Pitt on track for ethics referral
DUMPED Treasurer Curtis Pitt faces a referral to Parliament's powerful Ethics Committee over allegations he misled Parliament about a controversial union pay deal.
Mr Pitt, who is likely to take over the role as Speaker once Parliament resumes, is set to be referred to the committee by the LNP after he told Parliament last year he did not strong arm Queensland Rail into signing off on a union pay deal.
Despite his claim that he did not make an "informal direction", emails uncovered by The Courier-Mail via a right to information request reveal QR's board, which had warned the rail crisis would worsen, was ordered months earlier by the Government to accept the deal.
The LNP was last night considering options for how best to refer the matter to the Ethics Committee.
Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington slammed the State Government for putting its loyalty in unions, rather than the people of Queensland, following the ordeal.
When questioned on the matter in February last year during Question Time, Mr Pitt confirmed that he made his views known on what should occur.
He said there was no "informal direction" given to QR.
"I can safely say that there is no informal direction; either you are issuing a direction or you are not," he told Parliament in February last year.
However documents released under right to information show he sent a formal letter to QR's board only months earlier in December 2016 ordering it approve the agreement.
It effectively forced the board to agree to the union demands despite serious concerns about the effect of a new extended meal break on already strained rail services.
It is understood to have also had concerns about a 12 per cent pay rise for drivers over four years with no productivity gain.
Ms Frecklington called on Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk to explain the situation to Queenslanders.
"Annastacia Palaszczuk needs to explain why Labor's priority was stitching up a secret deal to keep the union happy rather than fixing the largest public transport failure we have seen," she said.
Mr Pitt yesterday could not be reached for comment and Acting Premier Jackie Trad dodged questions on the matter, instead defending the pay rise, saying QR staff deserved to be paid correctly.
"We want to ensure strong financial management of the Budget but, like any responsible employer, we also want to ensure our train drivers and frontline employees are appropriately paid," she said.
Emails show an in-principle deal with the unions, approved by the Government, was struck at the height of the rail driver shortage problems in October 2016.
Board chair Nicole Hollows emailed Mr Pitt months after the in-principle, warning it would not accept a union demand for new split meal breaks that would cut the amount of time drivers were behind the controls and wanted "the opportunity to engage with the unions".
The email came hours after the RTBU notified the Government of plans for a rail strike over "concerns about the delay in resolving the train crew agreement", according to the documents. This is despite having technically run out of time to strike.
Mr Pitt by then had signed-off on a draft direction to QR forcing it to accept the deal, which also offered drivers a contentious 12 per cent pay rise over four years.
"The Treasurer's waiting for a call back before progressing," an email on the draft direction stated.
Emails show his office then pressured Stirling Hinchliffe to co-sign the direction.
"We need an urgent answer on this," a staff member from Mr Pitt's office emailed.
The staff member also warned QR's position was "unlikely to be satisfactory to the unions".
If the newly minted speaker, who has not presided over a single sitting of the new Parliament, is found to have misled Parliament, it could give the Premier only a one-seat majority on the floor.