Aussie Unions are as bad as unions come, especially when it comes to bullying and intimidation. Take the case of John Setka who came up with the great idea of trying to sue Tony Abbot for defamation because Tony Abbot intimated that he was a bully.
First some context.
When a group of construction workers held a rally outside the Melbourne headquarters of the building industry watchdog on a winter’s day in 2010, they were addressed by a union official, John Setka, who promised a war of attrition. His language was lurid and vengeful:
”We know who’s winning this battle. We’re winning this battle, not them rats … There’s no other way of putting it, they are f——s … They are shit …
”We’re proud, we’re construction workers … you’re not working in some warm office like them f——s up there. And they’ve got the balls to try and prosecute us … Those rats, dogs, whatever they are, just remember one thing, when this is all over, and they don’t exist any more, they’ve got to work elsewhere and we’ll remember them because we know every f—ing one of them. We will never forget them.”
Setka remains the assistant secretary of the Victorian branch of the Construction Forestry Mining and Engineering Union, which put a video up on its website, which is why his words were recorded for posterity and could reappear in court.
Right, so the clever clogs at the union put a video up of John Setko behaving in a bullying fashion. Nice, that will play out in court just beautifully.
Remember Setka’s words: ”When they don’t exist any more … we’ll remember them because we know every f—ing one of them. We will never forget them.”
Now the CFMEU is seeking to put the man who set up the commission, Tony Abbott, in court: Setka is suing Abbott for defamation. The material makes for fascinating reading.
The tripwire for this contest was a remark Abbott made in February to the Master Builders Association of Victoria. Abbott made no reference to Setka in his speech. But during questions he was asked about the campaign to abolish the commission. He replied: ”So many of you have got to go onto sites every day. You’ve got to deal with the John Setcos [sic] of this world.”
Three months later, on May 15, the CFMEU’s lawyers Slater & Gordon, the former employer of the Prime Minister, notified Abbott that defamation proceedings had begun. The letter said that Abbott’s comment, and other remarks, were understood to mean that Setka was a ”thug”.
Getting Abbott into the witness box during an election year and grinding away at him in court might look like a good idea.
But it is also easy to see why this defamation action could be a windfall for Abbott. For a start, he does not have to appear in court. His lawyers, in addition to disputing the imputations, could unleash the products of due diligence, going through Setka’s career, issue by issue, in open court.
That may or may not not suit the government. It may or may not want John Setka representing the unions in the court of public opinion.
It may not want to draw further attention to Julia Gillard’s links to the hard arts of the unions, and to her great gift to the CFMEU, shutting down the building industry regulator.
Whoopsy…looks like that strategy isn’t going to work as planned.
Sometimes when you try to sue someone without thinking through the strategy all the way you wind up in bigger trouble than when you first started. Especially in this case where a bullying union official is going to have his life unpacked before him in the court through a case he initiated.
Now some wags might say that this is the risk that Judith Collins faces, but it isn’t because she has limited her case to very specific details that are likely to have been proven out by several investigations before it gets to court.
Not so though in another defamation case currently before the courts.