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Wednesday, 16 March 2016
Page: 2106

Australian Labor Party

Senator SESELJA (Australian Capital Territory) (14:04): My question is to the Minister for Employment, Senator Cash. Is the minister aware of any secret deals between unions and Labor governments? What are the implications of these deals?

Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (14:04): I thank Senator Seselja for this very important question. The front page of today's Australian newspaper says it all: 'Labor hands unions veto power over who gets work in the ACT.' Clearly those on the other side and their cronies in the ACT government have learned nothing flowing from the Heydon royal commission, in which we saw secret deal after secret deal exposed, all of them without any benefit to the workers. What do we now have? We have a memorandum of understanding. It is signed—it has been executed—by the Chief Minister, Mr Barr, on 26 March 2015, and on behalf of also UnionsACT. It is an official agreement between the ACT Labor government and the unions. Do you know what it does, Mr President? It sets out in detail the terms and conditions under which the ACT government agencies are to undertake procurement activity—at the behest of the unions, in black and white. Mr President, here is a clause for you. It states that the ACT agencies must 'decline to award a tender proposal for ACT government works or services'—colleagues on this side will be interested—if the tenderer does not agree to meet a checklist of union demands. It is in black and white in the memorandum of understanding. What is worse, it also allows the unions to have access to employee records, including the names, home numbers and addresses of the employees themselves—in black and white, signed by the Chief Minister. (Time expired)

Senator SESELJA (Australian Capital Territory) (14:06): Can the minister advise the Senate of the cost to taxpayers of these deals?

Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (14:06): I have to say in the ACT, it appears there are now four levels of government. You have the legislature, the executive, the judiciary and then of course there is the unions. Labor want to put the unions at the very top of the structure. There is no doubt that, based on this document, the ACT government runs a closed shop. In the ACT, it is determined by the unions and at a cost to the taxpayer. It gets worse, because the Chief Minister this morning—someone clearly with no shame—admitted this: similar agreements had been in place for more than 10 years. This is a longstanding thing. When we look around the chamber, I have to say, unfortunately, Senator Gallagher, it does come to you. What deals did you enter into when you were the Chief Minister of the ACT, in black and white, stitching up your agencies to the behest of the union?

Government senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! On my right.

Senator Moore: Mr President, on a point of order: perhaps the minister could direct her questions through you rather than across the chamber as she continues to do.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Moore. That is a good reminder for all senators to direct their remarks through the chair and not directly to senators across the chamber.

Senator SESELJA (Australian Capital Territory) (14:08): Mr President, I ask a final supplementary question. What is the government's response to these deals?

Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (14:08): Quite simply, unlike those on the other side, we believe these deals are wrong and they should not be tolerated. Can you imagine the howls from those opposite if a government entered into deal with a business, under which terms the business dictated what unions the government could deal with? Then we would have those on the other side screaming black and blue that it was unfair, that it was cronyism and that it was corruption. When the shoe is on the other foot, they maintain a silence. Government procurement and the tender process should be run by the government for the benefit of the taxpayer, not for the benefit of a particular union or even a particular business. The process should be open, it should be fair and it should be competitive. No-one outside government should dictate to the government the terms upon which it should act.