Conflict, complexity at union commission

Underworld figure George Alex clashed with a lawyer as he denied making payments to construction union officials during a bristling appearance at the trade unions royal commission.


Mr Alex faced aggressive questioning from the barrister for union whistleblower Brian Fitzpatrick.

At one point he called barrister Adam Morison a “galah” and invited him to talk “one-on-one outside” after Mr Morison suggested he was using a slain business partner to cover for “criminal conduct”.

The royal commission is probing links between the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) and alleged “phoenix” labour hire and scaffolding companies linked to Mr Alex.

Mr Alex has been named before the commission as a person with “well-publicised connections with organised crime” and an owner of labour hire and scaffolding businesses that had beneficial enterprise bargaining agreements with the CFMEU.

Mr Alex has denied owning or managing any companies in the construction industry despite evidence including tapped phone calls discussing company arrangements, text messages about payments and documents bearing his name as a director or CEO.

In a day of complex testimony, Mr Alex said text messages recovered from his phone arranging cash payments were not sent by him because many of his business associates used the phone up to 70 per cent of the time.

He was often unwell due to complications from a leg injury, he said, and got many messages “second hand”.

The inquiry has viewed one April, 2013, message from Mr Alex’s phone to his wife that read: “1K to wisam. 2500 to Darren. Give Michael Couts 1000. Keep 500.”

The commission has previously asked CFMEU organiser Darren Greenfield, who dealt with Mr Alex, if he received payments of $2500. Mr Greenfield has denied this.

Mr Alex denied ever paying union officials and told counsel assisting the commission, Sarah McNaughton SC, the reference to 2500 was money for `Tony’ – the brother of his business partner Joe Antoun – who was a union delegate collecting workers’ entitlements.

“So 2500 to Darren, you are saying, doesn’t mean 2500 to Darren?” Ms McNaughton asked.

Mr Alex replied: “I didn’t write that”.

Ms McNaughton asked: “It means 2500 to Tony?”

Mr Alex replied: “Everyone knows that.”

Saying Tony’s money was for “Darren” was a tactic used by the executives of a scaffolding business that was behind in paying back Mr Antoun on his investment, Mr Alex said.

Mr Antoun was fatally shot in 2013 at the front door of his Sydney home.

Tension escalated when Mr Morison asked if Mr Alex was using his “deceased friend deliberately to cover for your own criminal conduct”.

“I’d like to see him one-on-one outside,” Mr Alex told the inquiry of Mr Morison.

Mr Alex complained Mr Morison was “flapping his wings, looking like a galah”, and was upsetting him.

Commissioner Dyson Heydon asked Mr Morison to continue “quietly” and “without exaggerated body movement”.

Mr Morison then put to Mr Alex that he was paying union officials “so you could run your phoenix operations and rip off the workers”.

Mr Alex rejected the suggestion saying every worker with companies he had consulted to had been paid their entitlements.

Mr Alex’s wife and sister will appear before the commission on Tuesday.