Thursday, 19 March 2009
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for Social Inclusion. I refer the Deputy Prime Minister to a recent Auditor-General’s report that discusses the previous government’s marketing of workplace relations reform. Are there elements of campaigns in the minister’s portfolio that are instructive for the portfolio’s operations in the future? Are there examples of purchasing practice within the portfolio that relate to government commitments to workplace relations reform?
I thank the member for Longman for his question. The substantial question that is now raised in this parliament as it deals with the Fair Work Bill is a question about the character of the Leader of the Opposition, what his word to the Australian people is worth. On the question of whether the word of the Leader of the Opposition is worth anything, the signs are not very good. We know from last December he gave his word to the Australian people, in a very instructive and discursive interview with Dennis Shanahan of the Australian, when he said:
Our principles are enduring, but we must frame our policies in the light of changing circumstances and, most importantly, in the light of the judgement of the people delivered at the election—which we heard loud and clear.
Those are the words of the Leader of the Opposition. I am going to concede to the House that he was trying to make a point. He went on to say:
So while I believe—as would most economists—
I do not agree with him on that but it is his quote—
that unfair dismissal laws add to the cost of employing people, nonetheless Labor took a proposal to change the unfair dismissal laws to the election and won.
So we must respect that.
Those are the words of the Leader of the Opposition. Are those words worth anything? On the question of whether the words of the Leader of the Opposition are worth anything, I would refer the House to an interview with Alan Jones today. It is very instructive. Mr Jones put to the Leader of the Opposition a proposition about Work Choices, and Mr Turnbull said in response, ‘The person who said Work Choices was dead was Brendan Nelson.’ That is very interesting, isn’t it? Because I have a transcript from the Leader of the Opposition as recent as 5 March in which he said:
Work Choices is dead. We accepted the verdict of the people at the last election.
At some point in all this opportunism, in all this twisting and turning, in all these statements to the Australian people, the Leader of the Opposition is going to run out of rope and he is going to have to declare his hand and make a decision—and that point is coming in the Senate later today. The Leader of the Opposition will be exposed as a man in the embrace of Work Choices if his senators vote against the Fair Work Bill, and he will be exposed as a man whose word is worth nothing. This is now a question of character for the Leader of the Opposition.
On the question of character and lack of honesty and the lack of principles of the Liberal Party in relation to Work Choices, I would refer members in the House to a recent report of the Auditor-General. It is very instructive. The Auditor-General’s recent audit report No. 24: The Administration of contracting arrangements in relation to government advertising November 2007 audited two separate Work Choices campaigns—one for more than $49 million in 2005 and one for more than $63 million in 2007. They worked their way through the probity arrangements in relation to these campaigns.
This audit report deals with the shadowy work of the Ministerial Committee on Government Communications in relation to the Work Choices advertising campaign. The report finds things that it says are deeply disturbing, including the following: contracts not signed prior to work commencing, budgets blown out by huge amounts without authorisation, poor documentation and sometimes no documentation.
Then this audit report reveals the Liberal Party all-stars being involved in this campaign—Liberal Party connections such as Dewey & Horton and Brandmark all receiving substantial contracts through deeply flawed processes. The report says:
As the contract with Dewey & Horton was not finalised until after the completion of all major elements of the campaign, the contract manager could not have been certain of the requirements of the sub-contracting regime that could be included in that contract.
All the work is done and then the contract is finalised—you know, a mates’ arrangement, Liberal Party all-stars: the values of the Liberal Party on display. The report goes on to state:
Where decisions were made by the Ministerial Committee on Government Communications to engage consultants, the successful consultants were advised immediately by the committee or, alternatively, by the Government Communications Unit shortly after. In reality this practice resulted in the creation of contractual arrangements between the department and the successful tenderer.
The report goes on to complain about ‘no documented assessment of proposals or short lists of tenderers’. It goes on to complain that:
A selection process was completed and a letter of engagement issued by the department within 10 hours of the portfolio’s minister’s office requesting the department—
Yes, it is about your track record, Joe, and it is a shadowy one. What we know from this Auditor-General’s report and what we know from the conduct of the Leader of the Opposition is that honesty and the Liberal Party do not belong in the same sentence, particularly when one is talking about workplace relations. We know that with taxpayers’ money, through this shadowy process, they paid for all this propaganda before the election. But, despite all of the mouse pads and all of the pens, they did not convince the Australian people of Work Choices. Today is the day to bury Work Choices. We are waiting for the decision of the Leader of the Opposition. We are waiting to see how his senators vote across the way. We are waiting to find out what his word is worth, whether this track record of dishonesty by the Liberal Party is going to continue in relation to Work Choices.