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Shorten appalled by ‘disturbing’ HSU report

Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten has labelled a damning Fair Work Australia report into the Health Services Union as “disturbing”, and promised to rectify any deficiencies in the law.

The FWA report on the HSU was published on Monday after the industrial watchdog recommended civil court action against four people connected to the union.

Released under parliamentary privilege, the report itemises 181 contraventions of HSU rules.

It alleges suspended Labor MP Craig Thomson spent almost $6,000 of union members’ funds on escort services, nearly $200,000 employing staff to work on his campaign to become a federal MP, and $71,000 directly on the campaign.

The report’s investigator said he considered Mr Thomson provided false or misleading information. Fair Work plans to take civil action against Mr Thomson in the Federal Court.

The bulk of the report focuses on Mr Thomson, but it also outlines a breach of union rules by suspended HSU general secretary Michael Williamson and national secretary Kathy Jackson.

Mr Thomson maintains his innocence. He says the allegations are not supported by evidence, and part of the reason FWA got it wrong after so long is that it did not interview at least six key witnesses.

“This whole Fair Work investigation has been a joke from start to finish,” Mr Thomson said yesterday.

“I will defend my position in relation to these issues. At the end of the day I’m quite confident that we’ll be able to show that these allegations are totally without foundation.”

Just over a week ago, Prime Minister Julia Gillard moved to limit the damage by cutting Mr Thomson adrift, but many in Ms Gillard’s own party saw that as too little, too late.

One Labor MP has declared the Thomson saga is “just added another nail in the Prime Minister’s coffin”.

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Swan sets test with budget surplus pledge

The Federal Government has set itself a political test by promising to turn a deficit of about $37 billion this year into a surplus in tonight’s federal budget.

Treasurer Wayne Swan is expected to announce a slender surplus of $1.5 billion that he says will leave scope for more interest rate cuts.

He is pitching his fifth budget as the “fair go budget” aimed at families and low-income earners, with funding to establish a national disability scheme and aged care changes.

Big cuts will be made to Government spending, including cutting $5 billion from Defence, as well as paring back some money from high-income earners while protecting low and middle incomes.

On Sunday, the Government also announced a number of cash sweeteners, including a pre-budget commitment of $500 million for dental care, assistance for small business and payments for parents with children at school.

But analysts are predicting there will be real budget pain when the Government reveals its first surplus.

“The Government essentially has to save $10 billion over two years. Now, no government has done that since the very tough first budget of the Howard government back in 1996,” Deloitte Access Economics’ Chris Richardson said.

The ACTU has warned Mr Swan not to cut public service jobs and services too hard to achieve his surplus goal, while welfare groups and some in Labor’s left say changes to single parent pensions will cause poverty.

Labor wants to save hundreds of millions of dollars by cutting back on parenting payments and pushing single unemployed parents onto the Newstart Allowance once their children turn eight.

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• SENATOR THE HON RICHARD COLBECK

Senator for Tasmania

Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Fisheries and Forestry
Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Innovation, Industry and Science



M E D I A R E L E A S E

7 May 2012

Gillard’s empty “food superpower” rhetoric

The Prime Minister has spruiked Australia’s potential to be a food superpower but in the very same week her Government ignored the chance to meet with an industry that is primed to help meet this aim.

The Australasian Aquaculture conference was held in Melbourne over three days last week and the absence of Fisheries Minister Joe Ludwig – or any Federal Government representative – was duly noted.

“Labor talk till the cows come home about food security and Australia’s potential as a regional supplier but repeatedly we catch them out spruiking empty rhetoric. Our food producing sectors have had enough,” Coalition Fisheries Spokesman Richard Colbeck said.

“The national aquaculture event was an opportunity for Minister Ludwig to start turning Labor’s whimsical aspirations into genuine policy.

“Minister Ludwig’s failure to attend this event makes a mockery of his, and now Ms Gillard’s, claims of attention to food security matters.

“Australia’s aquaculture industry has been steadily increasing in value and production over two decades and its future is tremendously exciting in terms of potential contributions to both domestic and export seafood trade.

“At the moment Australia imports about 60 per cent of its seafood and, by current consumption rates and nutritional recommendations, we face a shortfall of 850,000 tonnes by 2020. Aquaculture can make a significant contribution to turning around the predicted deficit.

“Seafood currently supplies 25 per cent of the world’s protein. As lock-ups of Australia’s marine resources loom, it is notable that to replace this with terrestrially-grown protein sources would require the globe’s rainforests to be felled 22 times over.

“The conference also discussed important issues including the future of aquaculture in Australia over the next decade, certification systems and government regulation.

“Unlike Minister Ludwig, the Federal Coalition recognises the important contribution aquaculture makes and we recognise its valuable potential.

“Unlike Federal Labor – who didn’t even take a fisheries policy to the last election – in our 2010 Election policy the Coalition made a significant commitment to aquaculture by pledging to establish an industry development fund and to ensuring greater departmental support.

“The Coalition will continue to work closely with the aquaculture industry as we prepare policies for the next Federal Election and I found last week’s national conference an excellent opportunity to hear first-hand how the industry views its future,” Senator Colbeck said.