ROC officials warned about partisan ‘private’ conversations in estimates break

By Harley Dennett

December 1, 2017

Two federal statutory officials have admitted to making comments that Labor has seized on as raising doubts about their agency’s independence.

The comments were made during a break in an Employment portfolio estimates hearing this morning exploring the Australian Federal Police raid on a union headquarters and involvement of Employment Minister Michaelia Cash’s office.

One of the participants, Registered Organisation Commission’s executive director Chris Enright (pictured), strongly hit back at claims he is not independent, or has questionable ethics through his 40 years of service in government and police roles.

Media present in an estimates hearing overheard the comments, including Buzzfeed reporter Alice Workman, who tweeted part of the exchange:

That tweet enraged Labor senators when the hearing resumed. The Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James was not involved in the exchange. However, two officials owned up the exchange, Registered Organisations Commissioner Mark Bielecki and Chris Enright, ROC’s executive director.

“How can you ever be regarded as independent [public servants] after the comments you just made?” asked a visibly angered Senator Doug Cameron.

The officials could not respond as Senator Ian Macdonald interjected, claiming the question was bullying the officials.

The chair Senator Linda Reynolds reminded officials that audio-visual Hansard rules do not apply during breaks and journalists may report anything they hear or observe in the building.

Cash directed officials to cover any documents they had brought from sight of journalists or cameras.

The full comments cannot be verified without an investigation as Hansard rules do not permit the release of committee recordings when the hearing is not in session.

Cash invited Enright to respond to a broad range of allegations from Cameron about the director’s independence and integrity, in part based on his conduct as reported a 2008 article from his days at the Australian Crime Commission.

“My ethics and conduct … in 40 years in state and federal government my service has been exemplary, my ethics are exemplary, and I entirely reject the inference,” Enright told estimates this morning. He added later:

“My experience over 40 years, particularly in Victoria Police, I was selected to conduct the highest corruption areas for Victoria Police. The most sensitive information was put under my control … this demonstrates the integrity that I’ve held [in my career].”

The hearing is still ongoing at time of publication.

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