Melbourne: The Australian Defence Force (ADF) allowed a premises to recruit serving soldiers to train as industrial mercenaries in Dubai, the federal government admitted today.
Defence Minister Ian McLachlan said the ADF let Fynwest Pty Ltd use its Oakleigh Barracks in Victoria for the recruitment meeting on November 14 last year.
In a written answer to a question from opposition transport spokesman Lindsay Tanner, the minister said authority was given by the barracks commander for the meeting. Mr McLachlan said he was told of the meeting on December 11 last year, after the Dubai scheme became public.
The plan to train 36 ADF personnel and 11 reserve personnel as stevedores in Dubai came unstuck last year when the United Arab Emirates revoked the trainees' visas amid threats of an international trade blockade. It has since emerged the Dubai trainees were linked to Patrick stevedore's plans to sack its 1,400-strong unionised workforce in April, but an agreement between Fynwest and Patrick was never reached.
Workplace Relations Minister Peter Reith claimed in parliament he had
no prior knowledge of the plan.
But former Fynwest director Mike Wells has sworn an affidavit claiming he was telephoned on July 30 last year by Stephen Webster, a consultant to the government and now an adviser to Mr Reith.
Dr Webster asked Mr Wells to contact Patrick boss Chris Corrigan two days later ``about a possible job'', Mr Wells said.
Fynwest placed advertisements in the Army newspaper late last year seeking recruits for its training plan. Mr McLachlan said the advertisements had complied with the guidelines for advertising in the paper. Only one of the full-time ADF personnel recruited by Fynwest continued to serve in the army, he said.
He said he had launched an inquiry as to whether proper leave was given for the soldiers to train with Fynwest. ``Various combinations of recreation leave, long service leave and leave without pay were granted to permanent force personnel,'' he said. ``Legal advice has been taken which indicates that in the case of a member on pre-discharge leave there would be no breach.''
The Dubai matter was a potent force in the Maritime Union of Australia's (MUA) court case alleging Patrick and others engaged in an unlawful conspiracy to sack its workforce. Patrick's workforce was reinstated last month, bringing the union's blockade to an end, after the Federal Court ruled there was an arguable case that Patrick and the government had illegally conspired against the workers. Under the deal, the conspiracy case will be dropped and the government will fund redundancy payments.
The legal action is to be dropped as part of the peace deal between
the MUA and Patrick. The deal is contingent on all parties dropping existing
court actions. This includes the country's anti-monopoly watchdog, the
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. But there are several discrepencies
in the agreement, including the number of job losses.
MUA members in Melbourne and Sydney voted this week in favour of the deal hammered out between unionists and Patrick. Unionists at other ports around Australia will vote in coming days but are expected to back their brethren from Australia's two biggest cities.
Mr Corrigan says said in Thursday's statement that the deal would see its permanent MUA workforce cut to 689 from 1,315. The MUA however said the difference of 626 jobs included some 200 of its members who would leave their maintenance jobs but were guaranteed work as contractors and another 100 supervisors covered by a different union.