Elizabeth Colman, 20 April 2016

The Turnbull government is ­demanding the Transport Workers Union repay a six-figure sum it received to publicise Labor’s Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal­ ­before it was abolished by parliament this week.

Employment Minister Michae­lia Cash wrote to TWU national secretary Tony Sheldon yesterday to request the union refund $222,224 in taxpayer funds granted in 2013 for the union to devise an “education and communication strategy” for the tribunal.

The payment — made when Bill Shorten was workplace relations minister — came after the union lobbied the government to set up the tribunal a year earlier, The Australian revealed this week.

The money was spent on developing a smartphone app that was never completed, the union says.

Senator Cash wrote to Mr Sheldon following parliament’s repeal of the legislation governing the ­tribunal on Monday night, saying “the purpose for which (the grant) was to be spent to longer exists”.

“I am writing to request that the TWU now do the right thing by Australian taxpayers and repay this money to the commonwealth,” she says.

“Once this money is repaid, I can give you an assurance that it will be spent on genuine measures to improve the safety on truck drivers on our roads.”

The payment was made out of a $5.4 million three-year “education and compliance” budget administered by the Fair Work Ombudsman as part of the tribunal’s $11m setup costs allocated from 2012 to 2015. The Senate voted to abolish the tribunal 36 to 32 after legislation was rushed through the House of Representatives.

The TWU said last night it had not received Senator Cash’s letter.

While the tribunal will be dissolved, president Jennifer Acton, fellow members and staff had dual roles with the Fair Work Commission and will remain at the industrial umpire. However the tribunal’s four industry members, appointed for five years in June 2012, will lose their $41,780-a-year contracts and $628-a-day sitting fees, with no compensation.

The Australian has been told some owner-drivers are considering legal action in the hope of receiving compensation for business lost as a result of the rates order that led to the tribunal’s demise. The order has been in force since April 4 and will not be rescinded until tomorrow night.

In separate developments, the FWC launched investigations into the TWU flowing from the trade union royal commission. Former TWU West Australian secretaries Rick Burton and Jim McGiveron face fines under Fair Work registered organisations laws for buying Ford 350 trucks and arranging a redundancy payment of about $373,000 to McGiveron in 2013.

A second inquiry examines allegations in the commission’s final report that the TWU’s NSW branch “inflated” membership numbers — “the relevant advantage was an increase in TWU voting power at the ALP conference and an advantage to Mr Sheldon as leader of the TWU delegates,” the report says.

A TWU spokeswoman said the inquiry into membership figures related “to a technicality on membership registration and we have fully assisted the commission with its investigation”. “We have always maintained the royal commissions was politically motivated and that the TWU should never have been investigated,” she said.

Extracted in full from The Australian.

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