Trade Union Royal Commission Electrical Trades Union hearing witness list for Monday, 27 April 2015
The first Anzac dawn service - courtesy of St Saviour's Anglican Church Kuranda

The lead-up to former ETU boss Bernie Riordan's appointment to Fair Work Australia

The former NSW and Victoria state secretaries of the ETU, Dean Mighell and Bernie Riordan have each been called as witnesses  by the Royal Commission - perhaps the Commission is taking an interest in this unfinished business. 

On 1 March 2012 the Sydney Morning Herald published this story:

Accused unionist joins Fair Work

March 1, 2012

A SENIOR union official accused of pocketing $1.8 million in directors fees was appointed a commissioner of Fair Work Australia just the day after long-running legal action against him was withdrawn.

Electrical Trades Union New South Wales secretary Bernie Riordan had been accused in a Federal Court case of receiving $1.8 million in directors fees from industry boards he sat on since 1998. The ETU's Victorian branch alleged those fees should have been returned to the union under union rules.

Federal Court records show that the original statement of claim was lodged in July 2011 by Victorian ETU state secretary Dean Mighell and that the case was withdrawn last Thursday.

The claim by Mr Mighell also alleged that two other NSW officials of the ETU, Neville Betts and Paul Sinclair, received $595,374 and $991,839 respectively from boards they sat on. The NSW branch of the ETU has previously dismissed the claim by its Victorian counterparts as an ''ugly stunt'' and a ''cynical ploy'' and argued the NSW branch has different rules to the rest of the ETU.

Senator Abetz said the appointments were announced ''in the midst of an unseemly Labor leadership brawl'' and said the Coalition would also ''watch very closely'' the appointment of new Fair Work Australia president Iain Ross.

The six appointments made by Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten included three people with a union background and three with an employer background. Previous appointments by Labor had been attacked for being overwhelmingly unionists or former union officials.

A spokesman for Mr Shorten accused Senator Abetz of hunting for ''union bogymen'' and defended the appointments, including that of Mr Riordan.

''If Senator Abetz would like the minister to come to his house and check under his bed for union bogymen, the minister would happily oblige, but otherwise he should really grow up,'' he said.

Mr Shorten's spokesman said the six appointees were ''well qualified and will bring with them a depth of experience from both employer and employee organisations''.

Here are some background links to give you some sense of the chronology:

Dean Mighell's Federal Court filing and the discontinuance dates:

Screen Shot 2015-04-25 at 2.55.13 pm

These appear to have been substantial proceedings, this is the list of orders and directions made during the case:


  DateTimeReasonPresiding Officer(s)OutcomeOrders
  23-Feb-2012 12:00 Administrative Listing Justice Cowdroy Finalised - Discontinued/Withdrawn    
  15-Feb-2012 9:30 Return of Subpoena District Registrar Wall Adjourned - Pre-Hearing   View orders 
  23-Nov-2011 9:30 Return of Subpoena Registrar Hedge Adjourned - Pre-Hearing   View orders 
  17-Nov-2011 9:30 Directions Justice Cowdroy Adjourned - Pre-Hearing   View orders 
  26-Oct-2011 9:30 Return of Subpoena Registrar Hedge Adjourned - Pre-Hearing   View orders 
  28-Sep-2011 9:30 Return of Subpoena District Registrar Wall Adjourned - Pre-Hearing   View orders 
  21-Sep-2011 9:00 Return of Subpoena District Registrar Wall Adjourned - Pre-Hearing   View orders 
  14-Sep-2011 9:30 Return of Subpoena Registrar Hedge Adjourned - Pre-Hearing   View orders 
  17-Aug-2011 9:30 First Directions Justice Cowdroy Adjourned - Pre-Hearing   View orders 

But on 23 February 2012, it all stopped.   The case was discontinued without any announcement as to why.

The next day 24 February 2012 then Minister Bill Shorten announced the appointment of Labor Mate Bernie Riordan as a Fair Work Commissioner on a handsome salary package and pension entitlement.

Screen Shot 2015-04-25 at 2.59.40 pm

the media release finished with these paragraphs:

Bernie Riordan – Commissioner in NSW. Since 1998 he has held positions in NSW with the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union, and the Electrical Trades Union of Australia.

General Manager

Bernadette O’Neill - FWA General Manager.  Ms O’Neill has been acting FWA General Manager since September 2011. She was previously Director, Unfair Dismissals, FWA and has occupied a number of senior management and leadership roles with the Victorian Government. Earlier employers include Maurice Blackburn Cashman Lawyers and the Australian Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union.

Fast forward one year.

On 8 February 2013 the industry relations publication "Workforce" published this report.


Screen Shot 2015-04-25 at 3.12.53 pm

Screen Shot 2015-04-25 at 3.13.08 pm

To summarise that report, the legal action was back on, only this time Bernie was a Fair Work Commissioner.

On 11 February 2013 Fair Work Australia commenced an inquiry into the Electrical Trades Union  and the matters raised in the Workforce publication - FR2013/107 - Inquiry under section 330 - CEPU, Electrical Division, NSW Branch. 

On 4 March 2013 - Dean Mighell unexpectedly resigned as Secretary of the ETU Victorian Branch.

The Fair Work Australia investigation  was conducted by former Victoria Police detective Chris Enright - you can read a little of Chris's background in this statement

On 7 October 2013 Enright delivered  his  report to the GM of Fair Work Australia Bernadette O'Neill - here's a link to the report:

Bernie Riordan was cleared - but the way he was cleared is interesting.  The ETU apparently claimed that the ETU NSW was not a Registered Organisation under the Fair Work Act and thus was not covered by the legislative provisions that might otherwise have caused Bernie some discomfort.

Screen Shot 2015-04-25 at 3.37.16 pm

Screen Shot 2015-04-25 at 3.38.09 pm

Screen Shot 2015-04-25 at 3.38.48 pm


Bernie Riordan appeared at the Royal Commission last year, you might recall this evidence about the mysterious $20K that went via oversea money transfer from the TWU in Melbourne to Bernie's ETU in Sydney:

TRANSPORT Workers Union leader Tony Sheldon asked his Victorian branch to use an “international funds transfer” to shift $20,000 from its election slush fund to help a political ally from another union in NSW.

The highly unusual money transfer was revealed during evidence to the royal commission into union corruption yesterday when the TWU’s Victorian secretary Wayne Mader confirmed Mr Sheldon called him with the request in March 2012.

Mr Mader said Mr Sheldon, the TWU’s national secretary, wanted him to provide $20,000 for the election campaign fund of Bernie Riordan, then Electrical Trades Union NSW secretary. Soon after his re-election, Mr Riordan was appointed to the Fair Work Commission by the Gillard government in one of its last union appointments.

The commission’s counsel ­assisting, Jeremy Stoljar SC, asked Mr Mader: “Why did you use an international money transfer to transfer funds from Victoria to NSW?”

Mr Mader: “I believe it was the arrangement that was requested of us to transfer the money.”

Mr Stoljar: “Who made that ­request?”

Mr Mader: “I believe it was Mr Sheldon.”

When Commissioner Riordan appeared he had precisely no recollection of any of that:

Suffice to say that there is plenty of grist here for the Royal Commission Mill.