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Thursday, 22 September 2011
Page: 11268

Mr HUSIC (ChifleyGovernment Whip) (09:39): I rise to speak on behalf of a constituent who has been treated unfairly and unreasonably by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Chifley constituent Peter Horwood was engaged by the ABS in April this year on a six-month casual contract. He was appointed as an area supervisor, with his principal aim being to assist with the local conduct of the 2011 census. While he initially received positive feedback from the ABS for his work, about halfway through his engagement period with the ABS management summarily terminated Mr Horwood's six-month casual contract. Mr Horwood visited me last month, understandably distressed about his treatment. I am loath to raise this matter in this forum. However, I have been staggered by the way the ABS has dealt with this matter both in the decisions taken against my constituent and in their failure to adequately deal with the issue when it was raised with them.

From what I could gather, relations between Mr Horwood and local ABS management soured in July, specifically over two areas. Firstly, the ABS claimed that Mr Horwood did not undertake a training session in the way that was expected. Secondly, the ABS claimed it was not satisfied with the quality of communication between itself and Mr Horwood. Time limits prevent me from going into detail about these matters, but after reviewing the documentation—and sometimes the lack of it—I pretty quickly came to the conclusion that the ABS had dressed up a decision and was now stonewalling and refusing to admit error. For example, on the first matter I raised, I could appreciate that on the face of it the ABS objections to the quality of training conducted by Mr Horwood were serious. But imagine my surprise when I learned that the ABS had present at the training session conducted at Mr Horwood's home a senior manager who at no point took any step to correct those perceived training errors that the ABS believed were so grievous that they warranted the termination of my constituent's contract, impacting negatively on his livelihood. It is these types of examples that concern me about the way in which the ABS had conducted itself.

I wrote to the ABS indicating that I believed the process of terminating the contract was deficient and the outcome excessive; that the claims that termination was warranted due to a failure to observe process, while there was evidence the ABS did likewise, were surprising; and that the claim that there were problems with the quality of communication between Mr Horwood and the ABS seemed serious but further examination of the claim would not hold that this was a reasonable allegation—it certainly was not durable enough to base a decision to prematurely terminate a contract. The ABS was, quite surprisingly, evasive and initially avoided engaging meaningfully with me on this matter. I finally had a senior New South Wales ABS manager agree to discuss the matter in detail, but it was clear that he was being given instruction on how to manage this issue. This was evident from their letter back to me on 30 August, merely stating that they would talk to me about this issue and would not reinstate my constituent; they refused to address in writing any of the claims and points I had raised.

Overall, I believe the ABS has deliberately structured these contracts in such a way as to sidestep its obligations. I would expect more from a government agency, but I believe this deliberately reflects an aggressive HR approach, and I intend to follow this up with the Assistant Treasurer.