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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 1786


Mr ABBOTT (WarringahLeader of the Opposition) (15:44): I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that:

(a) the Fair Work Australia investigation into the Health Services Union and Member for Dobell commenced in 2009;

(b) the investigation started with the Industrial Registrar in January 2009 and was taken over by Fair Work Australia when it commenced operation in June 2009;

(c) Fair Work Australia representatives said the investigation would be completed by the end of 2011, with Fair Work Australia Director Terry Nassios telling a Senate Estimates committee in May 2011 that the investigation should be completed by 'the latter half of this year' and Bernadette O'Neill, the Acting General Manager, saying in October 2011 that 'Mr Nassios has advised me that he still expects to complete his investigations by the end of this year';

(d) the investigation remains ongoing despite an employee of the Australian Government Solicitor, Craig Rawson, being provided with a letter containing 'proposed findings' in December 2010; and

(e) the investigation into the Health Services Union and the Member for Dobell has taken more than three years and is yet to be completed; and

(2) calls on the Government to provide an assurance that there has been no political interference in the Fair Work Australia investigation into the Health Services Union and the Member for Dobell.

Back in January of 2009, more than three years ago, a very important investigation was begun into serious misuse of the moneys of the 70,000 lowly paid members of the Health Services Union. This is a very serious matter because union members have an absolute right to expect that their money will be used for the purposes of the union and for the purposes of advancing their industrial interests, and will not be misused for personal purposes, for political purposes and for family purposes of union officials. And there is strong evidence, much of which is in the public arena, that hundreds of thousands of dollars of union members' dues have been used to fund political campaigns of the now member for Dobell, formerly the general secretary of the union, and used to benefit the families of senior officials of the union. And, I regret to say, there is strong evidence, much of which is in the media, that members' dues were used to procure prostitution services for then officials of the union. This is an absolute disgrace.

If union members and the Australian public more generally are to have any confidence in the administration of justice, in particular if they are to have any confidence in the just operation of Australia's industrial system, matters of this seriousness must be swiftly investigated and justice must be swiftly done. But that has not happened.

The investigation began in January 2009. Towards the end of last year, when the investigation had already been going on for well over 2½ years, an assurance was given by a Fair Work Australia director that the investigation should be completed by the latter half of last year. The acting general manager gave an assurance in writing in October of last year that the investigation was expected to be completed by the end of 2011. Further, back in December 2010, an employee of the Australian Government Solicitor was provided with an official letter containing proposed findings in this investigation.

So back in December 2010 proposed findings were available. Twice last year Fair Work Australia gave assurances that the matter would be completed by the end of the year and still there is no conclusion to this saga. This gives rise to a very strong suspicion of, at the very least, an institutional go-slow, but possibly political interference in the operation of what should be an organ of justice.

I do not lightly question the integrity and professionalism of any official body. As a former minister for workplace relations, I worked with the former Industrial Relations Commission and in those days it was a body that dispensed impartial justice. I do not say that the body has been necessarily corrupted since then, but I do say this is a terrible look. It is a terrible look because since the current government took over, almost all of the senior appointments to Fair Work Australia have been former union officials.

We know that there is an incestuous relationship between the trade union movement of this country and members of the current government. Just about all the senior members of the current government are former union officials. It is a big union family which has links through the union movement from Fair Work Australia to the government and that would be threatened should Fair Work Australia's investigation be brought to a swift conclusion and charges laid. I do not question the professionalism of Fair Work Australia, but I urge Fair Work Australia, in the interests of its own good name, to not further delay this vital investigation.

There is another important factor that needs to be considered—that is, the extensive contact that has taken place between ministers in this government and Fair Work Australia. When a member of the opposition front bench contacted a minister in the New South Wales government about investigations into the member for Dobell, ministers opposite lined up, one after the other, to denounce political interference, even though a member of the opposition front bench by definition is not in government. Yet what we now know is that on at least seven occasions there was direct contact between ministers in this government, including none other than the Prime Minister, and Fair Work Australia over this matter.

There was a phone call between Fair Work Australia and the Prime Minister's chief of staff, first denied and then admitted. There were numerous emails and phone contacts between the former minister for workplace relations and Fair Work Australia, and there has been at least one phone conversation between the current minister for workplace relations and Fair Work Australia on this matter. We do not know for sure that there has been collusion between the government and Fair Work Australia over the investigation itself, but there certainly has been collusion over the media management of it. We know that because emails released under FOI prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt.

This motion is important because it is about maintaining the integrity of our institutions and it is about maintaining honesty in government, something which this Prime Minister seems to find so incredibly difficult. This Prime Minister needs to explain all of the contacts between her and her office, and her ministers and their offices, and Fair Work Australia. She needs to detail the precise content of all of those contacts. And she needs to explain why it is political interference for an opposition frontbencher to talk about an investigation but it is somehow entirely benign for ministers to heavy officials of Fair Work Australia.

The Prime Minister also needs to explain just how the interests of justice, as opposed to the political survival of this government, are furthered by the unconscionable time that this investigation has taken—it is now in its fourth year, yet far more complex investigations have been completed in far less time. The Fitzgerald royal commission into illegalities in Queensland took less than three years. The Wood royal commission into corruption in the New South Wales Police Force took less than three years. The Cole royal commission into the construction industry took less than 18 months. The Watergate investigation took less than 18 months. The Empire State Building was built in one year and 45 days—far, far quicker than this investigation! And do you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, it has already cost more than $1 million?

Members opposite might be interested to know that, when there was a problem with expenses in the House of Commons, revelations were uncovered in May 2009, charges were laid in February 2010 and convictions, including prison sentences, were brought down by January 2011. Instead of swift justice we have had, I fear, a corruption of the process of justice. That is why the Prime Minister has to explain. That is why this motion should be supported.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. BC Scott ): Is the motion seconded?

Ms Ley: I second the motion.