ABCC Boss Stephen McBurney
ABCC Boss Stephen McBurney

Exemption fury: ‘Hundreds of workers at risk’

The Melbourne-based boss of the building watchdog gained an exemption to fly into Brisbane this week and interview construction workers from the CRR Roma Street site.

The CFMEU is angry two workers were made to sit with ABCC Commissioner Stephen McBurney at the watchdog's Brisbane offices on Tuesday without being told he'd just flown in from the COVID hotspot.

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The Courier-Mail has been told masks were not worn and workers only became aware Mr McBurney was from Melbourne when someone realised on Monday night that the Commissioner was actually based in Victoria.

It's understood police and Queensland Health are looking into the matter.

 

Australian Building and Construction Commission Stephen McBurney flew in from Melbourne.
Australian Building and Construction Commission Stephen McBurney flew in from Melbourne.

 

State Development Minister Kate Jones said she was deeply concerned at the reports "given the rampant community transmission in Victoria".

"Given this is to investigate an alleged breach from November last year, eight months ago, I don't understand how he can argue that this is an essential activity," she said.

"Queensland law clearly states that you can only come from Victoria to Queensland if you're an essential worker and the activity you're conducting must be done without delay.

"I don't understand how you could argue that this must be delivered without delay when the event being investigated happened eight months ago."

It's understood Mr McBurney was investigating a rally from November 27 last year, prompting questions over why the interviews eight months after the event were so urgent.

The two construction workers have since been mingling with co-workers on the Cross River Rail's Roma Street site.

Under the border restrictions, an essential, specialist worker is allowed to bypass quarantine if they are "required to provide emergency services of continuity of government services, infrastructure or utilities critical to Queensland".

But they can only use the exemption if the services can't be provided by someone in Queensland, the service "must be provided without delay" and the person must be physically present to perform the duty.

The ABCC has been sought for comment, but confirmed Mr McBurney's trip to Queensland.

CFMEU assistant secretary Jade Ingham said the move was "outrageous" and "grossly irresponsible".

"The arrogance and stupidity of the ABCC has potentially put hundreds of workers and their families at risk for no good reason, and in doing so risked work ceasing on one of the largest construction projects in Australia," Mr Ingham said.

"This was hardly an urgent matter, and relates to the alleged involvement of a few workers in a protest rally last year.

CFMEU assistant secretary Jade Ingham has slammed the interview as “grossly irresponsible”. Picture: Liam Kidston
CFMEU assistant secretary Jade Ingham has slammed the interview as “grossly irresponsible”. Picture: Liam Kidston

"Do the ABCC and Commissioner Stephen McBurney really think this warranted travelling from lockdown in the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia to Queensland, where there are only two active (quarantined) cases?

"Does Mr McBurney have such little faith in his Queensland inspectorate - located just a few hundred metres from the Roma St end of the Cross River Rail project - that he has to break quarantine to travel here?

"Or is he the only federal public servant in Australia who doesn't know how to use Zoom?"

He said the CFMEU already had concerns about COVID-19 safety onsite.

"At a time of national crisis, it is a profligate waste of time and money that puts people's health and jobs at risk," he said.

 

Originally published as Exemption fury: 'Hundreds of workers at risk'


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