaint ... debt collectors know how far they can go before committing an offence.”
The report also reveals some current union officials in Victoria have been convicted of offences, including assault and drug offences.
Victoria Police has backed calls for a “fit and proper person” test for union officials to “break down a culture that condones unlawful activity”.
“Rendering an officer ineligible to run for office is likely to be an effective deterrent, since the person then loses their position, power and status within the union,” the report says.
It would also create an incentive for union officials to abide by the law.
The report also alleges that unions make political donations to “influence future decision making by governments”, and that bribes are paid for companies to be added to a “preferred supplier list”.
It says unions have received “donations” from companies that have been victims of unlawful industrial activity — donations that have covered the cost of the fines courts have imposed on the union.
The report outlines proposals for new laws against the giving or receiving of “corrupting benefits”.
CFMEU national secretary Dave Noonan said the union stood by its pledge to co-operate with police over corruption allegations, but said the “police should stay out of politics”.
“The Australian Building and Construction Commission doesn’t deal with criminal law and it is an area police should not be commenting on,” Mr Noonan said.
State Opposition industrial relations spokesman Robert Clark said Premier Daniel Andrews must cut ties with the militant CFMEU and give police the laws and resources to tackle crime in the industry.
Mr Andrews was contacted for comment.