ACT News

Police Minister Joy Burch's chief of staff resigns over approach to police

ACT Police Minister Joy Burch's most senior adviser has quit after it was revealed she briefed a powerful construction union boss about a meeting between Ms Burch and the territory's chief police officer.

Chief Police Officer Rudi Lammers sought a meeting with Chief Minister Andrew Barr on Tuesday afternoon and told Mr Barr police were investigating allegations of wrongdoing.

Mr Barr relayed the police concerns to Ms Burch, and a spokesman said on Tuesday night he understood her chief of staff, Maria Hawthorne, had now resigned.

Police issued a statement on Tuesday night saying, "As a result [the] media reporting, ACT Policing is evaluating the veracity of the allegations". But they provided no other detail, and were not specific about the nature of the evaluation.

It is unclear whether it goes to the appropriateness of Ms Burch raising the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union's concerns about police handling of freedom-of-entry rules in the first place, or whether it is restricted to the fact that Ms Hawthorne then briefed the union's ACT secretary Dean Hall, a powerful figure in Labor's left faction, about the contents of the meeting between Ms Burch and police.

Mr Barr said Ms Hawthorne had resigned "having regard to the public controversy", the spokesman said.

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"Whether or not to evaluate an allegation is the police's prerogative, but as they have already said, the ACT government does not direct ACT Policing in relation to how it undertakes its operational activity, and has not done so on the occasion in question.

"It would not be appropriate to comment further."

Ms Burch confirmed on Tuesday that she met with Assistant Commissioner Lammers in April after Mr Hall raised concerns that police were being over-zealous in their treatment of union officials on Canberra work sites.

Mr Hall told Ms Burch officers needed "education" about health and safety rights of union representatives.

After the meeting, Ms Hawthorne briefed Mr Hall about the contents of the discussion. The meeting came as the union and Mr Hall were being investigated as part of the royal commission into trade unions.

Fairfax Media reported that police were furious the contents of the meeting had been shared. 

Earlier in the day, Ms Burch dismissed calls for her own resignation.

Defending herself and Ms Hawthorne, she described the discussions as routine. However, she confirmed she had never raised concerns from any other group or individual with police.

"It is not for me to direct policing. I have never provided direction to policing.

"My in-box is just about full of requests from individuals and organisations seeking information, support or clarification on a matter ... we meet with stakeholders, we get that information and we give that information to them."

Ms Burch said ACT Policing had provided a flow chart outlining right of entry powers, but she would not release it, saying that was a matter for police.

"The opposition have over-egged it in every way, shape and form," Ms Burch said.

Mr Hall confirmed he raised concerns with Ms Burch that police were being over-zealous in their treatment of CFMEU officials and needed "education" about health and safety rights of union representatives.

Australian Federal Police members were reportedly furious the detail of the meeting was passed on to Mr Hall.

Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson called for Ms Burch to resign and restated his ongoing calls for the Barr government to cut ties with the union, a powerful player in ACT Labor. 

Earlier in the day, Mr Barr said the CFMEU and Master Builders Association had already raised their concerns widely about right-of-entry laws, including at the royal commission and in a dispute over a concrete pour at the Costco service station.

"I understand the CFMEU contacted Minister Burch's office to raise a concern about how police were interpreting ACT right of entry laws. It is common for stakeholders to approach the relevant minister with queries or concerns about areas of policy," Mr Barr said.

"As is customary, the minister's office followed up with the stakeholder to confirm the matter had been raised."

Mr Barr pointed to the concrete-pour dispute in November 2014.  Documents lodged with the Federal Court allege that CFMEU officials tried to enter the site but the foreman for Mainbrace Constructions called the police, who blocked the union. The union filed a case against the company, alleging breaches of the Fair Work Act. The case was discontinued in May after being resolved in a confidential agreement.

It was the fifth time in two years that the opposition had called for Ms Burch to resign or be sacked from her portfolios. 

In December 2013, Mr Hanson said Ms Burch should resign as education minister over retweeting a Twitter post describing federal minister Christopher Pyne as "a c--t".

In February 2014, Mr Hanson said Ms Burch should be sacked as arts minister over a burlesque performance that included a Nazi strip tease at the National Multicultural Festival.

In January 2015, Mr Hanson called for Ms Burch to resign as gaming minister over her decision to scrap the $20 note limit for poker machines, allowing use of $50 notes. Mr Barr later reversed the decision.

In February 2015, Mr Hanson moved a no-confidence motion against Ms Burch over a series of perceived mistakes, including summer traffic problems on Tharwa Drive.

Ms Burch attracted controversy in May when the education union called for her to resign over industrial negotiations, the Menslink affair and the aborted Telopea Park land swap deal. 

The Australian Federal Police Association did not respond to requests for comment.

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