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Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Page: 2259

Health Services Union


Senator RONALDSON (Victoria) (14:15): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Senator Ludwig. I refer to the report released by Fair Work Australia last Friday on its investigations into the allegations of financial mismanagement in the Health Services Union, No. 1 Branch. Is the government satisfied that the report thoroughly deals with all relevant issues and allegations and that nothing was swept under the carpet?


Senator LUDWIG (QueenslandMinister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister Assisting on Queensland Floods Recovery) (14:15): I thank the opposition for their question. In terms of the Fair Work Australia conclusions on the investigation into the HSU Victorian No.1 Branch, we welcome the conclusions of the investigation by Fair Work Australia. We do note the general manager's comment that the investigation findings relate to the keeping and lodgement of financial records and financial management. Fair Work Australia, as I think I have said in this chamber before, is an independent agency and the government will continue to fully respect its independence.

In terms of the investigation report, we note that the decision originally was not to make the report public, but that eventually it would respond to requests from the Senate committee to produce it. For the record it is worth adding that the report was provided to the Senate Standing Committee on Education, Employment and Workplace Relations last week and of course made public by the committee on Friday. It is a matter that Minister Shorten will have an opportunity to follow and read through, obviously. He has already made some broad comments about it, but it would be early in this piece to actually provide Mr Shorten's comments in relation to the investigation and the report itself. I will seek further and better particulars from Mr Shorten as to whether or not he wants to provide any particular response to the question you have raised. Again, I remind those opposite that it is a matter that is still, and can be, in the domain of being referred further—for example, to the Australian Taxation Office. (Time expired)


Senator RONALDSON (Victoria) (14:17): I rise to ask a supplementary question. I think that the answer to my question was no, and, on that basis, will the minister investigate reopening Fair Work Australia's inquiry into the Health Services Union to investigate claims by the former assistant secretary of the union, Mr Nader, who said:

There is a lot of irregularities between 2002-05 which no one has looked into …


Senator LUDWIG (QueenslandMinister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister Assisting on Queensland Floods Recovery) (14:18): Again, those opposite seem to miss one of the significant points: Fair Work Australia is an independent body. It is charged with looking after the relevant obligations it has under the Fair Work legislation. In terms of the specific issue you have raised, obviously I am not the minister responsible for referring a particular matter. I can ask Mr Shorten whether he wants to provide a response in relation to the supplementary question asked by the opposition today. But, again, if the opposition do have any evidence in relation to wrongdoings of any organisation then it is incumbent upon them to provide that information to Fair Work Australia.

Senator Ronaldson: Mr President, I rise on a point of order. I have just provided the minister with information from Mr Nader, which I thought would have been sufficient for him to answer the question.

The PRESIDENT: That is not a point of order. The minister has 17 seconds remaining.

Senator LUDWIG: Again, the opposition are trying to make a cute point on that. If the opposition do have any substantive information available about any particular wrongdoing then they should not hide it or sit on it; they should bring it to the attention of the relevant authorities so that it can be properly investigated. (Time expired)





Senator RONALDSON (Victoria) (14:19): Mr President, I have a final supplementary question. Given delays in finalising Fair Work Australia's three-year investigation into financial irregularities when the member for Dobell, Mr Thomson, was secretary of the HSU, and the refusal of its general manager to cooperate with police investigations into the HSU, and the way Fair Work Australia has been stacked with former union officials, why should low-paid hospital cleaners, orderlies and attendants have any faith in the impartiality and integrity of the Fair Work Australia investigation?


Senator LUDWIG (QueenslandMinister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister Assisting on Queensland Floods Recovery) (14:20): I do know that they have no faith in the coalition because they still remain concerned that the coalition may continue to bring back Work Choices. I suspect it is on their wish list. When you look at how it would undermine the award system—

Senator Ronaldson: I rise on a point of order on relevance, Mr President. My question was: why should low-paid hospital cleaners, orderlies and attendants have any faith in the impartiality and integrity of the Fair Work Australia investigation?

Senator Jacinta Collins: On the point of order, Mr President, Senator Ludwig is directly dealing with the issues here. He is talking about the confidence that we should have in Fair Work Australia and, indeed, the track record of the other side and what confidence people should have in the alternative.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Ludwig, whilst you have been going 17 seconds, I do remind you of the question and there are 43 seconds remaining.

Senator LUDWIG: Thank you, Mr President. As I was saying, the risk to low-paid hospital workers is from those opposite with their wish to bring back Work Choices. When you look at Work Choices' impacts, which undermined the award system, which stripped away workplace relations conditions and which used AWAs, low-paid hospital workers know the risk from those opposite.

Senator Ronaldson: Mr President, I raise a point of order on relevance. The question clearly referred to the not yet finalised investigation into the member for Dobell, Mr Thomson. It had nothing to do with anything else. I ask you to draw the minister's attention to the question and ask him to answer it.

The PRESIDENT: I drew the minister's attention at the 47-second mark to the need to respond to the question. There are 22 seconds remaining, Minister, and I draw your attention to the question.

Senator LUDWIG: Thank you, Mr President. In terms of the low-paid workers in hospital systems, they can have complete confidence in Fair Work Australia's ability as an independent body to manage the fair work legislation, unlike what the opposition may put to them, which is Work Choices mark 2.