As previously reported in The Tonga Herald, the Tonga Public Servants Association (PSA) and the Democratic Party of the Friendly Islands (DPFI/PTOA) recently held a public fundraiser to raise money for the legal fees of Rodney Harrison, the New Zealand lawyer they are using in their case against the Tongan Government and a Tongan company.
Given: the timing of the case; that a similar criminal case was already denied for lack of evidence; and that the heads of both organisations are running in the November election, the case has the appearance of electioneering.
During the fundraiser, it was announced that the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions pledged NZD5000 and that Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) have made a donation of AUD5000 towards the legal fees.
Currently, in Australia, there is Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption. ACTU calls the Commission a political witch hunt.
Given the political nature of the case, and the contribution, it is (as ever) in the best interest of the people of Tonga to have transparency. Therefore, The Tonga Herald contacted the ACTU and asked the following questions:
1. Did the PSA/DPFI approach ACTU for assistance?
2. Why did the ACTU make the donation?
3. What are specific interests of ACTU in the court case?
4. What are the interests of the ACTU in the broader political case led by the PSA/DPFI?
The ACTU replied:
“The ACTU recently responded to a request by the PSA as part of a fundraising campaign and was happy to support our sister unions in Tonga in the struggle for workers’ rights.”
As the reply didn’t meet the transparency required, The Tonga Herald asked the ACTU to clarify:
1. What was the request from the PSA?
2. What is that “struggle for worker’s rights” in Tonga?
3. What are the goals of that struggle?
4. How is the ACTU donation expected to help in that struggle for workers’ rights? In your understanding, how are workers’ rights impeded by the incident the ACTU funding is going against?
5. Was the request specifically for funding of a court case?
6. Is ACTU aware that the initiative to be funded by this money, was a civil court case involving top-level politicians? A civil case that had been denied twice in the Criminal courts?
7. Was the fund given carte blanche? Is ACTU aware that the funds are to pay a NZ lawyer? (Were the rights of local Tongan lawyers considered then?)
8. Did it occur to ACTU that the lawyer himself does not seem to bank on the outcome of the case, (which includes the defendants shouldering his fees)?
9. Are you aware that the PSA, during election time, becomes the “Tonga Democratic Labour Party”, and since this donation is made four months to elections, wouldn’t this be considered ‘campaign financing’?
10. What other activities has the ACTU been financing in Tonga?
The ACTU’s media officer, Kara Douglas replied, in reference to the ACTU’s previous one sentence reply:
“That is the ACTU’s response to your questions.”