Construction capital – a crock of crooks

The press hounds are baying again about union corruption. The Coalition can spare its budget the expense of another Royal Commission. All that it needs to do is to summarise the findings of corrupt bosses from Reports across 100 years

Nonetheless, some Reports show more than others. In mid-2004, the NSW ICAC found that corporations such as Transfield had bribed public officials to issue competency certificates while the Cole Royal Commission into the building unions was sitting. Cole had seen or heard nothing.

Similarly the ABCC was surprised early in 2012 when thirty Victorian building inspectors were charged with ‘alleged corruption, serious misconduct and harassment’; they allegedly took kickbacks to block formal investigations. On the same day, the State government announced its own construction-industry police to attack the Construction Division of the CFMEU. The new body will not pursue the employers who paid the bribes to the public servants.


Collusive tendering and price-fixing are the ‘ingrained culture’ of the employers. In 1911, the NSW MBA justified its members’ involvement in illegal commissions by saying that they ‘should be openly recognised’ as ‘universal and worldwide’. The 1990 NSW Royal Commission into the construction industry forced the resignation of the executive of the NSW MBA which had been a clearing house for collusive tending.

The playground excuse

In 1995, Leighton’s then CEO, Wal King, justified his company’s use of false invoices to conceal price-fixing on the Sydney Casino. It was, he protested, ‘the culture … and custom that had been long-standing in the industry that had been handed on for years.’ So had King’s excuse. The 1995 government report branded King as ‘not of good repute, having regard to character, honesty and integrity’.

The Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) recently fined Leightons $300,000 for not supplying information to the stock exchange. Leighton’s came under investigation here and in Iraq into whether one of its subsidiaries paid bribes to win a contract. (Australian, 6 June 2012, p. 43.)

Lend Lease paid fines and restitution of $54USm. for ten years of ‘a systematic pattern of audacious fraud’ in the US of A.  Yet again, the defence was: ‘everyone does it’.

 Missing in action

Three collapsed companies – Reed, St Hilliers and Kell & Rigby – had failed to file accounts on times over several years. As the Age concluded: ’It seems there is no one to stop building companies from calling in voluntary administrators and transferring assets to another clean corporate entity and starting anew.’ (20 June 2012) They do that to avoid fines for deaths on site.

Killing not murder when done for profit

The gravest matter is the Hardie asbestos case. The High Court disbarred Hardie directors for seven years for rigging the books about its compensation fund. Their victims had ‘No appeal from the grave’.

Transfield’s co-founder, Franco Belgiorno-Nettis, admitted to the official historian of his construction corporation’s that he had engaged in corruption and strong-arm tactics: ‘We cover this with a veneer of civilisation’.

Humphrey McQueen

One thought on “Construction capital – a crock of crooks

  1. … but what do we do about the people ‘on-the-take’ who exploit union members?

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