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Wednesday, 22 June 1994
Page: 1890

Senator ABETZ (3.49 p.m.) —The issue of public funding to the ACTU under the guise of the Trade Union Training Authority is clearly a matter of public importance and an issue that the opposition believes should be drawn to the attention of all Australians. In recent times my friend and colleague Senator Crane and I have exposed an incestuous cesspit of political corruption and intrigue. The Trade Union Trading Authority, TUTA, has become the plaything of the ACTU and the laundry through which millions of taxpayers' dollars are washed to the ACTU and ultimately on to the ALP.

  In this debate we need to keep in mind that the biggest donor to the Australian Labor Party is the ACTU. Therefore, if taxpayers' funds can be diverted to the ACTU to run and fund the ACTU, the ACTU will clearly have more of its own funds freed up to fund the ALP.

Senator Schacht —Where are the accounts that show donations from the ACTU?

Senator ABETZ —It is amazing; members of the Labor Party are already interjecting because we have hit them where it hurts. The Trade Union Training Authority has a web of absolute intrigue and corruption right around it. Ostensibly, the Trade Union Training Authority is an independent statutory authority devoted to training trade unionists. In recent Senate estimates committee hearings a tale of intrigue has been revealed despite the best attempts of the ALP-ACTU-TUTA triangle to obfuscate the issues.

  I will deal with some of the specific examples that have come to light. Firstly, the executive officer of TUTA, Ms Wood, without the knowledge or concurrence of her executive council and without any consultation with her information services manager, made an unilateral decision to transfer the information service from the Clyde Cameron College in Albury-Wodonga to ACTU headquarters. The deal provided that two-thirds of the assets were provided by the statutory authority—by the taxpayers—and one-third of the assets were contributed by the ACTU, yet the agreement that was struck made the two parties equal partners, tenants in common in equal shares.

  It is an absolute disgrace. There is no ground on any sound business footing to justify that sort of arrangement. Any prudent business person would say, `I have contributed two-thirds of the assets. I should therefore have a controlling say in the running of the operation.' Of course, it did not really matter because the Trade Union Training Authority is only the plaything of the ACTU and its board is dominated by the ACTU.

  The interesting thing about the agreement that I refer to is that it was signed on 12 March 1993, the day before the last federal election. Why the indecent haste? Why did Ms Wood not tell her information manager about this deal, that her empire was going to be moved into ACTU headquarters? Why did she tell the staff 14 days before the election that it was a fait accompli? The reason is that Ms Wood wanted to frustrate the Liberal policy, which had been clearly enunciated, to sell TUTA. Of course, if TUTA's assets were intertwined with those of the ACTU, it would make it so much more difficult to sell.

  Indeed, a few months before that in October 1992 Ms Wood allowed the Trade Union Training Authority to enter into a lease arrangement with the ACTU, moving its headquarters into ACTU headquarters. This lease was for six years at $300,000 per annum. If the Liberals had won and had sold off TUTA it would have had to fork out $1.8 million to the ACTU because of this ongoing lease arrangement that had been deliberately stitched together to frustrate any future Liberal government—$1.8 million of taxpayers' funds deliberately going into the ACTU.

  It is interesting that with the restructuring of the Trade Union Training Authority we have a situation where it has closed all but twp state offices in Australia. Can honourable senators guess where those two offices are housed? They are housed in the ACTU headquarters and in the Miscellaneous Workers Union building in Sydney. So landlords of TUTA that happen to be trade unions have had their leases guaranteed—no problems—but private landlords have had their leases extinguished because the authority is now funding only the trade union offices.

  The removal of the information service from Clyde Cameron College to the ACTU was in the guise of a joint venture agreement between TUTA and Brittvale, a wholly owned ACTU company. It is interesting what a company search will reveal. Ms Jennie George, an executive member and director secretary of this company Brittvale, is also the executive chairperson of the Trade Union Training Authority. She gets paid by the ACTU while having her income subsidised by the taxpayers of Australia through the money she gets paid by TUTA, of which she is the executive chairperson. In anybody's language, Ms George has a conflict of interest. A clearer, more unambiguous conflict of interest is hard to imagine. Yet Ms George never declared this conflict. The opposition had to chase the paper trail and find its way through the maze of intrigue to expose this gross conflict.

  Ms Wood's response when that situation was put to her yesterday in the Senate estimates committee was: `We don't make inquiries into the organisations with which we have contracts.' The authority does not bother making inquiries! If it is the ACTU it is okay. It says, `We do not have to bother with that; that is okay because we are really the plaything of the ACTU.' No due diligence was undertaken by the Trade Union Training Authority; there was no checking up in any shape or form.

  Under section 22 of the Trade Union Training Authority Act there was a clear and unambiguous obligation on Ms George to declare that interest. She failed to do so. It was never recorded in the minutes and the Minister for Defence, Senator Robert Ray, kindly agreed to get legal advice on whether Ms George should stand aside. In the meantime Ms George should stand aside to ensure that there is no further allegation of conflict of interest. It was a matter serious enough for the minister to acknowledge.

Senator Carr —That is just nonsense.

Senator ABETZ —It is not nonsense. Those opposite went very quiet when I got to specific examples and showed the absolute corruption and conflict of interest, but we have just had this little squeak from Senator Carr. He knows full well that his state colleague Senator Robert Ray agreed that it should be investigated and that there was sufficient prima facie evidence there to consider it.

  I move on to another point. The manager, Ms Jenny Luck, resigned to contest the election as the Labor candidate for Indi. The Liberal opposition then discovered this scandal of the transfer of the taxpayer funded information service from the Clyde Cameron College to ACTU headquarters. What did Ms Luck tell the Border Mail, the local paper? She is reported as saying:

. . . the move was part of a rationalisation that meant the books, reports and files would be placed in the Trade Union Training Authority head office in Melbourne.

That was untrue. It was moved into ACTU headquarters under a completely separate lease from that of the Trade Union Training Authority. She further said:

  The move had been approved by the authority council, which included representatives of the ACTU, Department of Industrial Relations and employers.

Once again that was untrue. The authority council approved it in retrospect on 23 March, some three weeks later. When I asked Ms Wood whether she had disciplined Ms Luck for providing that misinformation or seeking to correct that misinformation, the answer was no. (Time expired)

  The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Colston)—Before I call the next speaker, I mention that informal arrangements have been made to vary speaking times in the following manner: Senator Chris Evans, 10 minutes; Senator Crane, eight minutes; Senator Carr, 10 minutes; Senator Short, seven minutes; Senator Burns, five minutes; and Senator Margetts, five minutes. With the concurrence of the Senate, the clocks will be set accordingly.