CFMEU Queensland will no longer be able to conduct its own elections internally after a fair Work Commission (FWC) decision on Monday.
The FWC revoked the union’s exemption from conducting elections without the participation of the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC).
Compliance director Chris Enright revoked the exemption, dating back to 1996, due to irregularities and breaches in CFMEU elections which raised questions about their legitimacy.
Of key concern was the use of a manual for conducting elections which contained false statements and “appeared to breach the rules” according to a 40 page report from the FWC.
CFMEU general secretary Andrew Vickers said the manual had been used to train 128 returning officers, including 55 in Queensland.
Examination of an election conducted at Peak Downs in 2011 revealed that processes fell short of what was expected of the union division, which caused Vickers to describe the by-election as “a debacle” which caused “eternal shame and embarrassment of the organisation as a whole”.
The principal reason that the process in Queensland had gone off the rails was the inexperience of the returning officer and his inability to handle the pressure of a keenly contested election,” Vickers said in a recent letter to the commission.
In his report Enright acknowledged that the concessions made by Vickers were “difficult”, and that it was apparent that the Division and Branch were taking action to prevent “any repetition of irregularities”.
However, the compliance director said he was not persuaded that irregularities would not occur in the future without the involvement of the AEC.
“While these are relevant matters it was the egregious conduct of the Queensland Board of Management in the 2011 election which has caused me the greatest concern,” Enright said.
“I agree with the manner in which Mr Vickers characterised the election as a ‘debacle’ although in my view, the conduct of the Board is more likely to have been intentional rather than due to inexperience.
Enright said he was concerned about the beyond power actions of Queensland District President Steven Smyth and the Queensland Board of Management to determine election irregularities, void election outcomes, and other failures to comply with rules.
“That Mr Smyth had a preferred candidate and a concomitant interest in the outcome of the election exacerbated my concerns.”
The Australian reported that it was complaints from union members that originally led to the FWC investigation, with coverage of the issue dating back to January 2014.
Enright noted that allegations made by whistleblower and senior union official Stuart Vaccaneo to The Australian had not been challenged the Queensland branch or Peak Downs division.
Australian Mining has contacted Andrew Vickers and Steven Smyth for comment.