Former building industry watchdog Nigel Hadgkiss has been ordered to pay $8500 for breaching the Fair Work Act.
In her judgement, Federal Court judge Berna Collier took into consideration Mr Hadgkiss’ contrition and remorse and the fact he had no record of previous contraventions of the Fair Work Act. She also noted that Mr Hadgkiss “has paid a high personal price in the loss of his position as a result of his contravention”.
The Federal Court found Mr Hadgkiss contravened the Fair Work Act by instructing staff not to publish legal changes to right-of-entry rules for unions. He made the admission as a result of legal action brought by the commission’s chief target, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union.
It was an embarrassing development for the Turnbull government, which used the ABCC as the catalyst for last year’s double-dissolution election.
Justice Collier said Mr Hadgkiss’ conduct exhibited “a degree of carelessness and, indeed, somewhat arrogant ignorance in respect of the truth of information concerning the right of entry of industry participants in an often charged industrial environment”.
She said the “careless conduct” resulted in incorrect information remaining on the agency’s website for several years, “in apparent disregard of the reputational risk” to the agency.
Mr Hadgkiss’ conduct was “at the higher end of the scale of seriousness” in terms of breaching section 503 of the Fair Work Act, she said.
“Taking into consideration the factors I have mentioned, I consider that there is utility in a pecuniary penalty order,” Justice Collier said. “The penalty should, however, also reflect the circumstances of remorse, extra-curial consequences to the director, his co-operation and his record.”
Mr Hadgkiss resigned from his $426,000 job earlier this month after admitting to breaching workplace laws during his tenure as head of the Fair Work Commission’s building industry office. After a two-week transition he officially left the job on Wednesday.
“It brings to an end a 48-year career in law enforcement,” he said in an internal memo. “In no way do I regret any of that time, challenging though much of that journey has been.”
Labor has called for an independent inquiry and has taken aim at Employment Minister Michaelia Cash for putting Mr Hadgkiss in charge of the ABCC last year even though he was at that point already under a legal cloud.
Australian Council of Trade Unions president Ged Kearney said the fine was “completely inadequate”.
“Hadgkiss was a political appointment, tasked with enforcing authoritarian laws, that made work sites more dangerous, despite it not being clear that he had read or understood them,” she said.
“The [Employment Minister Michaelia Cash] should resign and stop playing political games with working people’s lives.”
A spokesman for Senator Cash said the government respected the court’s decision.
“The decision by Mr Hadgkiss to resign his position stands in stark contrast to the many CFMEU officials who remain despite numerous court findings against them,” the spokesman said.
The government is now searching for a replacement for Mr Hadgkiss but has appointed Deputy Commissioner Cathy Cato to act in the role. Ms Cato is a lawyer from Victoria who began her career with the Australian Government Solicitor.