26 Oct 2017

Michaelia Cash and her department have refused to answer serious questions on why she approved the spending of hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to defend the disgraced former boss of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), Nigel Hadgkiss.

Under questioning from Senator Cameron in Estimates today, Ms Cash admitted that she personally approved the payment of Mr Hadgkiss’ legal defence for unlawful behaviour that Justice Collier of the Federal Court described in her judgment as  at “the higher end of the scale of seriousness so far as concerns breach of s 503(1) of the Fair Work Act.” 
 Paragraph 74, Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union v Director of the Fair Work Building Industry Inspectorate [2017] FCA 1166

The Commonwealth’s own disgraced workplace regulator admitted to acting unlawfully breaching the Fair Work Act – the very legislation he was supposed to police.

The Commonwealth’s Legal Services Directions 2017 state that expenditure should “normally be approved to assist an employee who is a defendant in a civil or criminal proceeding if… the employee acted reasonably and responsibly.”  The Legal Services Directions 2017 also state that “If it is not clear whether the employee has acted reasonably and responsibly, it may be appropriate to defer a decision on assistance until the conclusion of the proceedings…”.

It is clear that Nigel Hadgkiss’ actions were neither reasonable, nor responsible. Any consideration of the matters that were before the Court should have caused the Minister to have serious concerns. Yet, as she repeatedly told Estimates today, she simply took Mr Hadgkiss’s word. This is a serious failure by the Minister, which has caused the taxpayer to be hundreds of thousands of dollars out of pocket.

It defies belief that Michaela Cash could ever consider Nigel Hadgkiss’ behaviour to be reasonable or responsible. There was no ambiguity in the status of the law that Nigel Hadkiss chose to misrepresent – yet, he directed his staff to misrepresent the law on rights of entry, breaching the very legislation he was supposed to police . 

Once Mr Hadgkiss finally admitted his wrongdoing, Ms Cash was so embarrassed by his behaviour that she demanded that the Australian Public Sector Commission procure his resignation.  This action alone demonstrates that the Minister should have deferred a decision on spending taxpayer money to defend Mr Hadgkiss until the conclusion of the proceedings.

Taxpayers have been asked to foot the bill for a high priced legal team defending the indefensible. Ms Cash says she relied on advice provided to her by her department in signing off on those costs – but she has so far refused to provide that advice. This is an extremely serious matter and Michaelia Cash should come clean with Australians to justify why they have paid lawyers on behalf of the disgraced former Commissioner.

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