House debates

Monday, 18 March 2013


Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Towards Transparency) Bill 2013; Second Reading

9:23 pm

Photo of Mike SymonMike Symon (Deakin, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I speak against the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Towards Transparency) Bill 2013, and I do so for very good reasons. I note that the Leader of the Opposition, whose name this bill was in, could not even be bothered attending the House to introduce the bill. It was left to the member for Curtin to do so, and to me that shows so much about what this bill is really about.

With this bill, the Liberal Party are seeking to treat registered organisations like corporations, a plainly ridiculous concept. Whilst a registered organisation exists to serve and advance the interests of its members, this is not the case for a corporation. The corporation exists to produce a profit for its shareholders. Shareholders like that concept; that is what it is there for. But a corporation does not act as a membership organisation.

Legislation is needed to provide the framework that ensures that the corporation pays its way, that it recognises employee rights and responsibilities and that it operates in the shareholders' interests. The registered organisation exists to represent its members whether they be employees or employers. Legislation is in place to ensure that organisations maintain and advance the industrial interests of their members—interests such as better pay and conditions for workers, occupational health and safety, and compensation for injuries received at work.

No reasonable person could confuse the differences in purpose and structure of the two. However, this confused view has prevailed in today's Liberal Party and has been laid in front of us here by the opposition leader Mr Abbott, the member for Curtin and the others on the other side of the chamber who have spoken in this debate. The two faces of the Liberal Party are plain to see when one looks at their reaction to breaches of corporate law by a company compared to their reaction when a union has to deal with an investigation under industrial law. In the 10 years from 2002-03 to 2011-12 I seem to remember hearing almost nothing from the Liberals in response to the 2,454 court proceedings undertaken by ASIC against companies and their office holders. This lack of concern is even more surprising in light of the 385 criminal convictions recorded in that period against directors. It is almost incredible that the Liberals have chosen to virtually ignore just about all of the 212 terms of imprisonment handed out to company directors in that time.

The federal Labor government has already introduced amendments that have changed the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act to set clear and strict obligations on registered organisations. We did this in 2012 to make sure that the act requires that officials act in good faith, with diligence and due care in their work. Other changes prohibited the use of members' money to favour candidates in campaigns or internal elections and allowed for criminal prosecutions where funds are stolen or fraudulently misappropriated. These amendments also allow Fair Work Australia to share information with the police as appropriate and provide significant penalties for breaches of the act.

This private member's bill is nothing more than an ideological rant by the Liberals—we have seen the same over many years—against the rights of working people to effectively organise to enhance their wages and conditions. The federal Labor government supports appropriate regulation for registered organisations. This includes empowering the regulator and tripling the penalties for breaches of the act. These will be in place very soon; the bill has been passed by this parliament. It is about time that we heard from the Liberals their plans to protect terms and conditions for working Australians, rather than see them serve up cheap stunts such as this private member's bill.

We have heard many on the other side of the chamber tonight talk about this at length, but when it comes down to it no-one should ever confuse the difference between a corporation and a registered organisation. I condemn this private member's bill, the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Towards Transparency) Bill 2013, and will vote against it when the time comes in this House.

Debate adjourned.


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