One of Australia’s most powerful unions is splintering as leaders fight for control

A challenger for one of the top roles in the splintering but powerful CFMMEU has faced a setback after the Australian Electoral Commission said he was not a member of the right division.

Arturo ‘Bluey’ Menon, an organiser with the union’s Queensland construction division, had filed to run against Michael O’Connor, a union powerbroker and brother of Labor frontbencher Brendan O’Connor, for the leadership of the CFMMEU manufacturing division.

CFMEU manufacturing secretary Michael O’Connor faces a challenge to his leadership.Credit:Bradley Kanaris

The leadership contest is the latest front in a hydra-headed battle within the CFMMEU that prompted the mining division to announce it would leave the 116,000 member-union earlier this year.

It began when Victorian construction secretary John Setka began to challenge others in the union, including Mr O’Connor, who he believed offered insufficient support when he was convicted of harassing his wife in 2019.

Mr Menon said he would restore ties between the manufacturing and construction divisions if he was elected. “Unity is essential and what we bring to the table is we will work together across the divisions of the CFMMEU,” he said.

But the AEC, which administers union elections, said last month in a letter to Mr Menon seen by The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald that he was ineligible to run because he works for the construction division in Queensland and was struck from the manufacturing division’s membership list last year.

Lawyers for Mr Menon are challenging that decision, with the Federal Court to hear that dispute next week. Mr Menon said he was a member of the manufacturing division, had been elected its local district president and argued the two divisions were largely fused in Queensland.

“We have construction and manufacturing working together and getting along [in Queensland] which would be refreshing in a national sense,” said Mr Menon.

The manufacturing division counts about 9000 members in industries such as building products, forestry and textiles, according to documents lodged with the regulator.

Michael O’Connor, the current secretary, said he was looking forward to a ballot so that rank-and-file members could choose their representative.

“Very much looking forward to the election and us being returned and putting the interests of all our members and all our districts at the forefront,” Mr O’Connor said. His ticket would be “beholden to nobody but the members”, he added.

Another union member familiar with the situation, who spoke on condition of anonymity, was dismissive of Mr Menon’s candidature and described him as working with Mr Setka and Queensland construction secretary Michael Ravbar.

“He’s not eligible to run, he’s been told so by the AEC but now he’s running off to the Federal Court and challenge why he’s not included on the manufacturing division role of members,” the unionist said.

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