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Tuesday, 24 June 2003
Page: 17376

Mr McCLELLAND (9:10 PM) —The current Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations is fond of telling the House about this government's commitment to the rule of law in industrial relations. However, most fair-minded observers would conclude that this government invariably places political rhetoric, shown by its obsessive attacks on trade unions, ahead of its rhetorical commitment to the rule of law. Tonight, it is my duty to place on record a matter relating to the building industry which confirms this analysis.

In 1999 the Employment Advocate, Jonathan Hamberger, commenced an action against the CFMEU and its organiser Ian Williamson alleging breaches of the Workplace Relations Act on an Abigroup building site in Hawthorn, Victoria. The Employment Advocate relied on evidence of two subcontractors, Mr John Lyten and Mr Lee Carson, who claimed that they had been subjected to unlawful coercion by Mr Williamson. The Employment Advocate sought to tender a tape recording that Mr Lyten and Mr Carson had secretly made of their conversation with Mr Williamson.

On 23 November 2000 the Federal Court dismissed the case, finding that Mr Lyten had told `a series of lies' to manufacture a dispute with Mr Williamson, and that Mr Carson had been a willing participant in the charade. The court concluded:

How anyone could consider this conduct to be other than improper or designed to advance an impropriety defies rational consideration.

It further stated:

Mr Williamson was set up by a highly artificially manufactured device arranged by two people who have a reckless indifference to probity and a propensity to give inconsistent and unacceptable evidence under oath.

The Federal Court had also heard evidence that Mr Carson paid Mr Lyten $1,000 per week in cash or cash cheques, but that Mr Lyten declared no wages income in his taxation return for the relevant year. In March 2001 the Federal Court took the extraordinary step of ordering that Mr Lyten and Mr Carson personally pay the costs of the CFMEU and Mr Williamson in the case because of the conduct that I have referred to.

In August 2001 an appeal by the Employment Advocate was dismissed. I believe that Australians would be disturbed, if not entirely surprised, that the Howard government pursued false claims through the Employment Advocate against a trade union and its officials, when the most elementary inquiry would have revealed that its two witnesses had fabricated their evidence. The government's own model litigant principles require the government and its agencies to `act honestly and fairly in handling claims and litigation'. Regrettably, the Attorney-General has shown no interest in applying those principles to this case.

However, Australian taxpayers would be utterly disgusted to learn that on or about 11 December 2000 former Minister Peter Reith granted Mr Lyten and Mr Carson an indemnity to cover their exposure to legal costs. It is important to be clear about the sequence of events. Mr Reith granted Mr Lyten and Mr Carson the indemnity after the Federal Court had found that they had `a reckless indifference to probity and a propensity to give inconsistent and unacceptable evidence under oath', and after evidence had been heard that Mr Lyten declared no wages income in his relevant tax returns.

Despite his rhetorical commitment to the rule of law and the importance of respecting the courts, the current minister for workplace relations saw no problem with honouring this indemnity. As a result, Australian taxpayers have now paid almost $100,000 on behalf of Mr Lyten and Mr Carson. When asked about this matter in the House, the minister claimed he believed that both Mr Reith and the Employment Advocate had acted with `perfect propriety'. Despite this, the minister has refused to make public the indemnity or any documents associated with it under cover of privacy—an excuse the minister for immigration frequently uses. The Lyten and Carson affair has been a disgrace and lays bare the hypocrisy and double standards of this government in prophesising about the rule of law in industrial relations. In the coming months, we will hear this minister continue to vilify trade unions in the building industry, claiming they manufacture disputes and disregard the rule of law and the authority of the courts. Yet when presented with Federal Court findings of such misconduct, the government has paid the bill. (Time expired)