The Morrison government is also using Mr Setka and his recent domestic violence conviction as an example of why legislation is needed to more easily deregister rogue unions and move against officials.
There is no suggestion that Mr Setka is involved in Mr Christopher’s alleged criminal offending. The pair are close friends and allies, and Mr Christopher’s wife has also been employed at the union, while his father-in-law, shop steward Frank Prevolsek, is also a confidant of Mr Setka.
Mr Christopher has recently been on extended “stress” leave from work, union sources said.
A police spokeswoman told The Age on Friday that state and federal police had made several arrests during the morning, having previously “interviewed six men and one woman as part of this investigation”.
“They were interviewed in relation to the offence of receipt/solicitation of a secret commission and are expected to be charged on summons,” she said.
Police also confirmed they had raided addresses across Victoria on Friday morning as “part of a 13-month investigation into individuals within the construction/building industry and the alleged provision of materials and labour in exchange for favouring contractors”.
Arrests and raids by police were carried out by detectives on Friday morning at Keilor Lodge and Keilor, with police seizing computers, mobile phones and paperwork.
The CFMMEU is now in crisis in both Victoria and NSW, where assistant secretary Michael Greenfield earlier this year pleaded guilty to possessing cocaine. In June, NSW police charged two CFMMEU NSW union organisers with allegedly dealing drugs from a union car.
The federal government, led by industrial relations minister Christian Porter, has launched a political assault on the CFMMEU as it seeks to push through new fit and proper person laws for union officials.
In June 2018, The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald revealed that detectives from a joint federal and state police taskforce had conducted raids on building contractors. It’s alleged they worked on the Keilor Lodge home of Mr Christopher.
Major builder Probuild – which has a number of big projects in Victoria underway including an expansion of the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre – has previously confirmed the company was “co-operating with Victoria Police”.
Mr Christopher’s home was purchased in January 2017 for $670,000. Renovations over the past year are estimated to be worth several hundred thousand dollars.
The diversion of labour and materials from commercial building sites to private homes is a timeless suspected rort in the building industry carried out by a small number of employers and employees alike.
A source with knowledge of what police had sought from building firms said detectives were interested in rosters from commercial building sites, presumably to see if contractors working at Mr Christopher’s house were at the same time being paid by their regular employer.
Prosecution is rarely easy, given the difficulty in proving if the goods or labour were paid for, and the work done legitimately. Former Builders Labourers Federation leader Norm Gallagher was jailed over similar offences in the 1980s.
Last year, the union’s Victorian construction division attacked the police investigation into Mr Christopher as politically motivated.
“The amount of time and effort this Liberal Government spends on targeting, harassing and intimidating union officials and their families is not only pathetic but corrupt,’’ a spokesman said.
A separate police case against Mr Setka and former CFMMEU assistant secretary Shaun Reardon over allegations the pair blackmailed concrete firm Boral was dramatically withdrawn last year. That case led to Mr Setka and Mr Reardon presenting a united front to attack the Victoria Police and Coalition.
However, Mr Reardon recently quit the CFMEU in protest at Mr Setka remaining in his role after being charged with domestic violence offences.
Mr Setka’s harassment case caused a political firestorm earlier this year when The Age revealed new details of his conduct and that he had made comments about anti-violence campaigner Rosie Batty.
Among the revelations were that a former deputy president of the Fair Work Commission gave a statement to police alleging Mr Setka repeatedly intimidated and terrified his wife over several months.
The former judicial officer, Anne Gooley, said in her police statement that she had seen Mr Setka’s treatment of Ms Walters and that “Seeing John’s anger … I was extremely distressed”.
Police analysis of Mr Setka’s phone activity reveals on a single evening last October, he called Ms Walters 25 times and sent her 45 text messages, calling her a “weak f—en piece of shit” and a “treacherous Aussie f—en c—” and a “f—en dog”.
Nick McKenzie is an investigative reporter for The Age. He’s won seven Walkley awards and covers politics, business, foreign affairs and defence, human rights issues, the criminal justice system and social affairs.
Ben Schneiders is an investigations reporter at The Age with a background reporting on industrial relations, business, politics and social issues. A two-time Walkley Award winner, he has been part of The Age’s investigative unit since 2015.