15/06/2007 - 20:00

Troublesome visitors in View from the Arch

15/06/2007 - 20:00


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Visitors have been causing trouble in State and Federal Parliaments this week, with door-knocking union bosses, high-rollers at Kirribilli House and lost couriers at WA's Parliament all gatecrashing debate, while Holly Deane-Johns remains uninvited.

Recognised Practice

The story that splashed onto the front page of last Friday's The West Australian made a series of ripples in the State Parliament this week, with most adverse reaction falling on the shoulders of Opposition Leader Paul Omodei.

The report, into the conduct of former Police Minister John D'Orazio in allegedly asking panelbeater Pasquale Minniti for his assistance when facing condemnation for driving without a licence, had been due to be tabled in Parliament that day - without a lot of fanfare.

The report was subsequently withdrawn from the queue for the table after Mr D'Orazio complained he had not had an opportunity to defend himself from the accusations contained in the report.

The CCC said at the time it had sent the embargoed section of the report relating to Mr D'Orazio by courier to Parliament House in April, but a check showed no parcels had arrived for him on that day, during a non-sitting week. He had only been given three pages relating to him on Thursday.

Also receiving a copy of the report on Thursday were Premier Alan Carpenter and Mr Omodei, which the CCC says is in accordance with recognised practice.

What may well be recognised practice for Oppositions around the country proved to be the undoing of Mr Omodei's chief-of-staff, John Kime, who was found to have leaked the information in an internal inquiry Mr Omodei said he conducted on Monday.

While the Government accepted Mr Omodei's statement in parliament that the disclosure had not involved any financial gain, it nonetheless gave him a good grilling over his handling of the issue.

Education Minister Mark McGowan said he found it "absolutely inconceivable" that Mr Kime would leak the information without the knowledge of Mr Omodei, while Treasurer Eric Ripper said he felt there had been an implicit understanding between the two men.

Parliamentary inspector of the CCC Malcolm McCusker will conduct an investigation into the leak, and the failure to deliver the draft report to Mr D'Orazio, with Mr Kime being stood aside while this takes place.

Mr Kime is also under investigation by the Department of Premier and Cabinet, which will bring an action against him under the Public Sector Management Act.

In related news, Federal Parliament passed legislation today to give journalists protection from being forced to reveal confidential sources - allowing judges the power to excuse them from disclosing confidential sources.

But the court must give greatest weight to considerations of national security.

While the government said the laws struck a good balance, Labor described them as a cynical attempt to avoid criticism from the impending sentences for two prominent journalists over an embarrassing government leak.

Herald Sun reporters Michael Harvey and Gerard McManus were convicted of contempt of court after they refused to reveal who leaked details about a Howard government plan to slash war veterans' entitlements.

Opposition justice spokesman Joe Ludwig said tonight the laws were aimed at placating major media groups who had launched a concerted campaign to reverse a steady erosion of press freedom under the Howard government.

"The second reason is to take the heat out of the Harvey-McManus case in time for the upcoming election," Senator Ludwig told parliament.

The laws passed tonight will not apply retrospectively, though the government has said they should indicate its wishes ahead of the Harvey-McManus sentencing.

Justice Minister David Johnston said the bill reconciled the need for journalists to protect their sources with the need for all evidence to be placed before a court in a hearing.

Office of Shared Services

Nobody appears to be lining up to protect the State Government's Office of Shared Services however, which Auditor General Colin Murphy this week said was two years late and significantly over budget.

The project, to combine back-office services across a range of government departments, was originally projected to cost $91 million, yet the government has allocated $198 million to 2008-09 and individual agencies are incurring further unspecified costs.

Mr Murphy found that, from the outset, the WA model for shared services was optimistic and the implementation plans ambitious for the size and complexity of such a project, which involved using untried software and a 'big bang' implementation approach.

Treasurer Eric Ripper acknowledged that the size of the project and the work needed to implement it were underestimated, but added that the Office of Shared Services was confident of implementing the shared finance, human resource and payroll services.

Mr Ripper said the $198 million cost of the project "will be money well spent when you look at the savings that will be realised in the long term".

"Similar projects in both the public and private sectors around the world have already shown that shared services deliver significant benefits in terms of cost and efficiency," Mr Ripper said.

Shadow Treasurer Troy Buswell said the report sheeted home responsibility to the state government.

"Alarmingly the Auditor General said that while $200 million was the amount he could track, the processes were so poor he had no idea how much was being spent within individual government agencies as part of the project," Mr Buswell said.

Meanwhile, back at the Ord

A deadline set by the owners of the Ord River irrigation area's sole sugar miller, CJ Ord Sugar, to shut down its loss-making mill today unless it can be sold, was ignored by the government.

In contrast, the state government had been waiting for the industry to progress the matter, which it says is a commercial issue.

"The Government had hoped that commercial negotiations would resolve these matters," state development minister Eric Ripper said.

"However, this appears to have not occurred, and the Government has commenced preliminary discussions about options for working with the stakeholders," he said.

Opposition North West spokesman Ken Baston said the government was waiting for a Commonwealth handout.

"The economic development of the East Kimberley is held up yet again by a Government that has procrastination as its middle name," he said.

"Business leaders must be shaking their heads in disbelief at this latest announcement and thinking that the only kind of vision in this government is short-sighted."

Payroll tax remains

And in another move which members of the business community have spoken out against, Mr Ripper told the ABC he would not cut payroll tax in Western Australia, saying tax cuts for business were not a priority.

"Ordinary people of course don't pay payroll tax, payroll tax is paid by business," he said.

"So there might be ordinary Western Australians who would rather us cut some other taxes rather than payroll tax, but we look at these things every budget.

"We try and get the right mix between tax relief, improvements to services, new infrastructure."

Wellington Dam

Among those projects could be the development of a management plan for the water sources at the Collie-Wellington Basin, after a State Government-commissioned report found the site was a realistic water source for the future.

The report found that the Wellington Dam had potential for water supply, but more work needed to be done on reducing salinity and the likely impact on irrigators.

"The size of the resource coupled with the general decline in the availability of potable water still means that the recovery of the dam and the direction of its water to higher value forms of use deserves a very high priority," the report said.

Water Resources Minister John Kobelke said the report vindicated the Government's decision to build a second desalination plant in Binningup.

But Opposition Spokesman for water resources John Day said the Government had failed to take the option seriously, accusing it of playing politics with the issue.

Look who's coming to dinner

Something that the Federal Labor Party has taken very seriously was a decision by the Prime Minister to host four cocktail parties, held as part of Liberal Party federal council meetings in 1999, 2002, 2005 and 2007, at Kirribilli house, his official Sydney residence and the place he has chosen to make his home for the past 10 years.

Opposition accountability spokesman Penny Wong said Mr Howard was acting as if he owned the property.

"This really is yet another demonstration that John Howard has been in power too long," she said.

"John Howard states this is not a Liberal Party fund-raiser [but] it just happened to be for business people who donated money to the Liberal Party, and in return, amongst other things, they then got drinks at Kirribilli with the Prime Minister."

Business observers attending this year's party had paid $8,250 to attend this month's federal council meeting, Mr Howard said, but that did not mean the cocktail party was a fundraiser.

The Liberal Party has repaid $5,499.14 for the Kirribilli House function, and sums of $6,377.51, $9,926.68, and $17,311.01 for receptions at The Lodge in 1999, 2002 and 2005 respectively.

Mr Howard and the Liberal Party had been investigated by the Australian Electoral Commissioner over whether the rent-free use of the official residence constituted a gift in kind to the Liberal Party.

"Legal advice provided to the AEC indicated that on the facts available, the provision of Kirribilli House as a venue for a function is neither a disposition of property nor the provision of a service, and consequently, is not a gift required to be disclosed under the act," an AEC statement said.

However, eminent Sydney Barrister Bret Walker told the ALP today that not charging the Liberal Party hire fees for using the home was a gift of at least $20,000, saying Mr Howard had provided the group with a licence to attend his house.

"While these licences were granted to those individuals paying to attend the function, they were also granted to those persons associated with the Liberal Party other than the prime minister who were involved in hosting the paying guests," Mr Walker said.

"Thus the gift constituted by the gratuitous licences granted by the prime minister was received by the Liberal Party both directly, through the licences granted to its functionaries, and indirectly, because it was not required to pay for the hire of another venue."

Labor has used Mr Walker's opinion to demand the AEC reopen the investigation.

ACTU's election strategy

If the AEC complies it will be the second currently underway, as the commission looks into the use of a voter database by the Australian Council of Trade Unions.

Special Minister of State Gary Nairn raised concerns yesterday that the use of personal information given by voters to the AEC and then passed on to database provider Magenta Linas - used by the ACTU - could be in breach of the electoral act.

The investigation follows two days of attacks by the government over the ACTU's "dirty tricks handbook" telling members how to recruit campaign volunteers and how to shift swinging unionists in marginal seats towards Labor.

This included taking the Your Rights at Work campaign to churches and sporting groups, as well as spreading union propaganda to friends and neighbours at a barbeque.

Among the guidelines for activists were the explicit omission of information about the legislation's guarantee of a legislated minimum wage, sick leave, annual leave, 12 months' unpaid parental leave and an average 38-hour week.

Also, no mentions of the new "fairness test" that reinstates penalty rates, overtime, public holiday pay, allowances and the like for people earning less than $75,000 (or pay full compensation if these conditions are traded away).

But ACTU secretary-elect Jeff Lawrence, who will replace incumbent Greg Combet when he runs for Parliament later this year, dismissed claims the union campaign may breach electoral laws.

"I think it's a stunt. What we're doing in relation to our campaign is talk to our members, that's something that we've always done," he said.

"What this campaign is about is talking to our members on the phone and in their workplaces. We've been doing that for years."

Meanwhile, other media reports revealed a plan by employer group, the Australian Constructors Association, had developed a draft strategy which suggested a tactic of coercion against Labor leader Kevin Rudd and deputy leader Julia Gillard.

However, the ACA's umbrella body, the Australian Industry Group, said the reported tactic was just a draft strategy which was rejected by the ACA board.

According to ABC online, however, the Master Builders Association of Western Australia felt the idea had merit, with reports that the organisation would approach members to help fund advertisements promoting Government's legislation.

MBA director Michael McLean said builders were concerned about the ACTU campaigns.

"The strategy underlying the Master Builders campaign will be to raise awareness amongst the public that the federal IR reforms have benefited them significantly through an improved industrial relations culture being created for the first time in probably 40 years in the building industry," he said.

"Being an apolitical organisation, we won't be contacting our members and recommending how they vote (unlike the ACTU campaign), but we will be taking the opportunity to promote some of the positive aspects of the federal government's IR reforms, which have increased productivity, lowered industrial disputes and increased remuneration levels in our industry."

BHP and AWAs

But several staff at BHP Billiton's Mt Whaleback mine may not appreciate the effort, having signed a petition alleging a serious accident could occur because of dangerous practices, which some say is aided by the introduction of Australian Workplace Agreements.

Some workers told ABC TV that AWAs had allowed management to intimidate employees who report safety lapses.

Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey said that safety on worksites was a matter for state governments through occupational health and safety bodies, and asked the Western Australian government to deal with the matter.

"The state and territory governments have responsibility for OHS regulation within their respective jurisdictions and their OHS laws impose duties on employers," Mr Hockey said in a letter to the state government.

"These obligations apply to all employees whether they are covered by Australian Workplace Agreements, collective agreements or common law contracts."

But Mr Combet said earlier it was clear AWAs were the cause of the safety worries.

"The trouble with the AWAs is that it leaves people one out on their own up against an international mining company and when it comes to a safety issue people one out on their own can't deal with it, feel intimidated," he said.

"It underlines the importance of people being able to join together to collectively bargain because that's the only way you can have a say about something as important as safety.

"And it also underlines the importance of the freedom for people to be represented by a union, if that's what they want."

Holly Deane-Johns

The push to re-patriate Western Australian heroin trafficker Holly Deane-Johns from her Thai prison re-ignited this week, with Federal Justice Minister and WA Senator David Johnston accusing WA corrective services minister Margaret Quirk of making an arbitrary decision in the case.

While Ms Deane-Johns' transfer has won the approval of both the Thai and Australian governments, Ms Quirk has refused to allow her into a WA prison.

"The... minister has so far pointedly refused to accept Deane-Johns under the international prisoner transfer scheme, and has failed to satisfactorily justify her stance on this matter," he said.

But Ms Quirk hit back, saying her initial reasons for refusing the transfer still applied.

"This was not a decision taken lightly and I have certainly not blocked this transfer for no apparent reason," Ms Quirk said.

"One of the reasons I blocked her transfer is that Ms Deane-Johns has offended before. She has already been jailed in WA for heroin offences and she went to Thailand and committed another offence, knowing what sort of penalties that country has.

Accusing the Senator of being "a bit cute about the circumstances of Ms Deane-Johns' possible conditions of return and parole," the Minister said she would be happy to meet with him to discuss the case.

"I consider it may be a more constructive approach than debating the issue in the media," she said.

The Final Word

In a week where hapless Australian Democrats leader Lyn Allison called a press conference to tell media she had traded in her government-funded Toyota Prius hybrid car for a government-funded Vectrix electric scooter to save on emissions, only to discover she couldn't drive it because she doesn't have a motorcycle licence, the final word goes to a variety of South Australian politicians, with discussions over the naming of the state's new hospital.

The building, scheduled to replace the Royal Adelaide Hospital, is to be named after the State's Governor, and former Olympic athlete Marjorie Jackson-Nelson.

South Australian Premier Mike Rann said the naming of the hospital was in recognition of her fundraising efforts for medical research.

The governor established the Peter Nelson Leukaemia Research Fund after her husband died of the disease 30 years ago.

But Opposition health spokeswoman Vicki Chapman said the government was pandering to populism with the name change.

"I acknowledge that her husband had died of cancer, and she has supported research in this area," she told ABC Radio.

"But you know, my husband died of cancer, and I didn't expect the Government to ring me and say, "We'll name this the Vicki Chapman Memorial Hospital".

"It's something that many people in the community have to sustain."

Health Minister John Hill has demanded Ms Chapman apologise to Mrs Jackson-Nelson and to all South Australians.

"She should apologise, it is typical of her inept way of making political points," he said.

"To talk about personal matters like that and to compare herself with the governor, well the governor should be above politics."

"She has spent 30 years working as a volunteer and raising funds, she is absolutely beyond reproach and to attack her in such a bleak way to say she is just like someone else I just think it is crude," he said.

But Opposition Leader Martin Hamilton-Smith said the State Government was trying to score cheap "political points" by attacking Ms Chapman over her comments after Treasurer Kevin Foley also raised concerns.

"It saddens me that he has raised it," he said.

"I just think it is sad that the Treasurer in his obsession to attack Vickie seeks to make cheap political points out of two tragic events in the lives of two prominent South Australian women who have both lost their husbands to cancer."

The Governor herself has remained silent on the matter.

Arch reckons that's not a bad idea.



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