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Wednesday, 2 November 1983
Page: 2249

Mr RUDDOCK(7.30) —I am compelled tonight to raise in this House an important question concerning the involvement of the Minister for Territories and Local Government (Mr Uren) in the day to day management of the Australian Capital Territory Electricity Authority in discipline of employees found to have misused or misappropriated Authority resources. On 22 August 1983 investigations by the Authority established that resources used for the Authority's works were diverted to the home of a senior leading hand, Mr Julian Powell, and were used to undertake earth works to enable the installation of a swimming pool. The Authority's resources were a hired back hoe and operator, a hired pickup truck and driver, the senior leading hand and his vehicle, and a lines assistant cable layer. All were absent from the Authority's work for several hours. All charges for hired equipment and staff were to be charged to the Authority's account.

Evidence was also available that the acting foreman failed to supervise adequately the Authority's work and was not aware of the absence of these resources. Later when he became aware of the misuse of resources, collusive action between the acting foreman and Mr Powell adjusted some of the time sheets and charges. Records of the Authority suggest that on a prior occasion Mr Powell had used some landscaping materials of the Authority for work on his private residence. The Authority took action on the matter involving Authority staff, contractors and Mr Powell. The latter was asked to reimburse the cost of misappropriated resources and his employment was terminated. No criminal charges were brought against Mr Powell, although in my view such a remedy was clearly available. After this action had been carried out there was some union reaction involving a stop work meeting complaint of alleged severity of disciplinary action.

In September it became apparent that the Minister had become involved. The Chairman of the Authority, Mr Bolton, was called to the Minister's office to meet with him and an Electrical Trades Union of Australia organiser. Later a series of bans were applied to work on new Canberra building projects and new constructions. Union representatives pressed for Mr Powell to be re-employed, although with loss of some seniority and a reduction in pay. Similarly, disciplinary action against the senior leading hand was modified. As a result of these pressures from the union and the Minister's involvement, the Authority acceded to these demands.

This matter raises numerous questions in relation to the Minister's involvement in the day to day management of statutory authorities. Does the Minister condone misappropriation, that is, the theft of public resources, not once but twice? Should the Minister be involved in placing pressure on a statutory authority to modify penalties imposed in the matter of a day to day management question? How many other private deals or arrangements involving theft or misappropriation of public resources has the Minister been involved in or is he likely to be involved in in the future, which have not been brought to public notice? How do the unemployed feel when a thief is reinstated in public employment with the complicity of the Minister, while they as law abiding citizens are denied employment? How can authorities of the Commonwealth maintain proper supervision of their resources if proper disciplinary action can be so easily overturned?