Construction watchdog faces internal fight

Agency director Nigel Hadgkiss is embroiled in a workplace dispute. Photo: Simon SchluterThe head of the nation’s building industry watchdog has attempted to thwart the release of files containing potentially troubling details of an internal feud with a senior employee.

This comes as Nigel Hadgkiss, director of the Fair Work Building and Construction agency, is expected to face Labor scrutiny in federal parliament for his management style and claims that he oversees a toxic workplace culture.

Employees at his agency took an average of 12 days’ sick leave each in 2013-14, twice as much as the previous financial year, while unscheduled absences soared from 10 to 17 days per employee in that period, official data shows.

An annual report also cites an increase in Comcare worker compensation claims over the past financial year.

In the Federal Circuit Court on Tuesday, the agency sought orders to block Labor senator Doug Cameron and the media from accessing files outlining the dispute between Mr Hadgkiss and one of the agency’s senior lawyers, Susan Haslam.

Ms Haslam has launched proceedings seeking a judicial review of Mr Hadgkiss’ decision to demote her over an allegedly inappropriate outburst towards a junior staff member.

She was investigated for a breach of the Australian Public Service Code of Conduct, and was subsequently disciplined.

“Consistent with the act, appropriate disciplinary action was taken,” an agency spokesman said.

“FWBC makes no apology for upholding the APS code of conduct and will continue to vigorously defend its position accordingly.”

Code of Conduct hearings at the agency have soared from zero before Mr Hadgkiss became director in 2013 to seven in 2014-15.

Dominic Fleeton, representing the agency, urged the court on Tuesday to bar public access to Ms Haslam’s affidavit material, arguing that information was sensitive and that several of Ms Haslam’s claims went beyond the scope of the controversy.

He also said the journalists’ reasons for wanting to view the material were insufficient.

Judge Grant Riethmuller noted that the court strived to uphold the principle of “open justice” in ensuring public access to information.

“I don’t want to create an air of secrecy that the court doesn’t want either,” he said.

But Judge Riethmuller said some of Ms Haslam’s affidavit material included hearsay allegations and needed to be amended and clarified before they should be released publicly.

Ms Haslam has been ordered to amend and resubmit her affidavit material within 14 days, after which Fair Work Building and Construction would have another 14 days to apply to strike out details.

The application for a judicial review goes to mediation next month.

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