'Brucegate' scandal spurs demand for Carnell to go

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'Brucegate' scandal spurs demand for Carnell to go

By James Vassilopoulos

CANBERRA — ACT Chief Minister Kate Carnell is embroiled in a major crisis which could result in her being sacked or her minority Liberal government being thrown out. Three separate pieces of legal advice state that the ACT government has broken its own laws in relation to the funding of the upgrading of Bruce Stadium.

The Labor opposition has moved a no-confidence motion in the territory government, which will be debated in the Legislative Assembly on June 30.

The government also faces a challenge from public sector unions, which are planning a major protest on June 29 to demand fair pay increases, job security and better conditions.

A few years ago, the ACT Assembly allocated $12.3 million to be spent on improvements to Bruce Stadium. However, a further $27.3 million was spent, without the approval of the assembly and in breach of the rules of the Financial Management Act, which states that no money can be spent without an appropriation bill.

Once the government realised that the law had been broken, it altered its financial management guidelines to cover the non-budgeted spending on Bruce Stadium. The new guideline was written on May 19, three weeks after "Brucegate" became public, and is retrospective to 1996.

Under the Financial Management Act, the treasurer is allowed to invest money in "any prescribed investment". The May 19 guideline now defines any ACT-owned property as a "prescribed investment" and makes the Carnell government's previously illegal spending legal.

This new guideline greatly reduces the accountability of the ACT government and is an affront to democracy. The government's financial transactions will be not be able to be scrutinised.

Attacks on workers

Sue Bull from the Democratic Socialist Party told Green Left Weekly, "Carnell and her Liberal government must go, not just because they have broken their own laws but because they rule for the rich.

"Any government which stuffs-up the living standards of workers, students, the unemployed and pensioners, should be chucked out."

In the recent period, the Liberal ACT government has carried out a number of attacks, including:

  • sacking 450 ACT government workers;

  • cutting $1.8 million in college funding and 13.5% of education jobs after it promised not to cut education spending;

  • proposing to cut $1 million from Canberra Hospital;

  • attempting to privatise the ACT Electricity and Water Corporation;

  • proposing that workers' compensation entitlements be cut; and

  • proposing the outsourcing or privatisation of parking meter inspection, environmental regulation and building inspection.

While describing its own illegal activities as a "technical" breach, the government has charged five staff in a primary school for overstating enrolments in order to get better funding for their school.

Each year in February, there is a census to determine how many pupils are in government primary schools. Each school is awarded funding for each pupil. The school workers are alleged to have overstated their numbers by up to 15 students. The workers, if found guilty, face dismissal or fines.

Union protest

On June 29, unions including the Community and Public Sector Union, the firefighters' union, the teachers' union, the nurses' union and the Construction, Forestry Mining and Energy Union will protest against the government in order to defend job security and employment conditions.

It is expected to be the largest union protest in the capital this year, with hundreds likely to attend. The coming together of so many unions represents a major step forward and escalation of the campaign to fight for job protection.

ACT government workers will strike in the morning. CPSU ACT government section secretary Tim Gooden issued an open letter to all members. It stated: "The time has come to stop this ridiculous situation of endless negotiations ... It's time [the government] gave us a fair pay rise and guaranteed job security. The government and its executives received pay increases of up to 16% a year ago.

"They expect us to carry an ever-increasing workload, accept forced redundancies and loss of independent appeals processes — all for pay offers that don't even keep pace with inflation."

The ACT Trades and Labor Council has sent a leaflet to every household in the ACT arguing that by cutting entitlements to leave and overtime, the government will greatly impact on public services.

School cleaners may lose overtime payments. Teachers may lose jobs, resulting in larger class sizes. Everything from dog patrols to rubbish tips may be privatised or contracted out.

According to Bull, the Bruce Stadium affair reveals how unaccountable politicians are. "The Carnell government should be accountable directly to people, not just to other politicians. All politicians and government officials should be able to be recalled at any time upon demand of a majority of electors", she said.