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The Insider

TRANSCRIPT

ROSS COULTHART: A year ago, Darren Wise was on the dole in Tasmania desperate for work to support his wife, Emma, and daughter, Tyler. Through a mate at his local gym, he took a job offering great money working as an undercover spy at an abattoir in Victoria. In the past few weeks, Darren Wise has testified he's a frightened man because of what he says he was involved in there. How concerned are you for your own safety and that of your family's as a consequence of the evidence you've given?

DARREN WISE: Um...I'm really concerned. I'm going to spend the next few years looking over me shoulder so...

ROSS COULTHART: You're that concerned about some of the people you were dealing with?

DARREN WISE: Yep.

ROSS COULTHART: For this spy has come in from the cold. Last month, he was a witness in an unfair dismissal case taken by this man, Ray Murphy. In support of Mr Murphy's case before the Industrial Relations Commission, Wise has made extraordinary allegations of dirty tricks and crimes by both the abattoir and the firm that hired him, claiming a conspiracy to get rid of the union.

DARREN WISE: I thought, like, "What have I got meself into?" I'd like to think that I'm a good person and that I just got involved in something way over me head that I wish I never did.

ROSS COULTHART: Today. you'll hear Darren Wise's previously unreported allegations to the commission, shocking claims vigorously denied by those accused of possibly illegal tactics to de-unionise a workplace, how another spy was told to assault a union member to get him sacked, how Wise was encouraged to falsely claim a union member had stolen from the abattoir to justify his sacking, and how a company executive urged Wise to perjure himself to the commission. Three years on from the ugly confrontation on Australia's waterfront, where the Government secretly helped an employer take on the Maritime Union, the union movement believes it has yet again caught the Government red-handed in another conspiracy. This time. to break the Federal Meat Union. Here at Victoria's biggest export abattoir, G&K O'Connor at Packenham, near Melbourne.

GRAHAM BIRD, VICTORIAN SECRETARY, AMIEU: Well, we believe that O'Connor is being used by the Government as a means to try to break the Meatworkers Union.

ROSS COULTHART: At the heart of the concern is that there's some conspiracy a la the Maritime Union dispute.

TONY ABBOTT, FEDERAL MIN INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS: Sure. Let me assure you there isn't and the union is simply being paranoid.

ROSS COULTHART: But the union wants to know why the Government is refusing to release many documents detailing communications inside and outside the department regarding the O'Connor dispute. And the union says if there is nothing to hide, why did the abattoir's operations manager mislead the commission in a signed statement? The company told the commission the undercover spies were hired through a manager of this tyre shop in suburban Footscray. As 'Sunday' can reveal, the undercover spies were, in fact, provided by this controversial self-styled employment consultant, Mr Bruce Townsend. To the union movement, Mr Townsend is a strike-breaker and its public enemy number one. You're described by the unions as a super scab. Are you happy with that title?

BRUCE TOWNSEND: Oh, well, I mean they can - I can't stop them calling me whatever name they like, but...

ROSS COULTHART: What about thug?

BRUCE TOWNSEND: Well, it's just their impression of me, they don't know.

ROSS COULTHART: Bully?

BRUCE TOWNSEND: If they had any proof of all this, they'd do something about it. I'd be in court, I'd be in the newspapers. But there's no proof because there's no basis to it. It's just what they assume.

ROSS COULTHART: Of all the epic confrontations during the MUA waterfront dispute three years ago, one of the most dramatic was the day that the National Farmers Federation moved the huge straddle carriers into the Webb Dock terminal that it needed to train the replacement wharfies. It was Townsend the farmers personally entrusted to get the vital equipment on to the dock through an angry union picket line and it was Townsend whom the O'Connor abattoir secretly hired last year when it decided to take on the meat union. Bruce Townsend's been involved behind the scenes in some of Australia's most acrimonious industrial disputes. Notably in 1992, at the APPM paper mill in Tasmania, where his nose was broken twice in clashes with unionists.

BRUCE TOWNSEND: They're bully boys looking for a place to be a bully boy and a picket line provides them with an opportunity. A lot of times, if you look at the picket lines, the people who are the biggest problem, the biggest noise don't even work at the company.

ROSS COULTHART: And you're saying you've never had to be a bully boy back?

BRUCE TOWNSEND: I've had to defend myself. I've had to use equal force to make my way through a gate or to get out or to unload a truck, but I have never used violence to purely achieve my goal as they do.

ROSS COULTHART: Townsend told 'Sunday' he's done more than 200 jobs for employers. You're the muscle, basically, at the pointy end who has to get the business going?

BRUCE TOWNSEND: No, mate. We're just...it's a job.

ROSS COULTHART: But it does occasionally get quite violent, doesn't it?

BRUCE TOWNSEND: Yes, it does.

ROSS COULTHART: You had your nose broken on one occasion, didn't you?

BRUCE TOWNSEND: More than once, yeah.

ROSS COULTHART: What happened there?

BRUCE TOWNSEND: I got punched on the nose.

ROSS COULTHART: By a unionist?

BRUCE TOWNSEND: Yeah, by a union member. He thought he was doing the right thing and so he broke my nose and then a week later he hit it again. That was pretty hard, that.

ROSS COULTHART: The Maritime Union remembers Bruce Townsend very well.

MICK O'LEARY, MUA: He doesn't frighten me. What does frighten me is the fact that we live in a country at this moment where there's an industrial relations system that actually allows this bloke to thrive.

ROSS COULTHART: Darren Wise is a lad who's useful with his hands and feet. A talented kickboxer, he's not easily rattled. He'd already worked as a security guard when a fellow kickboxer in Burnie told him how he'd got easy money working for Townsend during the waterfront dispute. Wise was asked was he interested in joining up with another Townsend operation, this time an undercover job at a Victorian abattoir. To test Darren Wise's story, we asked him to take us through the allegations he made to the commission. Here to the place where he was first briefed, this bed and breakfast in the hills behind Packenham. He met three other Townsend employees here and learned he was to be working in the local abattoir. It was here his misgivings started. As he told the Industrial Relations Commission when he met the abattoir's operations operator, Peter Allen, on his first day on the job, he was left in no doubt by Mr Allen about the company's union busting agenda.

DARREN WISE: He said that he wanted to get rid of the union. Whether it was his plan or not, I'm not 100% sure whether the plan was used.

ROSS COULTHART: One extraordinary aspect of this dispute is that both sides agree that until November 1998, G&K O'Connor was the darling of the meat union. The company won a best practice award during the Keating Labor Government era for its ground-breaking 1992 enterprise agreement. Managing director Kevin O'Connor actually took a maverick stand in support of the union, defying directions from the meat industry's employer association and negotiating a pay increase with the union in return for a hefty 18% productivity gain.

KEVIN O'CONNOR: It was an achievement, absolutely.

ROSS COULTHART: Why isn't it possible to do that now?

KEVIN O'CONNOR: I think that's maybe a question to ask the union. That union, as far as I'm concerned, has gone down the path and was just about hell-bent on destroying this company.

ROSS COULTHART: It's a fight to the death, this, isn't it?

KEVIN O'CONNOR: It's a fight, OK.

ROSS COULTHART: 10 years on, Kevin O'Connor's new hardline tactics against the union have seen him dubbed privately by rivals as the Chris Corrigan of the meat industry, a reference, of course, to the boss of Patrick Stevedores who took on the Maritime Union. But Mr O'Connor is unrepentant, accusing the union of making unreasonable demands for higher pay at a time when the Victorian industry is uncompetitive with interstate abattoirs.

KEVIN O'CONNOR: Union, look around you - where's your membership gone in Victoria? What's happened to the other export companies? It's a laughing-stock through the industry, the Victorian meat industry, where there's growth everywhere else in Australia, record exports this year. Victoria's growth over the last three years has been about 11%. SA, chilled beef to Japan has doubled in the last year, Victoria's dropped back by half. What does it say? We're all selling meat in the same global market, we're all buying in a similar circumstance. It must say a lot about the processing costs in Victoria and there lies the problem. As far as I'm concerned, the whole thing's been lost in a political argument.

GRAHAM BIRD: He know no doubt will say that he was uncompetitive with the other States and he was forced into doing this.

ROSS COULTHART: What would you say to that?

GRAHAM BIRD: We would say that is wrong, but we also would say we asked him to prove that, we asked him to give us the evidence that we could put before our members at O'Connor's that would prove to them that they ought to do what he wanted. He never supplied that information.

KEVIN O'CONNOR: Absolutely. Absolutely. We believe the union had absolutely no right to go through the procedures of looking at the books.

ROSS COULTHART: In November 1998, the company sent the meat union a letter demanding what was for many employees a pay cut of nearly 18%, on top of reductions in super and a host of other entitlements. The company said the cuts were necessary for it to stay competitive. It still refused to prove its case by opening its books to the union.

GRAHAM BIRD: He declared he wouldn't negotiate over the wage cuts. He demanded the workers agreed to that before any further discussions took place. We had meetings with our members down there. They informed us that they were prepared to negotiate. They were prepared to talk to O'Connor about what he might require. They were prepared to do extra work.

ROSS COULTHART: Any strikes at this stage?

GRAHAM BIRD: No strikes, no strikes at all. There's been no industrial action by any of the workers at O'Connor's throughout any of these last three years.

ROSS COULTHART: What happened next took the union completely by surprise. The boss, who'd only recently been acclaiming the benefits of sitting down with the union, locked out his workers. It was to be the longest lockout in Australian industrial history since the 1930s - nearly nine months without pay.

PETER REITH SPEECH TO PARLIAMENT: Employees' wages will not be reduced by any provision in this Bill, whether in respect of awards or agreements.

ROSS COULTHART: What had happened since 1992 to make it possible was the Coalition Government's sweeping reforms brought in by the Workplace Relations Act, laws squarely aimed at weakening union power in the workplace. And right from the very beginning of the new government, the then Industrial Relations Minister, Peter Reith, had cited the meat industry as one of the key sectors in need of reform.

PETER REITH SPEECH IN PARLIAMENT: We also need to encourage better practices in key industries.like the waterfront, construction, meat processing and others.

PAUL DAVEY, ASST SEC AMIEU: It's clear in our view and from past interference in the meat industry that the Federal Government would be up to their neck in support of what O'Connor is doing.

ROSS COULTHART: In June of 1999, department officials admitted to the Senate Estimates Committee that Kevin O'Connor had met with the Minister before he moved to lock out his workforce.

KEVIN O'CONNOR: I spoke to Mr Reith, as an update as to where we are. That was the only occasion I met with him. That's the only time I spoke to him. I've had absolutely no discussion with him for probably 18 months.

ROSS COULTHART: Did he encourage you to go on to individual contracts?

KEVIN O'CONNOR: None whatsoever, absolutely not.

ROSS COULTHART: What other consultation has there been between your company or your legal representatives and the Government?

KEVIN O'CONNOR: There has been none with the Government.

ROSS COULTHART: These freedom of information documents list several further communications between O'Connor's lawyers and the department and numerous discussions about the case inside Government. The department has exempted nearly all of them from public release. What has also fuelled the union's paranoia is that after the meeting with Mr Reith and his advisors, Kevin O'Connor changed his long-time legal team. A few months before the lockout, he came here to the firm of Blake Dawson and Waldron. He hired Minister Reith's personal lawyer during the Maritime Union dispute, Mr Steve Amendola.

KEVIN O'CONNOR: Mr Amendola certainly had experience in the meat industry disputation and that's why we went down that path.

ROSS COULTHART: This minute, obtained from the office of the Government's employment advocate under freedom of information laws shows that Mr Amendola's involvement certainly impressed the bureaucrats. In it, a senior executive of the Victorian branch of that office is said to have "stressed the sensitivities of this case, considering that Mr Steve Amendola is also the legal representative of the minister." You can't blame them for being paranoid about Federal Government secret support for employers that want to de-unionise, can you?

KEVIN O'CONNOR: Oh, I really think that it comes to an end surely. I mean, everything is transparent. They can check this out. There's nothing hidden. But this is one of the plays that's going on. This is a theatre through which the union is portraying us as a bad company.

ROSS COULTHART: Peter Reith declined our requests for an interview about the O'Connor dispute, even refusing to answer written questions on the subject. The new Minister for Industrial Relations, Tony Abbott, was left to respond.

TONY ABBOTT: I've certainly never met with O'Connors. My understanding is that Peter Reith met with them once quite a long time ago and that's the extent of it. ROSS COULTHART: What about departmental contacts? TONY ABBOTT: Look, I don't know. But the truth is that this is a democracy and if a company wants to ring up and talk to a departmental official, departmental officials don't slam the phone down.

ROSS COULTHART: Meantime, Darren Wise was put to work on the offal line at the O'Connor abattoir. He testified that in his undercover role as a worker, he was ordered by the company to steal the valuable gallstones found in the gall bladders of cows. Extraordinary as it may seem, gallstones are worth more than gold in Asian markets, highly valued for their aphrodisiac qualities. Top stones, like these, are worth up to $1,200 an ounce. There's about $8,000 worth of stones in this box alone and historically in the meat industry some abattoir workers pilfered these stones as a perk of the job.

DARREN WISE: I didn't even know how to sharpen a knife properly, so it was hard enough just keeping up to the job, let alone stealing stones. It was quite difficult at the start, but towards the end it became a lot easier.

ROSS COULTHART: The O'Connor abattoir maintains there were only two very innocent reasons why they put spies on the job.

KEVIN O'CONNOR: What we did do, upon the resumption of work, within three months there were complaints to this company of allegations of intimidation by those people who returned to work against new employees. They were also concerned that there was theft occurring from the company.

ROSS COULTHART: The gallstones?

KEVIN O'CONNOR: The gallstones. We brought people in for the reason only to find out if those allegations were correct.

ROSS COULTHART: But Darren Wise's evidence to the Industrial Relations Commission about what he was actually asked to do is very different.

For 10 weeks last year, Darren Wise spent his days at the abattoir, conspicuously stealing as many gallstones as possible. After work he'd then report his progress in secret meetings with the abattoir's operations manager, Peter Allen.

DARREN WISE: He'd basically ask us what had happened and most of the... ..well, all of the secret meetings were basically... ..he was asking about Ray.

ROSS COULTHART: 'Ray' was Ray Murphy, who'd started work at the O'Connor company 23 years ago, in 1978. A long-time member of the union, he was locked out along with everyone else in 1999. Very popular with all the workers, they'd voted him into the key role as occupational health and safety representative for the abattoir, instead of the company's preferred candidate. According to Darren, Peter Allen was most interested in one employee - Ray Murphy.

DARREN WISE: He was obsessed by him. He just wanted him out. I don't think Peter Allen cared what happened as long as Ray was gone.

ROSS COULTHART: Wise testified to the commission about a phone call he received from Bruce Townsend during the operation. Townsend, you'll remember, was the man who'd supplied the undercover spies to the company. According to Wise, Townsend told him that the abattoir's operations manager, Peter Allen, was unhappy that Wise had found no evidence Ray Murphy was stealing gallstones.

DARREN WISE: I got a phone call from Bruce saying that he was sick of conversations he had with Peter, that Peter wasn't happy, he wasn't getting enough information on Ray. He said, "Do what we have to, get information to shut Peter up." He said, "Even if you have to make something up".

COMMISSION QUESTION: Even if you have to make something up?

DARREN WISE: Yes.

ROSS COULTHART: Wise also gave evidence that Peter Allen personally ordered him to try to entice Ray Murphy to steal a gallstone.

COMMISSION QUESTION: What was your intention in offering the large one that you had in your hand to Ray?

DARREN WISE: Well, Peter instructed us as well as getting Ray on tape, we had to get Ray to take a stone because he wasn't talking them from the kill floor.

RAY MURPHY: I was just shocked. I couldn't believe what I was hearing.

ROSS COULTHART: For much of the last month, Ray Murphy has been sitting through Darren Wise's evidence to his unfair dismissal case. When we spoke to him, he had to be very cautious about what he said because his case was still before the commission. But he flatly denied claims that he was involved in any gallstone stealing racket. What shocked you most of all?

RAY MURPHY: Just the extent that they've gone to, I think. It's just really shocked me.

ROSS COULTHART: Darren Wise says he repeatedly told the company Mr Murphy was not stealing.

DARREN WISE: No, no. No, Ray wasn't stealing stones. Ray knew a lot about stones. Ray could grade stones. He could tell you how much they're worth, but, I mean, Ray wasn't taking stones. We had to try and GET Ray to take them.

ROSS COULTHART: The way Darren Wise tells it, he agreed to testify on Ray Murphy's behalf because he had a crisis of conscience about what he says he was asked to do.

DARREN WISE: Well, I couldn't live with what I'd done to Ray. I mean, I'd lost the guy his job. I mean, I'd put so much stress on his whole family. I mean, I basically felt like I ruined the guy's life and I couldn't live with that.

ROSS COULTHART: He testified that abattoir operations manager Peter Allen ordered Darren and another undercover spy to secretly record employees with hidden tape-recorders. Their tapes of Ray Murphy show that, at best, he knew Darren and the other undercover spy were stealing stones, which is why he was sacked - for not alerting management about gallstone thefts. Yet in this key conversation, Mr Murphy made his position quite clear when he was invited to steal gallstones by the undercover spies.

RAY MURPHY: I wouldn't have a go at it again because it's not worth it for me. Because I want to - I'm still in the union. I don't want to give 'em a chance to knock me off, you know?

ROSS COULTHART: In the commission, the company lawyer accused Darren Wise of making up his very serious allegations against Peter Allen and Bruce Townsend. It was suggested to him that he'd done this because he never got the money he says he was promised for the job.

DARREN WISE TO COMMISSION: What I was going to say was Bruce actually told me and Matthew to manufacture information on Ray because Bruce couldn't handle Peter always at Bruce.

COMMISSION LAWYER: You've just made that up, have you not?

DARREN WISE: No.

COMMISSION LAWYER: You see, what you are virtually saying is that this Mr Townsend has engaged in almost criminal activity.

DARREN WISE: Yes.

ROSS COULTHART: Did you ever say to Darren Wise that he should make up allegations about a worker at the abattoir?

BRUCE TOWNSEND: That's subject to an ongoing court proceeding and I can't comment on that, but as a general practice within our organisation, I have never instructed any of my employees to undertake any criminal activity whatsoever.

ROSS COULTHART: Some of the union members at the abattoir still remember the day last year when one of their number, Andrew Ould, was attacked in the canteen by one of the men now known to be an undercover spy.

ABATTOIR WORKER: Andrew is like on one side of the table sitting down, the other bloke is leaning over the table and swinging up him. Andrew has his hands up in the air like that, he might have made surface contact a couple of times but Andrew wasn't retaliating at all. The guy was definitely trying to egg him on.

ROSS COULTHART: If you're caught fighting at the abattoir, it's instant dismissal, so Andrew Ould did not fight back. But Darren Wise told the commission the whole attack by an undercover spy nicknamed 'Bond' was staged on the orders of company executive Peter Allen.

COMMISSION QUESTION: What did Mr Allen tell you?

DARREN WISE: Well, he told us that Bond was actually going to be doing that and he told us the day he was going to pick a fight with the union guy to get rid of him.

KEVIN O'CONNOR: I have absolutely no knowledge of that.

ROSS COULTHART: Did it happen?

KEVIN O'CONNOR: Did the fight happen?

ROSS COULTHART: No, did your Mr Allen order that that take place.

KEVIN O'CONNOR: Not to my knowledge. That's not the tactics of this company.

ROSS COULTHART: But since it was raised before the Industrial Relations Commission, have you made any endeavours to check with Mr Allen about whether or not that was, in fact, the case?

KEVIN O'CONNOR: There have been discussions in regard to all matters before the commission and to my knowledge that is not the case.

ROSS COULTHART: To your knowledge?

KEVIN O'CONNOR: Absolutely. ROSS COULTHART: Wise also testified that a Townsend staff member knew the staged fight was going to happen. Have you or any of your employees in any dispute ever knowingly been involved in a situation where a fight was being deliberately picked with a unionist to provoke a fight?

BRUCE TOWNSEND: We have not. We have never done that, no.

ROSS COULTHART: Where's all this coming from, then? Why would anyone make up allegations like this?

BRUCE TOWNSEND: A fanciful imagination from a disgruntled former employee.

ROSS COULTHART: Halfway through the lockout in 1999, the company dramatically turned up the heat in its battle with the union. It announced it was abandoning efforts to negotiate a new certified agreement with the union. Instead it offered individual contracts - AWAs - to the employees. Under the Government's Workplace Relations Act, the company used the lockout to compel workers to sign up on AWAs. They were locked out with no pay and no access to any accrued entitlements, even though the union had taken no industrial action against the company. The workers hadn't even had so much as a stop-work meeting. The company has acknowledged to a court that this was effectively a so-called 'baseball bat lockout'. In a Federal Court case yet to be decided, the company is arguing it is legal to compel an employee through economic pressure to sign up to an individual contract by locking them out indefinitely. Whatever the court finally decides on that duress issue, that tactic took a terrible toll on the workers.

PAUL DAVEY, VICTORIAN ASST SEC AMIEU: There was one person who I won't name that I'm reliably informed tried to take their own life.

ROSS COULTHART: Just before the lockout, the company had even vouched for the pay level of one female worker to help her get a bank loan. You basically do a lockout that you must have been planning for months which basically left that employee committed to a loan that your company had actually assisted in them procuring. Was that fair?

KEVIN O'CONNOR: It's created very difficult circumstances for some people. We agree with that. We acknowledge that. But as I say we had no choice.

ROSS COULTHART: Do you regret it?

KEVIN O'CONNOR: Yes, we do, indeed.

GRAHAM BIRD: Those people, in my view, are heroes of the trade union movement. They're people who have suffered enormous financial pressure. They've been abused, they've been stood over, they've had enormous pressure applied to their families. There's been break-ups in families, there's been houses that have been taken off them, there's people that have had cars taken away from them - enormous financial pressure. And they've done all of that because they believe that they're entitled to belong to a union.

ROSS COULTHART: The company's hardline tactics have now become a test case of its right to use lockouts to compel workers to go on to contracts. It's also a direct challenge to the power and relevance of the Meat Union. Before the lockout, O'Connor had 345 union members. Now there are only 30 union members who aren't on contracts.

GRAHAM BIRD: Quite frankly, if this union wasn't prepared to support those people, we might as well lock up and leave and give up the job of being a trade union.

ROSS COULTHART: Does it worry you that you've caused such long-term damage to your relationship with your employees?

KEVIN O'CONNOR: In regard to that, long-term employees really no longer exist in this company.

JOHN HOWARD, JANUARY 8, 1996: Under a Howard Government, you cannot be worse off, but you can be better off. I give this rock-solid guarantee. Our policy will not cause a cut in the take-home pay of Australian workers.

ROSS COULTHART: The PM subsequently claimed that guarantee to workers was taken out of context, but what is not in doubt is that when the Government gave employers these new powers in its workplace Relations Act, a so-called 'no disadvantage' test was brought in to ensure workers' pay does not fall below the so-called relevant award.

PETER REITH SPEECH TO PARLIAMENT: Employees wages will not be reduced by any provision in this bill, whether in respect of awards or agreements.

ROSS COULTHART: Are the people who are now on AWAs or individual contracts at the abattoir, are they earning less than what you blokes used to earn on the award?

COLIN ROSS, HEAD UNION DELEGATE: Oh, most definitely, particularly boners and slicers. They have copped about a 30% pay cut.

ROSS COULTHART: It all boils down to what's meant by the relevant award. The company is arguing that the relevant award that applies for the no-disadvantage test is not the old 1992 enterprise agreement but a much lower Federal safety net award. For Colin Ross it meant he was being paid a wage at the abattoir under the official national poverty line.

COLIN ROSS: Basically, the minimal award rate was $425 gross a week and I've got my wife, I've got a 17-year-old daughter, a 15-year-old son and a baby, a newborn baby.

ROSS COULTHART: Could you get welfare?

COLIN ROSS: You did get welfare, yes. They actually topped it up. Because you were below the poverty line, they said that they would increase your welfare payments to account for your lack of earnings.

ROSS COULTHART: Are you confident that the Workplace Relations Act is protecting workers' rights?

TONY ABBOTT: I certainly am.

ROSS COULTHART: Are you confident that it's fair?

TONY ABBOTT: I certainly am.

ROSS COULTHART: Would you be concerned if it could be demonstrated that the Workplace Relations Act as it is being used is forcing workers on to pay rates which are so low they had to be paid welfare to supplement their salary?

TONY ABBOTT: Well, as I said, the Act is in place. There is a no-disadvantage test in it, and there is a whole apparatus of tribunals and courts and inspectors to ensure that the Act is observed and if the Act isn't being observed, it's up to the tribunals, the courts and the inspectors to ensure that it is.

ROSS COULTHART: But surely if what has been happening in this case is correct, that no-disadvantage test is a joke?

TONY ABBOTT: Well, let us wait and see what the relevant tribunals decide.

ROSS COULTHART: Last Monday, in an astonishing backdown, the company agreed to an extremely generous settlement offer with Ray Murphy to end his unfair dismissal case. It agreed to pay $35,000 in damages for his pain and suffering - twice the statutory maximum the Industrial Relations Commission could ever have awarded. The company has also said it will not be calling any evidence to rebut Darren Wise's extraordinary allegations. That's a great pity, because it denies the company the opportunity to respond to perhaps the most damning allegation from Mr Wise. Darren Wise testified that here at this cafe outside the company lawyer's office, he was asked by Peter Allen to lie to the commission. He told the commission that Peter Allen directed him to lie about who'd hired him. He claims he was told not to mention Bruce Townsend at all.

DARREN WISE TO COMMISSION: Well, he said, "It's not as if you are giving State's evidence in who shot the Queen. It's only the commission. You have to speak the truth, but all you have to say is these few - They're only a few little lies and then the rest is the truth. It's not as if it's hard." He even said, "I've done it before".

COMMISSION QUESTION: What was your response to that?

DARREN WISE: Well, I was a bit shocked. I mean, it seemed like it was nothing to Peter to get up there and lie.

ROSS COULTHART: Wise testified that he was even given a piece of paper by the company to remind himself of the name of the man who was supposed to have hired him - a Steve Iliopoulos of KSG Transport. That name even found its way into a statement signed by one of the other spies. It also somehow found its way into this statement that Darren Wise didn't sign. What about Steve Iliopoulos, was he ever part of your operation?

BRUCE TOWNSEND: No, Steve and I are friends in Melbourne. Steve helps me out with local knowledge. I stay at his house and his wife overfeeds me. She's a great cook.

ROSS COULTHART: But he wasn't involved at all with this operation?

BRUCE TOWNSEND: No, not at all.

ROSS COULTHART: Truth be known, Bruce Townsend may be a tad miffed the company was allegedly prepared to go to such lengths to avoid mentioning him. He's very proud of what he does for bosses. When we spoke off-camera, you, I admit laughingly, described yourself as "a head kicker to the landed gentry." Are you?

BRUCE TOWNSEND: No, I'm not.

ROSS COULTHART: Is that a role sometimes, though, that...

BRUCE TOWNSEND; That's a very kind thing that someone once said about me that I thought I'd just mention to you, but that's not what we are.

ROSS COULTHART: Business has been good to Mr Townsend. When 'Sunday' caught up with him, he was sailing his new boat back to Tasmania from Perth, a boat he's thinking of renaming 'Breaker'.

BRUCE TOWNSEND: I waited four years to find a vessel that I liked and to be able to afford it. And the unions, I suppose, have been instrumental in helping me to be able to save the money that I could afford to buy a boat.

ROSS COULTHART: So you'd like to thank the MUA for your new boat?

BRUCE TOWNSEND: I don't want to see it burn at its moorings, so I don't think I'd go that far, but the MUA had a part in the purchase of this vessel.

ROSS COULTHART: And Darren Wise? Well, he's not keen on a future career as an undercover spy. He claims his conscience is clear. Kevin O'Connor is also contemplating his future, the possibility of a Beazley Labor Government, one that has already pledged to abolish AWA contracts. Do you believe that it's possible for you to broker a deal if you have to, with the union leadership in Victoria?

KEVIN O'CONNOR: Not at all.

ROSS COULTHART: So what are you going to do if, in a year's time, Kim Beazley announces that there will be no more individual agreements?

KEVIN O'CONNOR: Well, that is a matter this company has to consider.

ROSS COULTHART: But the union's going to be hunting for blood, isn't it?

KEVIN O'CONNOR: Absolutely, absolutely.

ROSS COULTHART: Are you worried?

KEVIN O'CONNOR: It is a concern.


ENDS.



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