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Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Page: 5668

Mr OAKESHOTT (5:38 PM) —I rise to ask you, with your defence service personnel responsibilities hat on—and I understand there were some portfolio changes only recently and I congratulate you for taking on this issue—some questions. I have raised this issue in other forms but I do think it is one that goes to the heart of what I consider to be cultural issues, within, particularly, the Defence Materiel Organisation and the human services and governance aspects of the DMO. In particular, I wish to raise the question of the Jane Wolfe case that has recently been before the Federal Court.

Jane Wolfe’s employment was ended, according to the Annual Report of 2008, by the Department of Defence. However, Federal Court action was taken and, only last month, she was reinstated with a very clear ruling from the Federal Court that any issues that were raised either through the Australian Government Solicitor or through the CEO of the DMO were completely unfounded and she was to be reinstated immediately. My understanding is that she is back at work in the SES. She was a senior executive service employee and continues to work there.

The question is: how on earth did we end up in a situation where the CEO of the DMO, within four months of the employment of Ms Wolfe, sought advice from the Australian Government Solicitor, using the Public Service Act over the subsequent period and using former employers to write affidavits, and the Public Service Commissioner using that information to trigger a termination notice? We ended up with court action taking place and questions being asked around the Financial Management Act, with regard to when legal advice was received that said there was no case. Yet the CEO of the DMO and the DMO in general knowingly continued, either with their internal counsel or with outside legal advice, to spend taxpayers’ money to run what was, essentially, a dead case.

From all accounts, $2 million worth of legal expenses was racked up. This is a significant cost to the taxpayer that is worthy of an explanation from the minister and the government. How on earth could it happen that someone employed at the SES level for only four months had what on the surface looks to be a vendetta run, and allowed to be run, against them within the culture of the DMO and the Public Service in Canberra? I ask the minister to explain, and I have asked this in another form, the implications of that Federal Court ruling. Is a code of conduct inquiry now going to take place against the CEO of the DMO? If not, why not? If so, what form will that code of conduct inquiry take? In relation specifically to the Financial Management Act and to the Public Service Act, what are the implications from the point of view of the minister’s confidence in the DMO executive team and the way they run their governance structures, their human resources and their duties?

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 5.43 pm to 5.56 pm