While it hasn’t garnered a lot of attention outside of Canberra, this weekend is the ACT Election and the choice couldn’t be clearer: continue with the Labor/union/Green cartel or return to good and transparent government.
In the first days after the election of the Federal Coalition government in 2013, then employment minister Eric Abetz asked the Department of Employment for a summary of the taxpayer-funded grants that had been provided to union bosses across the portfolio. It didn’t come as a shock that the former minister, Bill Shorten, had signed off on millions of dollars in funding to union bosses – with, in fairness, funding also flowing to some employer groups – for what was in many cases for these organisations to perform their core business.
Thankfully, within the government, especially at a time of huge debt and defect, there was little appetite to continue funding these grants. The government sought to unpick these various pots of money that had been scheduled and contracted. While we managed to terminate a number of these contracts, $20 million had already been shovelled out the door – including $10 million to the ACTU – in for a “productivity and education” fund which, despite the money being paid up front, was scheduled to run for 5 years.
Worse still, despite these organisations including the unions’ claims that they could not afford to pay for staff to sit on Safe Work Australia or to prosecute cases through the Modern Awards Review themselves, they could still find millions of dollars of members’ money to bankroll the Labor Party.
I thought this experience was fairly diabolical – giving taxpayers’ money to major political donors to your own party is surely something that should be off-limits, if not by law then certainly by common decency (which you’d hope a minister of the crown would have). Sadly it wasn’t the case.
This experience, however, appears to be minor by comparison to what the ACT Labor government has been up to. Despite the severe criminal allegations, the ACT Labor Party has continued to take significant donations, according to Elections ACT since 1 July this year alone, accepting more than $38,000 as a gift of money from the CFMEU.
And it’s easy to see why the CFMEU would back Labor so strongly. It has been revealed that the ACT government paid $3.9 million to the CFMEU-owned Tradies Club for the block of land which houses the CFMEU. Following this cosy deal, the CFMEU has continued in this building rent free for more than two years. This comes off the back of other significant planning scandals which even the Labor-appointed ACT Auditor General has found to have “lacked transparency, accountability and rigour, and their integrity and probity could not be demonstrated”.
The CFMEU’s dodgy land and rent deal also follows the revelation last year that the ACT government signed a memorandum of understanding with UnionsACT in 2015 that in effect provides a union-veto over government contracts. The MOU specifically requires the ACT Government to provide a list of tenderers for each contract to be provided and allows the unions to tell the government whether applicants meet their criteria or not. Anyone who has ever done work in or with a government department knows that this kind of a veto power fails even the most rudimentary probity requirements.
Another sweetheart deal by virtue of the ACT taxpayer is the $121,000 annually given to Unions ACT for a Work Health and Safety Officer – leaving aside that workplace safety should fall within the core business of a union, the ACT has the highest, by far, level of workplace inspectors according to the statistics released by Safe Work Australia, with 2.0 inspectors per 10,000 employees, double the national average.
To put this in perspective, the Heydon Royal referred several officials from the ACT branch of the CFMEU to the authorities for investigation in its final report including referring John Lomax, Jason O’Mara and Anthony Vitler to the Fair Work Building Industry Inspectorate over allegations they coerced or induced memberships in contravention of the Fair Work Act and now UnionsACT Secretary Dean Hall for breaches of the Work Health and Safety Act.
This smacks of the worst kind of dirty dealing and if anywhere else in the country would have the media and others baying for resignations and the downfall of a government. This goes well beyond just inappropriate behaviour, it absolutely stinks.
Canberrans deserve better and should be able to have the peace of mind that their taxpayer dollars’ are being used for proper effect, not to assist in propping up criminal organisations like the ACT branch of the CFMEU.
The only way to ensure that this Canberra cartel is broken up and the corruption stamped out is a change of government. This weekend, Canberrans will have the opportunity to restore integrity and good governance to the ACT and only Jeremy Hanson and Alistair Coe have the wherewithal to stop this racket.
Josh Manuatu is the Development Director of the Federal Young Liberals and is a staffer to Eric Abetz. He is on Twitter at @JoshManuatu
Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.