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Tuesday, 10 November 2015
Page: 8218


Senator LEYONHJELM (New South Wales) (21:21): David Waters is among Australia's top sporting shooters. He does not shoot in Olympic or Commonwealth Games disciplines, but if he did I have no doubt he would be a medal contender. In the disciplines in which he competes he has won many competitions and medals, both domestically and internationally. David is also the first and still the only 'distinguished rifleman' outside the USA. Many have tried, and continue to try, but cannot achieve this tremendous and difficult award.

I have known David for over a decade. He is not a friend in the social sense, but we are in periodic contact. He is a fellow sporting shooter. I have never paid much attention to David's employment situation. I knew he had a job with Goodyear, which he said he enjoyed. I also knew he regularly visited the United States for shooting events, sometimes representing Australia, and while there would visit the corporate headquarters. Now, Goodyear Australia has fired him because he is a sporting shooter.

On the morning of 10 July 2015, while at work, David agreed to meet a member of a rifle club similar to his own. The visitor, Liz, a 59-year-old woman, is a keen shooter looking to excel in her sport. Liz had called to see if David would be at the range on Saturday as she needed advice on fitting an accessory for her new target rifle which she wanted to use the following weekend. David is often consulted by less experienced shooters who turn to him for advice. However, he was leaving for overseas in a couple of days to participate in a world championship—held every four years. David suggested that the only way Liz could see him was during his lunch break at work.

Liz agreed and drove into the basement carpark that Goodyear shares with several other businesses in the building. She pulled into an area that was mostly empty. Visitors have been allowed to park here for a long time. David was expecting her to turn up with the new fitting only. However, she had also brought the rifle to which it was to be fixed. Until she took it out of her car, David did not know she had the rifle with her. This is an expensive target rifle, highly prized by competitive target shooters. Liz is a responsible shooter and, therefore, the bolt and magazine had been removed and the rifle was obviously not loaded. At no point did the rifle present a risk to anyone; indeed, it was effectively an inert steel tube.

Unsure of his legal position, David nonetheless suggested to Liz that she return the rifle to the car and leave. However, within a couple of minutes the police showed up. The carpark entrance is open to the street. It is thought a passer-by must have noticed the rifle being removed from the car and called 000. Within a couple of minutes of the rifle being removed from the car boot and then returned to the boot, three police arrived. Over the next half hour or so a stream of police arrived, estimated to be 16 in total. They asked David and Liz to step back from the car, separated them and placed them under arrest. They searched Liz's car.

The police then demanded identification from David. When he explained he had none with him, three police insisted on accompanying him upstairs to his office to retrieve it. They returned to the car park. They then asked to search David's car, to which he agreed. However, with his car keys upstairs they again insisted on accompanying him while he retrieved them. David was not charged, for the obvious reason that he had committed no offence. Liz was not charged in relation to the rifle, for the same reason. She was charged over a technical breach regarding transport of ammunition, but I do not believe she will be convicted. Not surprisingly, some of David's work colleagues saw him being accompanied to his office by the police and drew their own conclusions. People do that.

David left on his overseas trip, shooting in a major international match in America. On his return—and still bleary with jetlag—he was instructed to attend a disciplinary hearing with an individual whose email described him as 'a Goodyear HR consultant'. In the interim, Goodyear suspended David without pay because he requested the meeting be postponed by a week to enable me to attend as his 'support person'. I attended the hearing with David. Those present were Trent Hudson, Goodyear's HR Consultant, and Anil Singh, Finance Director and David's immediate boss. Mr Hudson did most of the talking, adopting a condescending and patronising manner towards both of us—perhaps it is a Goodyear policy, or perhaps just Mr Hudson's idea of how a HR consultant should behave. I do not like being patronised by someone who is not only manifestly out of his depth but also would not know one end of a rifle from the other. His inability to explain, let alone justify, the assumptions behind his assertions was remarkable. Indeed, Mr Hudson's HR professionalism and competence would be considered sub-standard under any circumstances I can think of.

Needless to say, the 'hearing' was a farce. Logic and facts were irrelevant. From the first word spoken, it was apparent that natural justice was a foreign concept. The decision to dismiss David had clearly been made prior to the meeting. After an hour or so, David was summarily sacked—with no compensation, no notice or notice in lieu—on the grounds that his conduct had had 'significant reputational impact' on the company.

The letter that followed, confirming David's dismissal, sets out the injustice in detail. It said he had breached company policy by allowing firearms and ammunition on company property. Leaving aside whether a shared carpark is indeed company property, this assumes David was responsible for the rifle being on the property despite him having no prior knowledge that it would be in Liz's car. Mr Hudson agreed it was not Goodyear policy for the vehicles of visitors to the car park to be searched prior to admission but could not explain how David had erred in 'allowing' the firearm on to the premises.

The letter said David had breached Goodyear Australia's 'Standards and Conduct Manual' but did not specify what the breach was. It said he breached the 'Protect Our Good Name' conduct manual, again without specifying how. Fairly obviously, if there is any reputational damage in this case it stems entirely from the police overreaction and Goodyear's panic-stricken response. Nothing David did was detrimental to Goodyear's reputation. The letter said David had 'failed to ensure the safety and security of fellow associates, building tenants and Goodyear assets'. It did not explain how safety and security were jeopardised, how David was responsible for this by virtue of allowing someone into a shared car park or how he was supposed to take steps to ensure the safety of anyone while he was under arrest. It said he was responsible for conduct that resulted in a complaint and formal warning against Goodyear by the building owner. Assuming such complaint and warning were actually made—and a request for a copy of the complaint was refused—it is inconceivable the lease would include grounds for complaint under circumstances where neither David nor Goodyear were responsible for what occurred. Indeed, a subsequent email from the building owners indicates no such warning or penalty is known to them. The attitude of the managing agent is not known.

The letter said David was responsible for conduct that had resulted in a financial penalty against Goodyear by the building owner. This is almost certainly an outright lie. It is inconceivable that Goodyear would accept such a penalty without challenge. The letter said David had failed 'to ensure the protection and enhancement of Goodyear's image and reputation'. How this has supposedly occurred, and what David could have done to avoid this, is obviously not explained. It said David's behaviour was 'inconsistent with Goodyear values and standards, including the code of conduct'. Once again, there is no explanation of what he has done to justify this accusation. It said there was a 'breach of trust in the employment relationship'—again, without explanation. David has been employed by Goodyear for 12 years. In summary, it said: 'Your actions placed Goodyear in a position whereby it was in breach of its obligation to provide a safe and secure working environment for its associates.' As before, there is no explanation of precisely what David did or did not do to warrant this accusation. There was no threat to the safety of anyone, including Goodyear employees. The mere presence of a rifle does not constitute a threat—and, in any case, is trivial in the presence of at least 16 police, each of whom carries a firearm.

There are two major injustices here. First, the police overreacted in an alarming manner. This is a matter for separate complaint. If the police cannot distinguish between a genuine threat involving firearms and innocent people going about their lawful, legitimate business, they can expect to be publicly criticised. The second injustice is that David was first suspended without pay and then fired as a result of something over which he had no responsibility and which should never have attracted attention in the first place. We Australians are rightly proud of our Olympic Games, Commonwealth Games and world championship shooters and the medals they regularly bring home. Unfortunately, it seems the rest of the time they are, like Australia's shooting community more widely, treated as presumptive criminals. It has to stop.

David has taken action against Goodyear in the Fair Work Commission. Already, Goodyear has refused to negotiate in the conciliation phase. So it is now proceeding to arbitration. I will not comment further except to indicate that I am willing to be a witness in his support, if it helps. But, perhaps, more importantly, Goodyear will also be judged in the court of public opinion. Any Australian with a sense of justice would be appalled at what happened to David. Any Australian with an interest in serious sport would be aghast that one of our champions could lose his job for no reason other than blind prejudice. As news of this injustice will inevitably become widely known, Goodyear will learn that there are consequences for its treatment of David. Australia's sporting shooters will come to know about Goodyear and its treatment of David. I will see to it. Virtually all of Australia's 800,000 licensed firearm owners drive cars for which they require tyres. Virtually all of those licensed firearm owners have friends and relatives who also drive cars requiring tyres. Virtually any Australian who looks at what happened and says, 'That is manifestly unfair,' drives a car. If Goodyear's Australian business suffers a serious downturn in sales due to sporting shooters choosing another brand of tyres for their vehicles, perhaps it should be Trent Hudson, in particular, plus Mr Anil Singh and Asia Pacific President of Goodyear, Chris Delaney—each complicit in David's treatment—who face a disciplinary hearing.

The message is: do not buy Goodyear or their other brand, Dunlop. There are plenty of others to choose from. Instead of standing by their sporting shooter employees, Goodyear victimise them. They should not be rewarded.