Did Labor cut the Fair Work Ombudsman’s budget by 17 per cent and staff by 20 per cent?

By William Ton and Louise Evans

The Statement

“When Labor were last in office not without standing there with indignation today, they cut the funding of the Fair Work Ombudsman by 17 per cent. The Fair Work Ombudsman’s staff, who are paid money to investigate underpayment of wages, they were cut by members opposite by 20 per cent.”

Attorney General and Industrial Relations Minister, Christian Porter. July 24, 2019.

The Analysis

Celebrity TV chef George Calombaris was found to have underpaid 515 staff more than $7.83 million dating back to April 2017. He refunded the wages, was fined a $200,000 "contrition payment" and ordered to promote compliance to the Fair Work Act after a four-year investigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman. [1]

During question time in parliament, Attorney General and Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter was asked by Labor backbencher Peter Khalil about a case where the Ombudsman had failed to follow up another report of wage theft. [2]

AAP FactCheck examined the Attorney General’s response that included a claim that when Labor was last in office it cut funding to the Fair Work Ombudsman by 17 per cent and also cut staff numbers by 20 per cent. [2]

The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO), formerly known as the Workplace Ombudsman before a July 2009 name change, is a government body tasked with promoting and monitoring compliance with workplace laws and investigating breaches of the Fair Work Act. It publishes an annual report outlining its activities and performance each financial year. [3]

AAP FactCheck asked Mr Porter’s office for the source of his claim in parliament and was sent two reports, the FWO Budget Statements for 2009/10 and 2013/14, together with these figures and page references: “Page 317 of 2009/10 shows staffing at 900 and $ at 154m. Page 215 of 2013/14 shows staffing at 693 and $ at 125m.”

However, when addressing parliament Mr Porter said “when Labor were last in office”. The Labor Party was last in power from December 3, 2007 until September 2013 when Tony Abbott became Prime Minister. [4]

When Labor came to power in December 2007, there was an average staff number of 367 working at the then Workplace Ombudsman according to the 2007/08 FWO annual report. The 2007/08 budget for the organisation was $69.71m. [5]

The 2012/13 FWO’s annual report, the last full financial year covering Labor’s final term in government, shows an average staff number of 722. The budget for the organisation in 2012/13 was $136.65m. [6]

Based on these figures from the FWO annual reports that take in Labor’s six-year term, the average number of staff at the FWO increased by 96.7 per cent from 367 to 722 over Labor’s time in government.

The budget increased from $69.71 to $136.65m, which is a 96 per cent increase from 2007-08 to 2012-13. [5] [6]

The documents Mr Porter’s office supplied to AAP FactCheck were the 2009/10 and 2013/14 FWO Budget Statements. [7] [8] The funding figures supplied by Mr Porter’s office match the figures in these reports. These Budget Statements do not reflect the full financial year. The 2009/10 statement was created on May 12, 2009 and 2013/14 statement was created on May 14, 2014.

The two FWO Budget Statements show average number of staff working at the FWO of 900 in 2009/10 and 693 in 2013/14. [7] [8] Based on these numbers staffing decreased 23 per cent. Mr Porter claimed a decrease in parliament of 20 per cent during this period.

Funding for both 2009/10 and 2013/14 financial years remained the same in the FWO budget statement and annual reports, indicating an 18.9 per cent decrease in funding from $154.7m in 2009/10 to $125.4m in 2013/14. The minister claimed a 17 per cent fall in parliament during this period. [7] [8] [9] [10]

Mr Porter’s claim not only excludes two FWO annual reports, the 2007/08 and 2008/09, handed down during Labor’s term, his claim also includes the 2013/14 Budget Statement which covers Labor’s final three months in office as well as nine months of the Abbott Coalition government, which came to power in September 2013.

The 2009/10 FWO annual report states the average staff number was 821, not 900. [9] In the 2013/14 FWO annual report, the average staff number was 726 not 693. [10] The difference is the annual reports take in the full financial year.

Based on these FWO annual reports, there was an 11.6 per cent cut in the average number of staff from 821 in 2009/10 down to 726 in 2013/14. Mr Porter claimed a 20 per cent decrease in staff for this period. [9] [10]

Based on this evidence AAP FactCheck found the claim by the Attorney General and Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter that Labor cut the Fair Work Ombudsman’s funding by 17 per cent and the number of staff by 20 per cent when they were last in government to be false.

The minister used a truncated period of Labor rule from 2009/10 to 2013/14 to support his claim. When examining the figures during Labor’s full six-year term the FWO budget rose 96 per cent and staffing rose 96.7 per cent.

The Verdict

  • False - The checkable claims are all false.

The References

1: ‘George Calombaris underpayment scandal blows out to $7.8 million’, by Cameron Houston, Chris Vedelago and Hanna Mills Turbet. The Sydney Morning Herald. July 18, 2019: https://www.smh.com.au/national/victoria/george-calombaris-underpayment-scandal-blows-out-to-7-8m-20190718-p5289u.html

2: ‘Repealing medevac would be 'a wicked thing', Centre Alliance says – as it happened’, by Amy Remeikis. The Guardian. July 24, 2019: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/live/2019/jul/24/peter-dutton-misses-deadline-to-hand-over-manus-paladin-document-politics-live?page=with:block-5d37d9e68f08d0b6ca536925#block-5d37d9e68f08d0b6ca536925

3: ‘Our Purpose’. The Fair Work Ombudsman: https://www.fairwork.gov.au/about-us/our-purpose

4: ‘Kevin Rudd’. Australian Prime Ministers: https://primeministers.moadoph.gov.au/prime-ministers/kevin-rudd

5: ‘Annual reports’, Fair Work Ombudsman. (Workplace Ombudsman: 2007 - 2008, Page 107). November 3, 2008: https://www.fairwork.gov.au/about-us/access-accountability-and-reporting/annual-reports

6: ‘Annual reports’, Fair Work Ombudsman. (Fair Work Ombudsman: 2012 - 2013, Page 119). October 14, 2013: https://www.fairwork.gov.au/about-us/access-accountability-and-reporting/annual-reports

7: ‘Portfolio Budget Statements 2009-10. Fair Work Ombudsman’, Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. (Page 314). May 12, 2009: https://docs.education.gov.au/documents/portfolio-budget-statements-2009-10-fair-work-ombudsman

8: ‘Fair Work Ombudsman Budget Statements 2013-14’. Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. (Page 215). May 14, 2013: https://docs.employment.gov.au/documents/fair-work-ombudsman-budget-statements-2013-14

9: ‘Annual reports’, Fair Work Ombudsman. (Fair Work Ombudsman: 2009 - 2010, Page 133). September 27, 2010: https://www.fairwork.gov.au/about-us/access-accountability-and-reporting/annual-reports

10: ‘Annual reports’, Fair Work Ombudsman. (Fair Work Ombudsman: 2013 - 2014, Page 66). October 7, 2014: https://www.fairwork.gov.au/about-us/access-accountability-and-reporting/annual-reports

  • First published July 26, 2019 18:40 AEST