Senator FIFIELD (Victoria) (3.10 p.m.)-I also want to take note of answers to questions to Senator Evans in relation to the Transport Workers Union and disclosure issues. When Prime Minister Rudd and his team were campaigning for office, they loudly declared that Labor would set and meet new and higher standards of probity and integrity. Mr Rudd declared a new ministerial code of conduct and a lobbyist register would be established by the first sitting day of this year. It did not happen.
Senator Faulkner promised new arrangements for transparency in appointments to government. This process has failed its first test. The test came in the form of a cabinet submission to appoint Tony Sheldon, New South Wales state secretary of the Transport Workers Union, to the National Transport Commission. This is troubling on two counts. Firstly, it is a sign that the government is returning to the old habit of giving the unions a seat at every table-in this case the National Transport Commission. It is pretty funny that the government wanted to appoint a representative of the Transport Workers Union to the NTC, because the NTC has, as its stated objective, to improve transport productivity, efficiency and safety. Imagine that: the head of the TWU having expertise in transport productivity and efficiencies! On the contrary, they are the enemy of transport productivity and efficiency.
It is also troubling because we see that Labor are going to be appointing their mates to every body. We have seen the reintroduction of the Australian Labour Advisory Council, and we should look very carefully at the Reserve Bank board. Once upon a time, we had Bill Kelty on the board of the Reserve Bank. We need to watch very carefully to see if Labor moves to put an ACTU representative back on that body.
Secondly, this is very concerning because Senator Faulkner’s board appointment vetting committee has failed, and is now seen for what it is: a fig leaf, a cover to pretend that Labor mates are appointed on the basis of merit rather than partisanship. Senator Conroy admitted as much today when he declared, in reference to Tony Sheldon, ‘He wouldn’t rat on a mate.’ That is what Tony Sheldon is-a Labor mate. That was the sole reason for consideration of him for appointment to the NTC board. Senator Faulkner made great play about the new integrity regime for senior government appointments, but there is a ‘get out of jail clause’ in this new appointments regime. Senator Faulkner listed all the bodies which would be subject to this appointment regime. It includes the National Transport Commission-the CEO, yes, but not the board members. So there is a ‘get out of jail’ card there for Labor mates who wish to be appointed to these bodies.
Over recent days we have seen emerge in the media further reasons why it would be inappropriate to have the head of the TWU appointed to the NTC. The media have made allegations in relation to the TWU that involve corruption, slush funds and extortion. Last year it emerged that the TWU required its members to pay a special fee that went into a fund for which there were no governance arrangements. That is worrying enough, but now it emerges in the media that there are new allegations that union funds from the slush fund were being used to bankroll the campaigns of Labor parliamentary candidates. This is very concerning. These funds have been appropriated from union members and channelled into parliamentary elections, with a failure to declare to the Electoral Commission.
We can have no confidence at all that the New South Wales branch of the ALP will take any steps to examine these matters. Why can we have no confidence that the New South Wales ALP will not examine its own house? The reason is that a Mr Tony Sheldon heads the party’s disciplinary body, the administrative and disputes committee. I do not think we can expect a fair and unbiased hearing in that body. The only solution is an independent judicial inquiry. We need to know what else the TWU have done. Who else have they donated to? Have they donated to federal candidates as well? The only way we can determine this is with an independent judicial inquiry. I hope Senator Faulkner will be a voice of reason on this issue in the government. He has great concern about electoral integrity and I hope that Senator Faulkner would be arguing for an independent commission.
In concluding, when looking at the Sheldon appointment, let us look at the values of the National Transport Commission. They state their values to be ‘integrity, excellence and discernment’. There is certainly excellence in establishing slush funds. Whether there is integrity and discernment only an independent judicial inquiry can determine.