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Thursday, 19 June 2003
Page: 17050


Mr ANTHONY SMITH (2:45 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. Is the minister aware of further information on ballot rigging and financial irregularities—

Opposition members interjecting


The SPEAKER —Order! Member for Jagajaga! Member for Werriwa! The member for Casey will start his question again.


Mr ANTHONY SMITH —My question is addressed to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. Is the minister aware of further information on ballot rigging and financial irregularities in an organisation registered under the Workplace Relations Act? Is the government taking these allegations seriously? What action will the government take to address them?


Mr Latham —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. This question is identical to a question that was asked from the government backbench earlier in the week. It will inevitably provoke exactly the same answer and as such it should be ruled out of order under the standing orders of the House.


The SPEAKER —The member for Werriwa is right that a question like this one was asked earlier in the week. It did not instantly hit me as being identical to one asked earlier in the week. I will ask the Leader of the House to indicate the difference between the questions, because it was not one that I automatically ruled out of order.


Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service) —I have been asked for further information and I have further information, funnily enough! I have further information, and I am sure members opposite are just waiting for it.


The SPEAKER —Then let me indicate to the Leader of the House and to the House that I had not ruled the question out of order. The Leader of the House has the call.


Mr ABBOTT —Thank you, Mr Speaker. I say to the member for Casey that I am aware of continuing allegations of financial irregularities, ballot rigging and attempted bribery inside the National Union of Workers and against its head, Mr Greg Sword. Since 1996 the National Union of Workers has donated more than $1.7 million to the ALP, and Mr Sword is of course the National President of the ALP. Mr Sword is the Leader of the Opposition's best mate and principal protector, and he is described by dissident members of—


Mr Latham —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order under standing order 145. The minister was saying he was going to provide further information; this is exactly the same information he provided the other day.


The SPEAKER —There is not a point of order. The minister has the call.


Mr ABBOTT —It was probably only $1.3 million, but there is $400,000 they provided in the last financial year.



The SPEAKER —The member for Sydney is warned!


Mr ABBOTT —I am aware that last week's Sunday program obtained a draft auditor's report into the National Union of Workers, which Mr Sword heads. According to the program:

The auditors founds that the “official receipts book was missing.” That there has been “no regular reconciliation for the suspense account and wage clearing account.” There was “no evidence of review of bank reconciliations by an independent official.” And “certain transactions were found to be misallocated.”

Also, in a court case last year about the misuse of union funds, the judge found:

It is a matter of concern that a large union should have been found so wanting in ordinary standards of financial care.

When the Leader of the Opposition was asked about these allegations against his own former union, the National Union of Workers, what did he say? He said, `Quite frankly, they are irrelevant.' So the Leader of the Opposition thinks that allegations of financial irregularity, ballot rigging and attempted bribery are irrelevant. This government takes allegations of this nature very seriously indeed. This morning I have written to the Industrial Registrar drawing his attention to these allegations and to his powers to investigate and prosecute breaches of the Workplace Relations Act.