ACT News

Joy Burch resigns as ACT police minister

Joy Burch has resigned as police minister in the wake of allegations over her chief of staff's contact with the powerful Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union.

Dumped: Police Minister Joy Burch.
Dumped: Police Minister Joy Burch. Photo: Jay Cronan

Ms Burch retains her other portfolios, including education and racing and gaming, for now, but is on leave from Thursday morning.

Her resignation from the police portfolio follows the resignation of her chief of staff, Maria Hawthorne, on Tuesday night, after allegations were aired through Fairfax Media that she had briefed CFMEU ACT boss Dean Hall about a meeting between Ms Burch and Chief Police Officer Rudi Lammers.

Announcing Ms Burch's resignation, Chief Minister Andrew Barr also confirmed a ministerial reshuffle before the Assembly sits in February and said Deputy Chief Minister Simon Corbell would take on the Police and Emergency Services portfolio until then.

"It is important to be clear that, based on advice I have, there is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by Minister Burch," Mr Barr said.


"However, following yesterday's [Tuesday's] announcement by ACT Policing that they will evaluate the veracity of allegations relating to Minister Burch's office, she has resigned in accordance with her responsibility under the ministerial code of conduct. Under the code, ministers are not only accountable for their own behaviour but also for the decisions and actions of their staff."

Mr Barr refused an interview with The Canberra Times on Wednesday, but told the ABC the issues went beyond the CFMEU briefing.

"This goes to broader issues in relation to the police portfolio. I need to stress it relates to matters beyond the specific issue that was aired in the Fairfax media a day or two ago in relation to an information request from the CFMEU," Mr Barr said. He did not elaborate other than saying, "Suffice to say that it was serious enough that when it was presented to both the minister and the minister's chief of staff, the courses of action that have followed were the appropriate."

Mr Barr said the chief police officer had made it very clear to him "that the minister is not the subject of their consideration". But it was "unacceptable and untenable for ACT Policing to be conducting an active investigation into issues relating to the Minister's office, [and] for the minister to remain in place".

The controversy began earlier this year when Mr Hall complained to Ms Burch about the way police were interpreting laws covering union rights of entry on to work sites. Ms Burch took his complaints to Assistant Commissioner Lammers, after which Ms Hawthorne briefed Mr Hall on the meeting.

A spokesman for Ms Burch said on Wednesday the minister had not instructed Ms Hawthorne to brief the union.

Attention has focused on what Ms Hawthorne said about the police's treatment of the union in her conversation with Mr Hall.

​Mr Hall hit back at police over the affair earlier on Wednesday, saying his phone conversations were being listened into at the time of the conversation with Ms Hawthorne, and questioning whether the contents of that conversation had subsequently been leaked to the media. The conversation happened in April while CFMEU officials were under investigation over allegations aired in the royal commission into union corruption.

"I'm just asking how did the information get out?" Mr Hall said. "I know people were taping my phone conversations at that time. And if there was something inappropriate in them, why wasn't it aired in the royal commission?"

He said the communications had been "very benign".

ACT Police declined to comment on Mr Hall's allegations and have remained tightlipped about the details of their evaluation.

Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson said Mr Barr was guilty of a "weak and inadequate response" to the controversy.

He said Ms Burch was not fit to continue in her other portfolios, including education and racing and gaming.

"Mr Barr has been repeatedly warned about not just this incident but many incidents with regard to Ms Burch's behaviour and performance.

"His failure to act sooner and his failure to act now with regard to her other portfolio responsibilities leaves Joy Burch in a position where she is inflicting significant disruption and concern within our community," Mr Hanson said. 

"Her litany of failures is well known." 

On Tuesday, Ms Burch dismissed calls for her resignation, describing the meeting with police as routine. But in a statement on Wednesday night said that while she had not directed the police on how it undertook its operations, it was "nonetheless entirely appropriate that I step aside from this portfolio while ACT Policing conducts its evaluation".

"I remain committed to making a contribution to this government. We have an important agenda to deliver and I look forward to continuing to serve the people of Canberra," she said.

The CFMEU is a powerful force in the left wing of the Labor Party and has been blamed by some in the party for the preselection debacle that resulted in Mr Corbell announcing he would resign from the Parliament at next year's election.