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Issue #1640      May 28, 2014

Govt secrecy prevails

The Victorian Branch of the Maritime Union of Australia has taken Patrick Stevedores to the Federal Court seeking justice for 260 Webb Dock wharfies who are facing redundancy and casualisation, while the company pockets a secret payment from the state government worth at least $18.5 million.

The payment is notionally to compensate the company while Webb Dock is redeveloped, a luxury that the company is unwilling to extend to its own workforce.

The court action around job security for the affected workers comes as the Victorian government continues to refuse to answer questions or disclose information about the secret payment.

Earlier a staffer to the Victorian Ports Minister claimed there are no documents detailing the multi-million dollar agreement. The only known documentation was released when Patrick’s parent company, Asciano, confirmed an $18.5 million payment in its obligatory financial reporting to the Australian Stock Exchange in February.

“It’s extraordinary that the Victorian government is rewarding a company that’s trying to massacre the jobs and employment security of its workforce,” MUA assistant national secretary, Ian Bray said.

“But it’s even worse that they refuse to answer any questions or provide any detail about a secret payment of $18.5 million. We know for a fact that money has changed hands between the government on the one hand, and a company that is destroying livelihoods on the other.

“How does it serve the public interest for the details of this payment to remain locked way and hidden from public scrutiny, while shareholders and executive managers continue to prosper?”

The MUA has attempted to obtain information on the deal through a number of channels. The union has formally written to the Ports Minister and lodged Freedom of Information requests with thePort of Melbourne Corporation (PoMC) and the Department of Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure.

In a letter written to the MUA, Ports Minister David Hodgett’s chief of staff said he had “made inquiries which indicate that this office has no documents that provide any detail of any agreement between the PoMC and Patrick as referred to in your FOI application.”

The Labor opposition passed a motion in the Legislative Council to table all relevant documents to the deal but Mr Hodgett wrote to the clerk saying he was unable to meet the parliament’s deadline.

“This deal is shrouded in so much secrecy that it is raising my suspicions as to what has occurred,” Mr Bray said.

“This is public money we’re talking about and I think the public ought to know the details of multi-million dollar payments being made to a company that posted a $187 profit in just six months of operation, particularly when that company is intending to downsize and increase casualisation of the workforce.”

Next article – Australian banks backing companies accused of land grabs

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