Labor and unions have taken aim at a Coalition-appointed deputy president of the Fair Work Commission for social media posts defending ministers’ use of travel entitlements and labelling the unions’ election campaign a “big waste of money”.
Gerard Boyce was appointed in December with three other deputy presidents from employer backgrounds, prompting Labor to accuse the Morrison government of “stacking” the industrial tribunal. Boyce was a barrister who previously worked for the Australian Mines and Metals Association and the National Electrical and Contractors Association.
Labor’s industrial relations spokesman, Tony Burke, has asked the attorney general and industrial relations minister, Christian Porter, to restore “balance” to the commission, ahead of new appointments to its expert panel, which deals with some of its most important and sensitive cases: the annual minimum wage review and selection of default superannuation funds.
On or about Friday 30 August, Boyce commented in LinkedIn on an ABC report that Peter Dutton and Mathias Cormann had spent $63,000 on Royal Australian air force flights in the week after the Liberal leadership spill, declaring the cost was “chump change in [comparison to] the travels of foreign minister K[evin] Rudd”.
In another LinkedIn post, Boyce posted an article from the Australian newspaper titled “Union ire at Shorten debacle” with the comment that it was “time for a review definitely”.
“Big waste of money,” he added before quoting the article which noted the call by the Victoria Trades Hall Council secretary, Luke Hilakari, for a review of the unions’ Change the Rules campaign, which cost millions and failed to topple the Morrison government.
In a third post, Boyce posted an article on employers’ call for the federal government to make legislative changes to end casual employees “double dipping” entitlements, commenting “inter[e]sting times ahead!”
In the days after the 18 May election loss, Boyce posted an article from the West Australian arguing that Labor had botched the “unloseable” election with the observation “oooooooops!!”
Boyce also liked various posts celebrating the election of Liberal Katie Allen, who replaced former jobs minister Kelly O’Dwyer in Higgins, and Alex Hawke being reappointed to the ministry.
Fair Work Commission members must comply with a code of conduct to ensure their conduct “in public and in private, maintains and enhances public confidence in the member’s impartiality and in that of the commission”.
The rules note that although participation in or membership of a political party before appointment would not justify an allegation of bias or an appearance of bias, “it is expected that, on appointment, a member will not continue such involvement with political parties”.
“An appearance of continuing ties, such as might occur by attendance at political fundraising events, should be avoided.”
Burke told Guardian Australia that Boyce’s comments risked “damaging the commission’s reputation as an impartial, independent umpire”.
“There used to be a convention of appointing people from both sides of the bargaining table,” he said. “That has completely collapsed under this government.
“Christian Porter is set to make more appointments in the coming months. He should commit to restoring some balance to the commission rather than further undermining it.”
The ACTU secretary, Sally McManus, said Boyce was “acting in a clearly party political way supporting the Liberal party”.
“The minister Christian Porter should act to restore working people’s faith in the independence of the umpire.”
The commission’s director of tribunal operations, Kate Purcell, said the primary responsibility to abide by the rules “rests with the individual member” but where a matter raises questions about code compliance “the president will generally raise the matter with the relevant member”.
Purcell said the commission had “no comment” about screenshots of the social media posts “purportedly made by deputy president Gerard Boyce”.
Porter said: “As with all appointments within my portfolio I ensure appointments are made on merit and in consideration of the demands of particular roles.”
Guardian Australia contacted Boyce for comment.