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A bug, a sacking and Adani: Accusations divide the maritime union

Mr Carnegie lost his bid for re-election last year in a close contest to Stephen Cumberlidge, a candidate closer to the national office. Now a series of bizarre events under Mr Cumberlidge have led more than 200 members to sign a petition asking for answers about the listening device, the office manager’s sacking and the purchase of a second-hand TV.

MUA Queensland state secretary Stephen Cumberlidge will not release a report into bugging at the union's headquarters.

MUA Queensland state secretary Stephen Cumberlidge will not release a report into bugging at the union’s headquarters.Credit:Tony Moore

In a letter to members, written in response to the petitions and seen by this masthead, the union leadership said the office manager, 62-year-old Carol Conlon, was sacked because the union was trying to “run more efficiently”. It also said she had received warnings about her behaviour towards other staff, which Ms Conlon’s lawyer, Zosia Kilmartin, denied. “My client has been badly let down by her union employer after many years of loyal service”, Ms Kilmartin said. Ms Conlon is challenging her sacking at the national industrial tribunal, claiming she was fired for exercising her workplace rights.

Mr Carnegie said her firing was “unconscionable” when the union had fought so hard against forced redundancies in the industry, including by Patrick. “I seem to be drawn back into the absolute toxic sewer of MUA internal politics because of what has occurred and the treatment of a wonderful working class woman in our office manager,” he said.

When contacted for comment, Mr Cumberlidge said “no comment, mate” before hearing this masthead’s questions and the union declined to answer written questions. In the letter, Mr Cumberlidge branded the petitions’ claims distracting “misinformation and deceit”. “Our focus must be our members and their jobs. Our door is always open for any questions or issue,” Mr Cumberlidge wrote.

Ms Conlon’s dismissal occurred after the discovery of a bug by the union at its Queensland headquarters. There is no suggestion Ms Conlon planted the bug or that her dismissal related to it. The discovery prompted the union to hire a barrister, Travis O’Brien, who formerly worked at the CFMMEU, to try to work out who planted the bug. But Mr O’Brien’s report “will not be publicly released for the protection of the union”, the union said, in part because a previous letter to members had been “leaked to the Murdoch press”.

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(The Financial Review, which is owned by Nine along with this masthead, reported the existence of the bugging claim.)

Mr Carnegie questioned the need for an expensive examination and called on the union to release the cost of the report and a summary of its findings. If the union did not, Mr Carnegie said, he would try to force the union to disclose the information through union financial transparency laws.

Stranger still than the bugging episode, the petition circulating on Queensland wharves refers to a TV purchased with union funds “from the branch secretary”. In his response, Mr Cumberlidge said the branch had bought a TV for training purposes after the previous set was donated to charity. “The money raised through the purchase of the TV has been donated to the Branch Fighting Fund,” the letter reads.

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