The West

No conflic t as Agius sides with union
John Agius SC. Picture: Ben Crabtree/The West Australian

More than a decade after being interrogated by John Agius SC in the Cole Royal Commission, the construction union is forking out $7000 a day to have the esteemed lawyer on its side.

Mr Agius will represent the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union in the upcoming royal commission into union corruption.

The inquiry will investigate financial management, accountability failures and unlawful matters, such as slush funds, in unions around the country.

Mr Agius, considered one of the finest lawyers in Australia, is best remembered in union circles as counsel assisting the Cole Inquiry, which exposed more than $1 million paid by builders to the CFMEU in WA in an effort to purchase industrial peace.

In 2002, the Cole Inquiry heard evidence of one incident in which 10 workers were held in a locked area at a WA building site against their will to compel them to join the union. The barrister said at the time that many people had been too scared to assist the Cole Inquiry for "fear of retribution" from the CFMEU.

"That citizens of this country feel intimidated, to the point of being afraid to speak, when the story they have to tell is one of intimidation and harassment and a breakdown of law and order, is a sorry matter for all Australians," he told the commission in March 2002.

In the upcoming inquiry, he will represent the construction union in relation to any allegations of internal corruption.

Mr Agius said he did not see any conflict in his new role with his former position interrogating the construction union.

"I didn't regard it as a change of sides," he said.

"The CFMEU asked me if I was available and I didn't see there was likely to be any conflict, and I was available so I was happy to accept the brief.

"(The upcoming inquiry) will be a different inquiry.

"I don't think it will have the same industrial focus that the last inquiry had. It's very difficult to determine because the terms of reference are so broad.

"But I suspect this inquiry is going to have more of a focus on the internal management of the unions, and particularly the way in which is structures its accounts and their internal governance."

CFMEU national secretary Dave Noonan welcomed Mr Agius to the role.

"The union had a discussion with our solicitor about counsel who was available and a number of eminent senior counsel were considered and it was felt he was the best person for the job," Mr Noonan said.

"We were looking for someone with the right qualifications and expertise in the area, and he's been involved in a number of royal commissions and commissions of inquiry and we were, of course, familiar with his work."

Mr Noonan would not reveal the rate the union was paying but admitted it was "not cheap".

It is not known when the Royal Commission will sit.

It is expected to visit Perth but this is still not yet certain.

'(Mr Agius) has been involved in a number of commissions of inquiry . . . and we were, of course, familiar with his work.'" CFMEU national secretary

  • Dave Noonan *
The West Australian

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