Motion of no confidence - ACT Legislative Assembly Debates February 2014
MR DOSZPOT (Molonglo) (10.35): I rise today to speak to Mr Hanson’s motion of
no confidence in Minister Burch. The sad reality is that there is now a long litany of
bad decisions, appalling process and woeful judgments across a number of portfolios.
Each of these matters has raised serious doubts; each goes far beyond the mere cut
and thrust of normal political discourse; each moves into the realm of genuinely
damaging and dangerous behaviour.
The issues we are discussing today are serious and they are repeated. The failures
have occurred in sensitive portfolio areas and involve important matters that simply
cannot be repaired after the fact; they can only be prevented. Together they show not
just a pattern of failure but a pattern of wanton refusal to address or even recognise
these failures or to take steps to rectify them. It is this reckless refusal to accept
responsibility that has led to the only choice available to prevent continued harm from
being done by this minister. If the minister herself or the Chief Minister will not act to
rectify these failures, we will.
In the education and disability portfolios for which Ms Burch has responsibility there
have been glaring examples. Any of the issues raised today are cause for a censure,
but all of these combined leave only one choice–that is, this minister must be removed
before she does any more harm.
The area within education that I will be concentrate on this morning is CIT and the
handling by Ms Burch as education minister of the serious allegations of systemic
bullying detailed in the report of the review of allegations of workplace bullying and
other misconduct at the Canberra Institute of Technology.
As I said at the time, the minister’s response to this report was glib, tokenistic and
shameful. Worse, the response has added to the pain and suffering of people already
at breaking point. The minister, through her clumsy and simplistic response, added
further angst to people who were waiting for recognition of their dire circumstances.
Recommendation 1 of the CIT report states that the CIT should acknowledge and
apologise for past failures in the management of a small number of areas within CIT.
Neither of these happened. The minister in her response advised that the CIT has
acted swiftly and delivered a sincere apology. That swift apology was years in the
coming, and the level of sincerity is not for the minister to determine; it is for the
victims to assess. Judging from the many letters I have received from the
complainants, they are far from satisfied, and neither am I.
The minister also said the complaints were just from a small number. I certainly do
not regard 42 complaints as just a small number. Indeed, when I asked the education
directorate how many similar complaints they had received from a staff of around
5,000, the answer was around 10 such complaints per annum. Forty-two complaints
from a staff of 700 should have set alarm bells ringing. But again this morning
Ms Burch is still telling us about a small number. Nothing was done for years.
The minister then made matters worse when she urged the community to support CIT.
Where was the call to the community to support the staff? Where was the
commitment to find those responsible and deal with them? To save her own skin this
minister ignored the health, welfare and reputation of the 42 current and former
employees of CIT who suffered under the bullying and mismanagement they
complained about. While 42 individuals were brave enough to speak up, I understand
the original number of complainants was around 70.
This simplistic attitude typifies and highlights Minister Burch’s lack of
comprehension of the serious issues that are her responsibility. She does not seem to
understand that she is the minister for education and that her responsibility is to all
staff, teachers, students, everyone within the directorate and the CIT and not just to a
section or, indeed, just the executive. She has claimed the process has been used with
genuine commitment and goodwill. Is genuine commitment and goodwill truly
demonstrated when management took seven months to respond to the claims? Seven
months, Madam Speaker!
What is even more astounding is that the remainder of the minister’s comments on the
CIT report would lead us to believe that all matters are now resolved. Let me be clear:
they are not. Several matters—nearly one-quarter of the original complainants,
including some that involve allegations against current serving senior managers—
remain under investigation years after being raised.
I do not accept that the minister’s response is acceptable or credible. The reason so
much guilt falls to this minister is that there is no way she could not have been aware
of the problems. These problems originated under Mr Barr’s term; they continued
under Minister Bourke and finally culminated in a report handed down on Minister
WorkSafe ACT had already delivered a stinging critique of CIT management, as did
the former education minister, Dr Bourke, when he issued an improvement notice,
both of which were necessary because CIT simply did not accept that it had a problem.
As far back as 2009 under Minister Barr this was a well-known and canvassed issue.
Dr Bourke’s actions need to be recognised. After many calls from the opposition he
was the first education minister to at least start the process of scrutiny. Minister
Burch’s response in contrast is based entirely on self-preservation—it is all bluff and
bluster as this minister fails time and again to deal with the issues in her portfolio.
I repeat, Madam Speaker, these are not issues relating to pure politics; they are serious
and damaging to real people, their health and their very livelihood and under this
minister their feeling of being ignored and disrespected has continued. This was not
and never has been a small number of complaints; these were not and never have been
“just some issues” and they were not and never have been properly dealt with.
Throughout my advocacy and highlighting of the CIT issues of concern this minister
has maintained a blustering and belligerent attitude that is both rude and reprehensible.
She has gone so far as to try to deflect my criticism of her actions by accusing me of
being anti CIT. Just for the record, as a former member of CIT Advisory Council I am
very proud of the CIT and the contributions of the many committed staff over the
years, and I have listened to all sides.
This minister’s transparent political ploy does nothing to address the real issues or,
sadly, prevent the same problems occurring in the future. Indeed, I continue to be
appalled at this minister’s lack of empathy or ability in dealing with this issue. I am
not convinced that some of the victims have yet received the appropriate recognition
of their trauma, and I will do everything I can to make sure that their number is not
Sadly, as we are hearing today, this is only one of many examples that highlight her
inability to maintain ministerial office. It is time someone took responsibility for
Ms Burch’s actions. We call on the Chief Minister to do so. If we continue to paper
over what is a serious structural flaw, the problem will get worse. This is an absolute
and undeniable truth.
Chief Minister, I have been approached by many of the 42 complainants and they all
echo their disappointment and frustration with the process that started with so much
promise but ended in abject disappointment. They all want the following questions
answered: which are the small areas that the report admitted to and what actions are
being taken against the perpetrators? How can this report possibly have been the final
report when there are so many more cases still under investigation? Why are the same
managers that treated their complaints so lightly and mismanaged the past complaints
originally the same managers and delegates responsible for now implementing the
recommendations from the Kefford report?
These are all fair questions and a sad reflection on the promised new era of openness
and respect. When will somebody either from the CIT or the government face the
complainants and offer a personal apology to them for their treatment, not through a
so-called letter of apology that was seven months in the making and which the
majority have angrily rejected, but a personal, face-to-face response? It is the least
that these people deserve.
Chief Minister, I urge you to take action before these problems get worse. There can
be only one recourse—the removal of the current minister for education. Chief
Minister, I ask you to listen not just to us but to the voices of the 42 complainants and
the many other committed staff at CIT who are now more reluctant than ever to come
For our part, the Canberra Liberals will continue to expose the failure to protect
people in their workplace environment and will not hesitate to hold to account those
found to be responsible. We cannot allow the bullies to win and prosper, and there
remain too many victims who believe the bullies have won. In this case the minister is
one of the bullies, and she should be removed from office because of it and her many