Vic union helpful, not threat, lawyer says

A construction union official accused of blackmailing Boral executives was being helpful when he warned the company of possible industrial action, a court has been told.

The CFMEU’s Victorian secretary John Setka and assistant secretary Shaun Reardon faced Melbourne Magistrates Court on Tuesday as they fight charges of blackmailing two Boral managers during a meeting in 2013.

It’s alleged the union pair made unwarranted demands of executives Paul Dalton and Peter Head at North Melbourne’s Auction Rooms cafe on April 23, 2013.

At the time the CFMEU was waging an industrial campaign in Melbourne against construction company Grocon, which Boral supplied with concrete.

Mr Dalton made a 35-page statement to police in April 2015 about his interactions with Setka and Reardon.

Counsel for Reardon, Neil Clelland QC, said the statement differs to notes Mr Dalton made shortly after he spoke or met with the union officials.

The court has been told Setka rang Mr Dalton in September 2012 to say industrial action against Grocon might affect Boral.

“He says ‘this is just a heads up that Boral is going to run into some trouble with this Grocon stuff, it’s nothing personal’,” Mr Clelland said.

He said Setka told Mr Dalton that Grocon trucks were being turned around and Boral should avoid using Grocon trucks to transport Boral supplies.

“Far from being a threat, it was actually a helpful communication to you so that if you send Boral badged trucks, they wouldn’t be turned around,” the barrister said.

“I don’t think it was being helpful,” Mr Dalton said.

The executive said he believed Setka was “trying to throw his weight around”.

But Mr Dalton conceded his notes do not characterise his conversation with Setka as being of a threatening nature.

“Instead someone has construed – either you or someone on your behalf – the form of the message, which is not borne out by the notes at all,” Mr Clelland said.

Mr Dalton’s notes are different to the statements he gave to police and a royal commission, Mr Clelland added.

“That’s a very different message and a very different sentiment, might I suggest, from that which you have relayed in both your police statement and your statement to the trade unions royal commission,” Mr Clelland said.

He went on to suggest a barrister acting for Boral had decided to accuse the union of blackmail.

“Was he the creative mind that came up with the idea that you could construe the meeting at Auction Rooms as blackmail?” Mr Clelland asked.

Setka and Reardon were charged in 2015 after an investigation by a joint Victorian and federal police unit following a referral by the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption.

The hearing continues.