Baillieu's man won't bring about lasting change

IF YOU want a review into the Victorian building industry which is independent, Nigel Hadgkiss is not your man.

IF YOU want a review into the Victorian building industry which is independent, Nigel Hadgkiss is not your man.

He is too linked to one side of the political debate for his findings to win bipartisan support and to lead to cultural change.

Hadgkiss spent six years involved in the Howard government's controversial federal building watchdog and is now running the Baillieu version.

Unions will dismiss any findings as emerging from a kangaroo court.

It is true the Victorian industry deserves scrutiny but also much more nuance in the debate than has emerged. Murky dealings exist among union officials and employers, and while there are many lurid allegations in the industry, firm facts are harder to find.

In 2006, the Supreme Court heard evidence from Ted Sent, former chief executive of retirement home developer Primelife, who revealed he paid gangland figure Mick Gatto more than $200,000 in unmarked envelopes over three years.

Gatto's role, the court heard, was to broker meetings with Sent and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union. There were also regular lunches with up to 20 people including developers, finance brokers and CFMEU officials.

The court heard Sent paid to guarantee a smooth industrial environment.

But the payments highlight that Gatto's role in the industry as a mediator exists because employers pay him. Gatto then uses his reputation and links with senior union officials, such as John Setka, to make a buck.

If the industry, as a whole, made a stand, no matter how painful that would be at first, these links would begin to fade.

Union officials such as Setka also betray their members' interests by befriending people such as Gatto. Any dealings, when they have to occur, should be at arm's length.

The latest review has, as its backdrop, the recent Grocon dispute, itself a case study of the messy reality in construction.

Grocon suffered a lengthy blockade in Melbourne's CBD with the union defying Supreme Court orders over an issue the election of safety representatives that did not justify such a massive blow-up.

The union has similarly defied other courts in recent years. But earlier this month, The Age published a photograph from March of two Grocon managers meeting with a Hells Angel with allegations the bikie was used to intimidate union protesters in Brisbane. Grocon rejected this allegation.

Construction is a tough industry and having Hadgkiss do the review smacks of an act by a government running an attack on the unions. Lasting change will only occur if independent scrutiny of the industry is done by someone unions and employers accept. A former judge without links to either side would have been better.