IN the “City News” of August 8, I wrote about the failure to establish a needle-exchange program in the Alexander Maconochie Centre and of attempts by the Corrections Minister Shane Rattenbury to deflect responsibility for those failings on to others, including me.
I noted that in “The Canberra Times” of April 20 Rattenbury’s office was quoted as saying: “When the AMC opened, the minister responsible, Jon Stanhope, provided a veto power to the CPSU (and) subsequent ministers have been hamstrung since that time.”
I did no such thing. I agreed to consult the CPSU, the union that represents prison staff, on whether to introduce a needle program and then on how, but not whether, it would be implemented.
Following the minister’s allegations, I lodged an FOI request in which I sought all documents in the possession of the ACT government in relation to the matter. The documents released proved conclusively that I had never granted a “veto power” to the CPSU.
The most telling of the documents was a minute dated May 17, 2018, ie it was written after “The Canberra Times” report mentioned above, from Mr Robert Gotts, a highly regarded senior officer within the ACT government in which he said: “I was responsible for the negotiation of that enterprise agreement… my memory of this accords with Mr Stanhope’s. The clause was only to consult on the issue of a needle exchange, there was no right of veto.”
In light of the clear inconsistency between the FOI documents released to me and Minister Rattenbury’s statement “The Canberra Times” asked him to clarify his claim that I had granted a power of veto to the CPSU. He responded to the paper by saying: “Given the union took the issue to Fair Work Australia, and it had decided the relevant clause in the agreement did give such a power to the union, Mr Stanhope’s efforts to re-write history did not cut it. Mr Stanhope did not have a leg to stand on on the issue, given the FWA ruling, and the wording of the clause had hampered subsequent corrections ministers’.”
These comments surprised me. Firstly, that Rattenbury chose to completely ignore the fact that earlier this year Robert Gotts, the senior ACT public servant who had negotiated the agreement, confirmed that it did not contain a right of veto. Secondly, that none of the documents released by his department to me under the FOI ACT included any reference to the existence of a Fair Work Australia (FWA) decision on the matter let alone a copy of any decision, transcript or correspondence relating to any such decision.
I consequently lodged a further request under the FOI Act in which I explicitly sought from the ACT government a copy of the documents relied on by the minister in his statements to “The Canberra Times”. I also contacted FWA.
On September 24, the Justice and Community Safety Directorate responded to the FOI request. None of the documents released to me by the directorate pursuant to the request refer to the existence of a hearing before FWA or of a transcript of any such hearing, let alone a decision or ruling.
On September 27, I received a letter from FWA in which it advised that it was unable to locate any decision or ruling by it, or transcript of any hearing relating to an enterprise agreement relevant to the operation of a needle program in the AMC.
A document was released by Justice and Community Safety which noted that a conference before FWA was listed for August 24, 2012, over a year after I retired as chief minister, but that the issues proposed to be raised were resolved before the conference.
However, in the next day’s edition of “The Canberra Times” Chief Minister Katy Gallagher outlined the ACT government position on the enterprise agreement vis a vis that of the CPSU in the following terms: “They read it one way, I read it that we need to talk to them and reach agreement about implementation of a model. Not whether you actually have a model but how it’s implemented”.
On September 17, 2014, over three years after I retired, Ms Gallagher reiterated the opinion she had previously expressed on this issue in an interview on the ABC. She also said that the government had received legal advice that the clause under consideration could simply be removed from the agreement.
The government has not released correspondence to the CPSU generated after the proposed conference or identified the legal advice referred to by the Chief Minister, and I have lodged a request with the ombudsman for a review of those decisions.
I respectfully suggest to the Minister that, in light of the advice from Fair Work Australia and the outcome of the two FOI requests referenced above, in order to put this matter to rest he publicly release the decision of FWA which he claims granted the CPSU a veto over the establishment of a needle program in the AMC. We would all love to see it.
The Minister may, if indeed he is in possession of a decision by FWA on the matter, wish to provide a copy of it to FWA for its records and to also explain why his government apparently breached the FOI Act, on two separate occasions, by failing to provide it to me.