ACT News

EXCLUSIVE

Joy Burch ex-staffer Maria Hawthorne reveals questions from police

The former staffer at the centre of a police investigation into the conduct of dumped police minister Joy Burch's office has broken her silence to slam the probe as baseless and unnecessarily slow.

Ms Burch's former chief of staff, Maria Hawthorne, maintains she has not broken the law. She provided The Canberra Times with a list of 11 questions that police put to her lawyer.

Dumped police minister Joy Burch.
Dumped police minister Joy Burch.  Photo: Karleen Minney

Ms Hawthorne also provided an email from ACT Policing's Detective Senior Constable Grant Bluett to her lawyer, in which Senior Constable Bluett said: "At this stage of the evaluation we have not established that there was any criminal conduct. As such we do not propose to conduct an interview with Ms Hawthorne or request a witness statement from her."

Instead, he requested a "discussion" with her to discuss the practices around handling of sensitive information in the former police minister's office and Ms Hawthorne's recollections of conversations with Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union boss Dean Hall. But through her lawyer, Ms Hawthorne declined the request to speak to police, telling them she would consider written questions. As a result, police put questions to her in writing, which she also subsequently refused to answer. She has now made the questions public.

Former ACT government staffer Maria Hawthorne.
Former ACT government staffer Maria Hawthorne.  

Senior Constable Bluett's email requesting the discussion was written on January 25, six weeks after Ms Hawthorne was forced to resign, after it was revealed she briefed Mr Hall about a meeting between Ms Burch and the territory's Chief Police Officer Rudi Lammers.

The scandal also cost Ms Burch her place in Andrew Barr's ministry.

Despite Mr Barr and his deputy Simon Corbell consistently saying the investigation was broader than what had been reported in the media, Senior Constable Bluett said in his email to Ms Hawthorne's lawyer that he was investigating "the circumstances around the disclosure of information from Minister Burch's office to the CFMEU".

The questions put to Ms Hawthorne through her lawyer also centre largely on her communications with Mr Hall.

Police also sought answers about whether Ms Hawthorne had national security clearance and what training she had received in the handling of sensitive information. Ms Hawthorne, a former staffer for Labor prime ministers, told The Canberra Times she did not have national security clearance at the time of the meeting between police and Ms Burch.

Police asked Ms Hawthorne to describe approaches from Mr Hall on April 21 and 22 last year. They also asked what she recalled of Ms Burch's meeting with Assistant Commissioner Lammers on April 22 and what she later told Mr Hall about that meeting.

Mr Hall and others believe a phone call was recorded by investigators connected to the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption.

Ms Hawthorne said she was first told of the police concerns on December 10. She resigned on December 15. She said police first attempted to contact her on January 20 when detectives visited her house but she was interstate.

"You can see that they have said they have not established any criminal conduct," Ms Hawthorne said. "I need to move on with my life, I need to get a job. The longer that they drag this out, the harder it is for me.

"They are not putting to me any claims that have been made against me. They have never put to me what they are investigating so why would I answer their questions?"

The affair could overshadow the first week of sitting for the Assembly, starting on Tuesday.

Assistant Commissioner Lammers was approached for a response.

Tom McIlroy and Kirsten Lawson