Judge ‘stunned’ at ill-prepared union watchdog
Employment May 31, 2018 9:17 pm By Miklos Bolza | Sydney

A lawyer for the Registered Organisations Commission faced the ire of a Federal Court judge on Thursday when he admitted he had no instructions on what penalties the regulator was seeking in a Fair Work case against the CEPU.

The Lander & Rogers solicitor also stumbled when Justice Geoffrey Flick asked whether the alleged record-keeping breaches by the Communications, Electrical, Electronic, Energy, Information, Postal, Plumbing and Allied Services Union was claimed by the ROC to be deliberate.

“It just strikes me as quite stunning that a regulator comes before the court, files an application, and is unable to tell the court that the contraventions in issue are serious,” Judge Flick said during a case management hearing.

“I find it stunning that a regulator starts proceedings without any idea of the quantum of penalties that it seeks to recover.”

Lander & Rogers’ Luke Scandrett recovered somewhat after a court-imposed two-hour adjournment, telling Judge Flick the penalties could be as high as $4.5 million.

On whether the contraventions were intentional, the ROC would have to hear CEPU’s position before it could say, Scandrett said, an answer that failed to smooth things over with the judge.

“You’re the one running the application,” Judge Flick replied. “Otherwise what are you doing seeking penalties?”

The Commission filed its case on May 10, accusing the CEPU of failing to keep an accurate list of its offices and office holders between March 2015 and May 2017.

A total of 84 allegations have been made in the Commission’s statement of claim, which covers three union divisions and 12 divisional branches, the court was told.

Despite being notified of the record-keeping problems, the union continued with the alleged contraventions for months, Scandrett said.

But the contraventions were not, in fact, deliberate, CEPU barrister Craig Dowling, SC, told the court. The alleged breaches involved late lodgement of information, in some cases by as little as two weeks, he said.

“None of that, we say, is reflective of deliberate thumbing of the nose [at the Commission],” he said.

Judge Flick ordered the case into mediation and scheduled a further case management hearing for August 6.

Dowling, of Castan Chambers, is instructed by Hall Payne Lawyers.

The case is Registered Organisations Commissioner v Communications, Electrical, Electronic, Energy, Information, Postal, Plumbing and Allied Services Union of Australia.

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Miklos Bolza

Miklos Bolza has been a journalist for three years. He has written for a variety of publications, including NZ Lawyer, HRD Australia, and Australian Broker. He is currently the Sydney court reporter for Lawyerly.