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Thursday, 17 September 2015
Page: 7167

Fair Work Commission


Senator CONROY ( Victoria Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate ) ( 14:46 ): My question is to the Minister for Employment, Senator Abetz. I refer the minister to revelations that Fair Work Commission Vice-President Michael Lawler took nine months of fully paid sick leave from his $435,000-a-year job at Fair Work in just one year. This is despite Mr Lawler admitting to the trade union royal commission staff that he had been constantly working on legal issues for his partner, the disgraced union official, Kathy Jackson, during this period. Given Mr Lawler's own admission that he had been conducting complex legal work while claiming to be too sick to work, will the government investigate this apparent rorting of taxpayers' money?


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:47): As the honourable senator should well know, the terms and conditions of Vice-President Lawler's appointment were determined by Labor's Fair Work Act. There are matters that need to be looked at exceptionally carefully. As I said to the honourable senator earlier this week—

Senator Conroy: Looks like you'll be on the front page of The Australian twice tomorrow.

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Conroy, you have asked your question.

Senator ABETZ: in response to a similar question, these matters need to be dealt with in a methodical manner, in a purposeful manner and in a manner that ensures natural justice.

In relation to people taking sick leave from the Fair Work Commission, it should not surprise the honourable senator that that is not something that comes across my desk, but goes across the desk of the person in charge of the Fair Work Commission. If Senator Conroy is asserting that false medical certificates have been provided, let him assert that, especially outside of this place, and see what occurs. But, from my perspective, it is vitally important that we take these matters in a step-by-step manner to ensure that natural justice does occur.

Senator Conroy interjecting

Senator ABETZ: The bellicose shouting of the honourable senator clearly indicates that he has no interest in a proper course of action being undertaken but rather wants a vindictive outcome because Mr Lawler's partner, Ms Jackson, has exposed rorts within the trade union movement that have shattered Senator Conroy's personal empire in the trade union movement.






Senator CONROY ( Victoria Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate ) ( 14:49 ): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I refer the minister to an article by Pamela Williams in The Australian on 22 August that outlined a paper trail showing how Mr Lawler had benefited from the proceeds of crime by taking ownership of a house that Kathy Jackson financed with stolen union money. Will the government take the necessary steps to protect the integrity of the Fair Work Commission and remove Mr Lawler from his position?


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:50): It stands to reason that, if there are stolen monies involved, as asserted, these matters should be dealt with by the police and—

Senator Conroy: They have been. She declared bankruptcy to avoid paying it back.

The PRESIDENT: Order, on my left! You have asked your question, Senator Conroy.

Senator ABETZ: The matter should be dealt with by the police and then the rule of law ought to apply through the court system. We should not be seeking to use the Senate as some sort of other court of law. What needs to happen in these cases for the rule of law—

Senator Conroy: You should sack him!

Senator ABETZ: and the proper process of law to apply is to not follow that sort of bellicose interjection asserting that someone should be sacked before all the proper steps are taken.

Senator Conroy: He is living off stolen money.

Senator ABETZ: Talk about stolen moneys and living off them—Michael Williamson, Craig Thomson. And where were you, Senator Conroy? Nowhere to be seen.









Senator CONROY (VictoriaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:51): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Mr Lawler has performed complex legal work while taking a nine-month sickie, has acted as a legal advocate for his corrupt partner in the Federal Court, has been embroiled in a scandalous attempt to control an old man's finances, has had multiple complaints lodged regarding his professional conduct and has taken ownership of a house financed with stolen money. Does this government continue to support and protect Mr Lawler, or will it now act to end this chaotic saga?

Senator Cormann interjecting

Senator Conroy interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Senator Cormann. Senator Conroy; you have asked your question.



Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:52): I would trust that if there is one thing people might be agreed upon in this place it is that I would in no way, shape or form seek to protect any form of corruption. Other than Senators Conroy and Carr, who are motivated by things other than due process and the rule of law, these things need to be dealt with in a manner that is appropriate. I simply remind the honourable senator that it took over six years to bring Mr Craig Thomson to justice. So, if we are talking about dealing with things in a timely fashion, I would invite the Australian Labor Party to see how long it took them to deal with Craig Thomson, how long it took them to deal with Michael Williamson and how long it took to flush out the $75,000 that Mr Shorten never declared. (Time expired)