Recent actions by Victoria’s Labor Government are heightening Master Builders’ concerns about the disappearance of protections against unlawful union obstruction on building sites. Fresh on the back of the decision to announce the immediate abolition of the Construction Code Compliance Unit (CCCU) and Victorian Construction Code of Practice (the Victorian Code) – one of its first acts has been to introduce legislation to make blockades by Victoria’s militant construction unions easier by reducing police powers to break up picket lines and protesters, even if they present a violent threat.
The proposed Summary Offences Amendment (Move-On Laws) Bill 2015 (the Bill) was introduced by Victorian Attorney-General Martin Pakula on 10 February and seeks to abolish the changes made by the Summary Offences and Sentencing Amendment Act 2014. The effect of this legislation will be to prevent police officers from being able to give a move-on direction to persons picketing or blockading a place of employment, even where it is endangering safety and could cause injury to a person, damage to property or is otherwise causing a risk to public safety or a breach of the peace.
In addition, the Bill abolishes the current ability of police to move on person who are:
- Impeding (or attempting to impede) another person from lawfully entering or leaving a premises;
- Causing a reasonable apprehension of violence to another person; or
- Obstructing other persons or traffic.
In a recent radio interview on 3AW, Mr Pakula has sought to justify these changes by stating that “it’s the price you pay for living in a democracy”. More accurately, the Bill seeks to put the rights of a privileged few (e.g. militant unionists and special interest groups) ahead of the rights of the broader Victorian community to go about their business unimpeded.
A chief beneficiary of the Bill is the CFMEU, who have turned to “pickets” as an effective tool for unlawful disruption. The Grocon Emporium blockade in 2012, which ultimately resulted in a criminal contempt of court finding, is but one example.
Whilst Master Builders refrains from making a summary judgement, recent actions of the Andrews Government are cause for serious concern about its commitment to the rule of law in the construction industry. In practice, they are decisions that appear to put the interests of the unions ahead of the people of Victoria.
Victorians do not support union thuggery or contempt for the rule of law. We will hold the government to its commitment of ensuring that no one is above the law.