Labor to hand back CFMEU donation

Labor’s state executive has agreed to return a controversial $125,000 election donation to the Victorian branch of the construction union following a request by Premier Peter Malinauskas.

Aug 08, 2022, updated Aug 08, 2022
SA Labor will return a $120,000 donation made by the John Setka-led Victorian branch of the CFMEU. Photo: Joel Carrett/AAP

SA Labor will return a $120,000 donation made by the John Setka-led Victorian branch of the CFMEU. Photo: Joel Carrett/AAP

In a statement after this afternoon’s snap state executive meeting, SA Labor secretary Aemon Bourke said the party would return the donation to the Victorian Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union’s (CFMEU) construction division.

“Earlier today the ALP- SA Branch state executive met. State executive has instructed the state secretary to return the $125,000 donation to the Victorian CFMEU- construction division,” he said.

The donation helped bolster Labor’s campaign ahead of the March 2022 state election, but has been the subject of scrutiny in recent weeks after the John Setka-led Victorian branch of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) took control of the South Australian branch.

Education Minister Blair Boyer told reporters this afternoon that the money would be returned “as soon as practicable”.

“The state executive has made the decision to return the money, which will be done – that’s what the Premier called for – and I’m glad that’s the decision that’s been made,” he said.

The Opposition and Setka’s estranged wife Emma Walters – whom the polarising construction union boss was convicted of harassing in 2019 – had called on Malinauskas to hand the $125,000 donation to a domestic violence charity.

Malinauskas had previously rejected their appeals, saying he would only ask for the money to be returned if there was evidence of the CFMEU engaging in inappropriate behaviour.

He said this morning that he decided to act after speaking to Master Builders SA CEO Will Frogley following reports the association’s cars were vandalised and had CFMEU-branded stickers placed on them on Friday.

A CFMEU sticker was placed on a Master Builders SA car on Friday. Photo: Master Builders SA

“I’ve certainly made my expectations clear and I want to send a very clear message about what will and won’t be tolerated in the context of industrial action in South Australia under my leadership,” he told ABC Radio Adelaide this morning.

In response to questions from InDaily after this afternoon’s state executive meeting, Malinauskas said: “I welcome the decision of the ALP state executive”.

InDaily contacted the Victorian branch of the CFMEU for comment but is yet to receive a response.

Boyer said party rules prohibit Labor’s state executive from returning donated money to a charity, unless the charity gifted the funding in the first place.

“The rules make it quite clear that the money needs to be returned to the donor, which in this case was the CFMEU,” he said.

“Nothing more should be read into that other than… the party being bound by its own rules and following its rules.”

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The minister said he understood that the $125,000 was supposed to be donated by the South Australian branch of the CFMEU ahead of the state election, but that branch was “financially unable to do that”, so the donation was made instead by the Victorian division.

“The nature of relations between the building and construction industry in South Australia and employee representative bodies like the CFMEU… have been very harmonious over many years,” he said.

“We want that to continue… despite the changes in the leadership of the CFMEU.

“We were surprised to learn that something as stupid as going and ripping the wiper off a (car) windscreen… had been done – I’d like to think that kind of stuff isn’t the way we do business in South Australia.”

Opposition spokesperson Michelle Lensink this morning described Malinauskas’ decision as a “huge win for domestic violence survivors and victims”, given Setka’s criminal history.

But she urged Malinauskas to apologise for describing her call to donate the $125,000 to a domestic violence charity as “cute”.

“I raised legitimate concerns about Labor’s links to the CFMEU and the $125,000 donation and was totally dismissed because Peter Malinauskas thought it was all a ‘little cute’,” she said.

“Peter Malinauskas had to be dragged kicking and screaming to this point and it is seriously alarming that it has taken weeks for him to realise the error of his ways.”

Boyer said he didn’t think an apology was owed by Malinauskas.

“It’s always disappointing when anyone chooses to insert domestic violence as a political weapon, which I think was done here,” he said.

“I’m not questioning Michelle Lensink’s motives, but it’s a bit disappointing when that gets inserted into the debate on things like this.”

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