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Wednesday, 22 June 1994
Page: 1894

Senator CRANE (4.10 p.m.) —Unfortunately, Senator Chris Evans did not deal with the matter of public importance, which refers to `the provision of public funding to the ACTU under the guise of the Trade Union Training Authority'. Over the last few weeks during the estimates process we have heard of a most extraordinary event involving the misuse of taxpayers' funds by a statutory authority in terms of the joint venture between Brittvale, a subsidiary company of the ACTU, and the Trade Union Training Authority.

  It is worth noting that the board of TUTA comprises an 11 member executive of which there are six trade union members. The executive director, Ms Wood, has a long history of trade union involvement; in fact, she has served on the executive of the ACTU, which shows through in the decision making process. This deal was put together in secret without consultation with the executive council and signed one day before the last federal election. The purpose of the deal was to move assets out of TUTA into a joint venture with the ACTU because of the policy position that we had at the time of the election. It is pointless debating whether our policy position was right or wrong. The fact is that those assets were removed secretly without consultation with the executive council. It would be interesting to know whether or not there was any discussion with the minister on this matter.

  In answer to a question on the transfer of public funds through TUTA to the ACTU, Ms Wood said:

In our 1994 budget there is an allocation of up to $5 million for the administration of a grant program which would see moneys paid directly to trade unions—

If it was the government's intention to pay $5 million to the trade union movement, why did it not just write out a cheque and send it directly to the ACTU and get rid of all the attendant administrative nonsense? Ms Wood went on to say:

The Trade Union Training Authority has allocated up to $250,000 to be paid in traineeships as an acknowledgment of time spent in off-the-job training by trainees—

Once again, this was a direct allocation of public funds through TUTA. There are proper processes by which these things should be done and I do not think one of the processes should be through TUTA.

  We also need to look briefly at Brittvale. This shelf company was bought by the ACTU approximately one week prior to the last federal election. As I have said, the joint venture agreement was signed the day before the election, without the knowledge of the executive council. Here was a deal stitched together in secret to avoid the policy position adopted by the coalition.

  It is worth noting—and Senator Abetz touched on this matter briefly—that TUTA's contribution to the assets was $102,000 and the ACTU's contribution was $29,000. I am not particularly concerned about what the ACTU does with its assets, but I am concerned about what the TUTA does with its assets, which have been transferred into this company. I have already indicated that some members of the TUTA board are controlled by the ACTU and that $102,000 of public funds was involved. Senator Evans claimed that this was done to make those assets more accessible to clients. I believe that that claim is neither factual nor fair. There has never been any suggestion in this place that clients did not have access to library facilities. However, there is a major distortion in this case.

  Furthermore, the asset backing of Brittvale was not checked as to whether or not it was a $2 company, a 50c company or whatever. And there has been no follow-up to find out whether the ACTU legally transferred its share of the assets. That came out quite clearly in the debate that took place.

  It is worth looking at the guidelines under which these grants operate. Not only are funds provided for training but also, in addition, funding ranging from $37,371 to $49,095 is available to pay the salaries of individuals who are trained in either the ACTU or one of the eligible federal unions. It is worth noting, as was pointed out at the estimates hearing last night, that state unions are not eligible to apply. Yet the salaries of these individuals are being provided from ongoing funding. That goes far beyond the role of training trade union officials.

  One could talk for two hours on the guidelines without any trouble at all. The guidelines state:

  Consistent with the objective of funding trainers with relevant skills and training experience, applications which propose the employment of one or more current TUTA trainers will be ranked highly in determining funding priorities.

Last night I questioned this guideline. It was made quite clear to us that, if one employed a TUTA trainer funded from the public purse, one's application would get priority regardless of whether that person was the right person to do the training or whether the application for the training grant was the best one. So there is a misplaced priority.

  Another point that needs to be borne in mind in considering the way that this joint venture agreement was rushed into with Brittvale is that the executive director of TUTA told us that she did not know, initially, who were the directors of Brittvale. Yet, later in the estimates proceedings I asked her to check the public record and, if necessary, correct it. She informed us that it did not matter whether she was dealing with the directors of Brittvale—namely, Jennie George, Bill Kelty and Ian Ross—or whether she was dealing with the ACTU. So here we see a whole misappropriation of funds.

  In the time that I have left, all I can say about this sorry saga is that there is no doubt that Dracula was put in charge of the blood bank. (Time expired)