Federal Member for Hasluck Ken Wyatt has slammed the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) over its marketing of a debate about the China free trade agreement (FTA).
The ACTU recently announced it was ‘challenging’ Mr Wyatt to debate Australian Workers Union WA branch secretary Stephen Price about the merits of the FTA and the future of local jobs.
The debate was to take place in Southern River this evening.
It was advertised in a series of flyers and a press release dated October 23 with the invitation to Mr Wyatt featured prominently despite the fact that Mr Wyatt had already declined, advising he was dealing with a personal tragedy.
Mr Wyatt recently suffered the loss of two people including an immediate family member and a close friend.
This week Mr Wyatt described the marketing as a ‘political stunt’ that deliberately misrepresented his attendance at the debate.
“The first I heard of the ACTU’s sham debate was on October 7 via a stock standard email from (ACTU secretary) Dave Oliver’s executive assistant,” he said.
“I wrote to Mr Oliver on October 19 politely declining his invitation, however he seems intent on continually misrepresenting my attendance – behaviour that is both unethical and dishonest.
“I’m all for free and open debate but that isn’t what this is.”
Mr Wyatt said it was clear that the ACTU’s objective was to stand before an audience and disparage him for not participating in an orchestrated event.
“Worthwhile debates should be undertaken objectively, not as a political stunt, such as the ACTU’s unilateral nomination of date, time and venue,” he said.
“I will never apologise for letting the ACTU and Dave Oliver know that misleading Hasluck workers in this way is unacceptable.
“They do not deserve to be pawns in political games.
“I call on the ACTU to explain to their members why their hard-earned money is being wasted on misleading advertising.”
He said the FTA was an outstanding deal that would create thousands of new jobs and add billions to the economy.
“I will not be bullied by militant unionists who don’t have the best interests of Hasluck at heart,” he said.
Mr Oliver could not be reached for comment but Mr Price said advertising material had gone out with the invitation to Mr Wyatt included because the invitation still stood.
“The invitation is still there if he has the ability to alter his commitments then he’s welcome to come along,” he said.
Mr Price denied he was aware of Mr Wyatt’s personal loss.
“Had I known that, to be honest, it possibly could have changed things if we were aware of that but that’s his personal stuff,” he said.
Mr Price could not confirm how much was spent on advertising the debate, including the flyers and radio advertisements.
He said Mr Wyatt was invited to give people the opportunity to ask about the details of the FTA.
“This whole thing (FTA) was done with a great deal of secrecy so there’s still a lot of things that we’re unaware of,” he said.
“The invitation went out to Liberal members of parliament around the country. We haven’t approached any Labor MPs.”
Mr Price said as far as he was aware there was ‘no real reason’ for why Labor MPs, including Senator Glenn Sterle, were not approached to attend the debate.
He denied the advertising material was bullying and said the event was an opportunity for people to discuss their concerns.