A series of late 1995 speeches in the Senate about Bruce (Comrade Goose) Wilson and Bill (Comrade Boofhead) Ludwig
On 29 November 1995 Senator Baume made this extraordinary speech about Comrade Boofhead and Comrade Goose.
What is clearly happening is that the Labor Party has made a mess of it. While the ACTU does not see it that way, and claims that CRA is to blame for the Weipa dispute—the Labor Party says it is the Liberals' fault; the ACTU says it is CRA's fault—according to the union movement, the real culprit is the Queensland branch of the AWU and, in particular, the Federal President of the AWU who is also the secretary of the Queensland branch, Mr Bill Ludwig. I am assured by my leak from the AWU that he is known affectionately by his comrades as `boof' or more formally as `comrade boofhead'.
Senator O'Chee —Who is this?
Senator MICHAEL BAUME —This is Mr Bill Ludwig. I have here a letter that has been leaked to me which comes from Mr Bob Smith.
Senator Crowley —Mr Acting Deputy President, I take a point of order. I draw your attention to Senator Baume's reference to a person not in this place as being known as `boof' or `comrade boofhead'. The point of order I raise is that if that is to be acceptable from Senator Baume and his grinning opposition colleagues, I hope they will practise the same tolerance whenever something is said by those on this side. Otherwise, would you rule that out of order?
Senator O'Chee —On the point of order: Senator Crowley well knows that those provisions in the standing orders only apply to members of this house, members of the other place, members of state houses of parliament and judicial officers. From his conduct, Mr Ludwig is certainly not a judicial officer. He may give orders to the cabinet, but he is not a member of parliament—
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator McKiernan)—Order! Senator O'Chee!
Senator O'Chee —What?
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I think you are now approaching compounding what I consider to be an error that your colleague Senator Baume may have made. However, it is not a point of order. I do not think you should use the provisions of the standing orders in order to compound what I consider to be an error made by your colleague. I am ruling that there is no point of order.
Senator MICHAEL BAUME —Sorry, I did not quite understand what the ruling is. Should I withdraw it?
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —No. There is no point of order.
Senator MICHAEL BAUME —Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. I am certain that Mr Ludwig has the opportunities through the structures to respond if he feels offended. I am simply quoting his colleagues; I am not attributing that name to him. But the letter from Mr Bob Smith, the Victorian Branch Secretary of the Australian Workers Union, to Mr Ludwig on 23 November says:
YOUR RESIGNATION AS A.W.U. NATIONAL PRESIDENT
Your gross incompetence as National President (and Queensland Branch Secretary) has resulted in the disastrous situation at Weipa, W.A., and elsewhere. The AWU has become a laughing stock under your "leadership".
The responsible course of action for you would be to announce your immediate resignation as National President, and give notice now of your retirement as Queensland Branch Secretary in 1997.
It is impossible for those of us who didn't know you in the 1970s or 1980s to judge whether or not you were a good union official. It's clear enough now, you are a broken-down joke. Preserve some pride from whatever your past achievements, and end our embarrassment, by resigning now!!!
The mess which is "Bill Ludwig's AWU" began with your gutless failure to take effective action in Western Australia and Victoria against your incompetent friends there and here. The industrial fiascos at Mount Isa and now Weipa highlight your inability to represent AWU members. No wonder you prefer to spend time in Washington while members here are out on the grass!!!
Well, Bill. You know that a majority of AWU officials (ex-FIMEE and ex-AWU) aren't prepared to put up with your domineering—
and I will censor myself—
bull——anymore. I am happy to table a motion for the next National Executive:
"That the AWU National Executive express no-confidence in the industrial and administrative ability of its National President, and calls on him to tender his immediate resignation."
Now we know who is to blame, according to the union movement, for the Weipa fiasco, for the Mount Isa fiasco and for all the industrial relations fiascos that the government is saying, `That is the Liberal Party's fault.' It is just unbelievable what the government's defence for the chaotic situation has become. Remember that this is the government which says, `We know all about industrial relations and we will continue to buy our way out of any kind of trouble.' It has not bought its way out of this one.
I believe that this parliament and the people of Australia are entitled to an unequivocal assurance from this government that it will not give in to ACTU demands that incompetently run unions like this one must be the vehicle, according to the ACTU, through which workers' arrangements with CRA and other employers should be forced to be channelled. Quite frankly, if you were a worker in an area that was under the `control' of the AWU, would you want these people—people described as incompetent, hopeless and embarrassing who made a laughing stock of the union—looking after your best interests?
The AWU, for example, covered the poor workers in Paul Keating's piggery. The workers in Mr Paul Keating's piggery were AWU protected. That is why they got sacked when they complained about having been given under-award wages for two years. They are still before the Industrial Relations Commission trying to get justice something like a year and a half after their disgraceful sacking. While Mr Keating was half-owner of this piggery, they were paid less than award wages. Would you want the AWU to look after you if you were working in that situation?
Naturally, the great bulk of people at Weipa want to come to their own arrangements, which are a better deal than what the AWU could get for them anyway. Australians are entitled to ask: why can't workers choose to make their own arrangements unfettered by the incompetent hands of this kind of self-serving union hierarchy?
The `broken down joke', according to the union itself, that is running this union is obviously not someone who contributes to the wellbeing of his union members. The point is made in the letter by Mr Bob Smith, the Victorian Branch Secretary, that Mr Ludwig's efforts at representing his members at Weipa have been managed—of course, they describe Brisbane as `far away' when they are in Weipa—from even further away: in Washington, USA. It is a pretty inadequate attempt at interaction with one union's membership to try to do something from Washington.
I should acknowledge that Mr Smith may be considered to have a bit of a grudge against Mr Ludwig because Mr Smith is still trying to clean up the Victorian branch of the AWU after its virtual destruction by Mr Ludwig's famous running mate in AWU ballots, Mr Bruce Wilson. I am also told by my friends in the AWU who are his comrades that Bruce Wilson is know as Bruce the Goose or Comrade Goose.
Anyway, he is now helping police with their inquiries in relation to the use of certain property, including a union car and a couple of flats, which apparently the AWU did not realise it owned. There is also the small matter, which I dealt with earlier in this chamber, of the $150,000 which had been socked away in a slush fund, unbeknown to the union's state and federal officers, and quite a lot of which had to be repaid to the Brisbane office of a national solicitors firm called Phillips Fox, which, I understand, refunded it to a major oil company which had planned, apparently, to resolve its union problems by contributing to some travel funds.
Mr Smith's views on Mr Ludwig are shared, apparently, by people like the ACTU President, Jennie George, who has been strongly critical of the AWU and its failure to maintain numbers, particularly in Queensland. The Australian and the Brisbane Courier-Mail recently noted that Ms George blames the lack of union presence in Weipa and the consequent rise in the power of CRA, with these direct negotiations, on the failure of Bill Ludwig adequately to represent his Queensland members over the proceeding two years.
It seems that Mr Ludwig has failed to retain his 350 AWU members in Weipa, despite the best efforts of the Industrial Relations Commission and the Queensland commission to ensure that the AWU is the preferred union on that site. Heaven knows why in so many places in Queensland the AWU has been determined to be the preferred union on site, unless it is, of course, that the Premier of Queensland has a lot of political debts to pay to Mr Ludwig.
Mr Ludwig senior has said that maybe it is about 28 members who are left in Weipa, instead of 350. But his son Mr Joseph Ludwig, who was hired by his father under the authority of a Queensland AWU branch executive motion—that motion said they had authority to appoint an Aboriginal trainee, although I do not think he fits that category—admits that the union has only four members left in Weipa.
Unkind officials of the AWU and the ACTU say that these four members have retained their membership of the unions only so that they could have the privilege of running against Mr Ludwig senior at the next official ballot, to be held in June 1997. Clearly, senior officials of the AWU and the ACTU are worried that the AWU membership in Queensland has collapsed under the leadership of Mr Ludwig senior and Mr Ludwig junior—the latter being appointed by Mr Ludwig senior to run the Weipa campaign leading up to and including his Washington sojourn for worker solidarity. I am sure, to be fair to Messrs Ludwig, that these people simply fail to understand the broad international obligations of the modern trade union official. They are much more important than looking after your members, particularly those who work in, say, Weipa or Mr Keating's piggery!
How many members Mr Ludwig really has is a serious question. It is somewhere between 71,000 and 80,000. It is 71,000 according to the Queensland Labor Minister for Industrial Relations, but a few weeks later it suddenly grew to 80,000, according to Mr Ludwig. If he has that recruitment record, I suppose he will get re-elected. But the fact is—and this is a serious point, despite all that jocularity—that here is a major union part of a major dispute involving what is the right process for industrial relations in Australia and it is, on the admission of its own members, disastrously run. (Time expired)
You can read the entire speech at the Senate Hansard here.
On 1 December, 1995 Senator Baume was on his feet again.
The next matter I wanted to raise in this last adjournment before we rise for the New Year—in fact it may well be before we rise for the next election—is some further saga in the matter of the Australian Workers Union, which is now clearly being blamed by the union movement for the fiascos in Weipa and Mount Isa. This is the fiasco that of course the ACTU blames on the government and the government quaintly blames on the Liberal Party—although we have got nothing to do with it. The union movement clearly blames the AWU.
What concerns me is the flow of funds to curious accounts within the AWU involving Mr Bill Ludwig and Mr Steve Harrison, which is now becoming clearly evident. I have here some interesting documents. One of them is a letter from Mr Bob Smith, the Victorian secretary of the AWU, to Mr Ian Cambridge and Mr Steve Harrison, joint national secretaries of the AWU, regarding the formal charges against Bruce Wilson. The letter states:
I write to you following the Finance Committee Meeting on Wednesday 2nd August, 1995 and the issues raised by myself regarding charges against Bruce Wilson.
I understand he was the previous Victorian state secretary. The letter continues:
It is now my intention to lay charges against Bruce Wilson, under Rule 20 and 34 for being in breach of Rule 54. These charges are currently being framed by my lawyers and will be forwarded to you as soon as practicable.
These charges will also be forwarded on to the Industrial Relations Commission and the Police.
I was intrigued further to see a letter from Mr Michael Tylor, Managing Director of Hunter Industrial Management Services, to the AWU in which he outlines the money that this organisation paid. Chamber Consulting Services Pty Ltd is the particular company that was involved in these payments. He said:
All negotiations for the provision of Union coverage for the project plus payments to the Union were conducted with Bruce Wilson. Bruce agreed to allocate the services of Mark Barnes to the project (the National Rail standardisation project) for 2 days per week and in return I agreed to make payment of $400.00 per day to cover this specific service.
Now this employer was paying money to the union for a specific purpose apparently to provide services from the unions. He continued:
Cheques were made payable to the Australian Workers Union (I'm not sure if we also added "National Construction Branch" but that can quickly be verified by checking with the Bank if you require such detail). The only exception to this position was the agreement which I reached to pay Mark Barnes an amount of $800.00 as a "stand-by" payment to make himself available to respond urgently over the Easter holiday period, whilst he was on leave, if he was required.
So the company is paying union officials to be on service. He also said:
I received repayment of the abovementioned cheques to an amount totalling $6400.00 . . .
In other words, that money had to be repaid because apparently whatever slush fund it went into was subject to examination. I have already examined the repayment of something like another $150,000 under various headings in this matter.
I am concerned enormously that Chamber Consulting Services Pty Ltd manages the superannuation fund for this union—that is, the Nationwide Superannuation Fund. In fact the organisers get something like 73c per member per week paid by each NSF member. I do not know how many members they have but I think there are 140,000 members of the AWU. The AWU-FIME receives 20 per cent of the administration fee.
It is about time we had a good look at how these superannuation funds that are run by unions are in fact administered. It looks as though there are a lot of kickbacks, a lot of payments to associated companies. Chamber Consulting Services runs PSI superannuation management apparently because it holds a lot of shares. In that organisation we find PSI superannuation management, and there are also members of this union. I have photocopies of various cheques that float around. The use of these slush funds indicates a most unsatisfactory situation. (Time expired)
You can read more at the Senate Hansard here.
It's a tragedy of terrible proportions that no further investigations took place at the time. Keep in mind that while Gillard knew all about her handiwork in the AWU Workplace Reform Association, no one outside of a very tighly held circle of confidants knew anything about it. Wilson was able to continue banking money from Thiess and to sell the Fitzroy house and the money - was gone.
Here's the letter that Ian Cambridge sent to the Commonwealth Bank in April 1996 - this was the enquiry that uncovered the AWU WRA and other accounts as you'll see.
I'm keen to find out about the Workplace Reform Advisory account. I suspect that it has something to do with Wilson's activities (using Blewitt's name) in the old printing/catalogue scam.
Here's an interview I did with Ralph Blewitt at the time we uncovered that letter.