The Federal Circuit Court has dismissed criminal contempt charges against a former union official over his involvement in the community protest staged during last year’s long-running children’s hospital project strike in Brisbane.
In front of a packed court room, Federal Magistrate Michael Burnett rejected all 18 charges against former MUA organiser Bob Carnegie, for which he could have been jailed if found guilty.
He originally faced 54 counts of criminal contempt, but 36 were dismissed during hearings in February.
The charges were brought by Abigroup, the principal contractor on the site and part of the Lend Lease group. It alleged Carnegie breached September court orders it had secured in his support for the nine-week project stopwork.
Community protests, which unions are careful to avoid direct links to, have developed as a means to support striking workers but avoid anti-picketing laws.
Companies have typically been reluctant to target individuals allegedly involved.
The Queensland Government filed an application to intervene if Carnegie was found guilty and the matter progressed to the next phase.
Carnegie in a statement this afternoon welcomed the result and thanked his legal team and his fellow workers for their support.
It’s certainly been a tough time, but the support of workers and the community has made it easier, he said.
BLF state secretary David Hanna also welcomed the ruling.
Slater Gordon national head of industrial law, Marcus Clayton, who represented Carnegie, said the court had accepted that the order he was charged with breaching was not clear and unambiguous.
It has long been a fundamental legal principle that you can’t be found guilty of contempt of a court order if the order isn’t clear, he said.
Bob has been through a lot and we are very pleased for Bob.
Clayton said an application would be made for an order that Abigroup pay Carnegie’s substantial legal costs.
A spokesperson for Abigroup said the company respected the court’s decision.
Abigroup and its contractors secured FWA (now FWC) orders in August last year, which they backed up with court injunctions, against industrial action at the site.
Senior Deputy President Peter Richards in September in orders later upheld by a full bench banned the CFMEU and CEPU, their officers and delegates, plus their members who are employees of Abigroup subcontractors at the site, from engaging in any industrial action. He also ordered the unions not to organise or encourage it.
Abigroup launched separate proceedings against the unions over the matter.
The children’s hospital strike began as a dispute with a subcontractor over benefits but was engulfed in the claim for site rates for contractors that the construction unions were pursuing from other builders during bargaining.
Abigroup at the time still had some two years to run on its Queensland construction sector deal.