The ombudsman has criticised the construction industry investigator’s office for breaching confidentiality of people it is examining and using questionable interviewing methods.

Fair Work Building and Construction, headed by director Nigel Hadgkiss, is the federal office in charge of investigating breaches of building laws and codes as well as workplace laws where they relate to the construction industry.

Commonwealth ombudsman Colin Neave looked at 12 examinations by Fair Work Building and Construction in the 2014/15 financial year and made a number of recommendations to the watchdog’s director in a report tabled in federal parliament.

In several interviews, the ombudsman found FWBC examiners “completed the examinee’s sentences rather than allowing the examinee to finish”, asked examinees to speculate on matters or used questions to suggest evidence.

In one case, the ombudsman found investigating officers breached the confidentiality of three people by serving all three examination notices at the same place and the same time.

While Mr Hadgkiss did not consider the process to be unfair, the ombudsman said it “did appear to breach the confidentiality of the examinees” and notices should always be served separately whether or not the examinees are known to each other.

The ombudsman also found in eight of the 12 cases Mr Hadgkiss had stated a preference to the examinees that matters regarding the examinations not be discussed with others.

“Whilst the FWBC must keep the information obtained under an examination notice confidential, under the FWBI Act, the director is precluded from requiring the examinee to make undertakings of confidentiality,” the report said.

Mr Hadgkiss said in response that he believed as long as a request not to disclose information is balanced by a clear statement that there is no ban on information disclosure “it seemed reasonable that an examinee be asked to respect the nature of the investigative process on foot and thereby be invited to exercise their own discretion”.

Delays in examination times were also criticised, with the ombudsman suggesting the office consider limiting its work to two examinations a day.

Mr Hadgkiss said he was reluctant to set any limits because of cost implications and inefficiencies.

The ombudsman also asked the director to take a fresh look at the way legal expenses are covered.

The Turnbull government is seeking to replace the FWBC – which industry figures consider to be a “watered-down” agency – with the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

  • This gives the unions a free kick in the ABCC debate.

    It also reinforces the need for the ABCC Bill to be ammended to incorporate greater levels of accountability and oversight on the part of the regulator. The ABCC should be reborn but their should be greater levels of accountability and greater checks and balances than what was allowed for in the previous bill.

  • Nigel Hadgkiss has pretty tough gig. Amongst all of the uncertainty regarding ABCC legislation he has to deal with unions and industry that are not keen to co-operate, some who have personal threats made against them and others who just thumb their nose at the law and civil conduct. While many constructors voice support for his work, others talk with two tongues . Frankly the industry is lucky he has persevered. One only has to look through the cases and evidence that FWBC has prosecuted to see the havoc that has been wreaked on projects across Australia. These projects and business have been disrupted and exposed to huge costs. Many will think twice about new Australian investment. This directly affects jobs for construction workers. Just in case anyone has missed it there is more construction fabrication moving off-site and off-shore. The major contractors are looking for as many cost work arounds as they can find. Sound familiar? Are we playing out what has happened in the Auto and steel industry? Feels like it. All the while new construction deals drive up costs faster than any other part of the economy with zero productivity gain. There is not a single major contractor prepared to push back, its easier to pass the increased costs on to their clients. And with the push to keep up infrastructure spend projects are costing 20 – 30 percent more than their overseas peers. So more avoidable debt being accrued. Tax payers have no say, but everyone will pay in the end. If Hadgkiss has a few foot faults, lets put it all in a full context. He must feel like one hand clapping at times, there has been some pretty poor white anting behind the scenes I am told. And I wonder where the CFMEU gets all its money? Be worth a look?

    • Well written, David. The content of the article hardly supports the drama headline and introduction. The Tier 1's and other substantial contractors can't be bothered with the disruption of the lawless CFMEU. All in song, they find the easiest way out, pass the cost on down to the consumer.

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