Union didn’t follow up bribery rumours

Canberra construction union organisers have admitted to hearing rumours and allegations a colleague was being paid bribes but didn’t gather more evidence to take to the police.

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Tony Vitler from the CFMEU told a Sydney hearing of the royal commission into trade union corruption on Wednesday he overheard a worker say an organiser was “on the take” early last year.

He didn’t know whether it meant money or free sporting tickets but conceded it could have been bribes.

Mr Vitler didn’t take note of which site he heard it on, or who said it, instead he “just kept walking”.

He reported what he heard to CFMEU secretary Dean Hall at their regular weekly meeting but despite being instructed to follow it up if he heard it again, he did not do so.

“You don’t want to be labelled as a corrupt trade union do you,” lawyer Adam Morison put to him during cross-examination.

“No,” Mr Vitler replied.

“At the time I didn’t think it affected me.

When questioned further about that he said: “I knew I wasn’t on the take.”

But Mr Vitler conceded in hindsight he should have followed up the rumours.

He insisted safety was the number one issue for the CFMEU, refusing to give a ranking to corruption.

In July the commission heard allegations former organiser Halafihi “Fihi” Kivalu pocketed thousands of dollars from companies in the national capital in exchange for work.

Mr Kivalu has since been charged with blackmail but has vowed to fight the allegations.

Fellow organiser Zac Smith told the commission a site manager named Brad had made a suggestion to him that Jian Yu He, a plasterer, was also giving cash payments to Mr Kivalu.

He was played a recording of a phone call between himself and colleague John Lomax discussing how they’d have to arrange a meeting with Mr He.

He was said to be “scared” after being “touched up by the big fellow”, which Mr Smith admitted was Mr Kivalu.

Asked whether he requested evidence regarding any allegations, Mr Smith told the commission: “No, I didn’t.”

The commission has already heard how Mr He gave Mr Kivalu cash in envelopes for memberships otherwise, he was told, there would be “trouble”.

Mr Morison put it to Mr Smith that there is a code in the CFMEU that “only the dogs call the cops” and “safety issues are flown from the highest flagpole you can find and corruption is thrown overboard in the dark of night with a heavy concrete sinker”.

Mr Smith denied both were the case.

Organiser Kenneth Miller said “around the traps” there was talk that Mr Kivalu “wasn’t treating people fairly” but no formal evidence was brought forward.

He would have loved someone to present information to take to the police, he told the commission.

The hearing resumes on Thursday.