TWU in hot water again over Labor party donations

By: Jason Whittaker

Transport Workers Union (TWU) boss Tony Sheldon is again in the middle of a political firestorm after claims he funnelled

Transport Workers Union (TWU) boss Tony Sheldon is again in the middle of a political firestorm after claims he funnelled government grants into the Iemma Government’s election kitty.

As reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, the New South Wales Opposition is questioning whether funding intended for truck safety initiatives was instead used to bankroll the Government.

According to documents, agencies run by the Minister for Industrial Relations John Della Bosca handed out more than $700,000 over the past six years in grants to the TWU and the Motor Accidents to Concerned Families of Australian Truckies group - an organisation run out of the TWU.

The TWU received $660,905 from WorkCover while the Motor Accidents Authority handed out $73,000 to Concerned Families of Australian Truckies.

The Opposition claims the money is merely being used for Labor Party donations as the $733,905 in grants is not far off the figure that the TWU donated to NSW Labor during the same period, which was $746,288.

"How can [the Premier] Morris Iemma and John Della Bosca expect us to believe it’s just a coincidence that the total sum of State Labor Government grants given to the TWU almost exactly equals the amount of TWU donations given back to the Labor Party?" State National Party leader Andrew Stoner told the Herald.

Because the Government cannot use public money to fund itself it is attempting to bypass this by handing out money under the premise of grants, the Opposition claims.

Doing this means money funnelled back into government coffers would not raise questions because the record would show the money from government agencies was spent on safety grants.

As well as reigniting debate about the stench of corruption engulfing the Iemma Government, the issue is once again raising questions over the TWU’s financial activities.

The allegations made by the Opposition build upon previous claims the TWU was siphoning money from its training fund to bankroll Labor during the 2007 federal election.

While Sheldon continues to dismiss claims he, or the union, played such a role, an independent audit into the fund’s financial activities revealed that money was spent on inappropriate activities.

Adding to the controversy is the web of relationships linking Della Bosca, the TWU and the chairwoman of the Motor Accidents to Concerned Families of Australian Truckies, Judith Penton.

Penton is a former Labor councillor on Gosford City Council while her husband is a senior TWU official who acted as campaign manager for Della Bosca’s wife during the1998 federal election.

Furthermore, Penton, when quizzed by the Herald, did not deny whether Della Bosca was personally involved in the grants process.

"Well, the application had to go through the Motor Accidents Authority, didn’t it?" she says.

But Della Bosca has ruled out any wrongdoing on his part, saying it is not possible for him to personally hand out grants to organisations such as the TWU.

"The Minister has never had any role in assessing applications or determining where funds are spent," Della Bosca says.

Furthermore, the Minister says the grants process is overseen by an independent auditor, which means any money not spent on specific projects must be returned to the relevant agency.

"No funds provided to union or employer organisations can be used for political donations, and there is an independent audit process that ensures this is the case," Della Bosca says.

The TWU has denied any wrongdoing on its part, and has accused other unions of running a smear campaign.

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