Wednesday, 25 June 2014
Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2014; Second Reading
It is the view of this government, and I daresay a large section of the community, that a more robust compliance regime is needed to deter wrongdoing and promote the utmost credibility among registered organisations. These safeguards include: establishing an independent watchdog—the Registered Organisations Commission—to monitor and regulate registered organisations with enhanced investigative and information-gathering powers; strengthening the requirements for officers' disclosure of material personal interests and related voting and decision-making rights, as well as changing grounds for disqualification and ineligibility for office; strengthening existing financial accounting, disclosure and transparency obligations under the registered organisations act by putting certain rule obligations on the face of the act and making them enforceable as civil remedy provisions; and increasing civil penalties and introducing criminal offences for serious breaches of officers' duties, as well as introducing new offences in relation to the conduct of investigations under the act.
The Registered Organisations Commission will be given the independence and powers it needs to regulate registered organisations effectively, efficiently and transparently. It will be headed by a commissioner appointed by the Minister for Employment and will have investigation and information-gathering powers equivalent to those available to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. It will have powers to commence legal proceedings and refer possible criminal offences to the Director of Public Prosecutions or other law enforcement bodies. The Commonwealth Ombudsman will have oversight for the commission, as it does with other Commonwealth agencies. As well as clearly benchmarking the role of the regulator, the bill introduces reporting and disclosure requirements and enhanced penalties for breaches of the regulations that align with those outlined in the Corporations Law.
As I said earlier, it is entirely appropriate to expect a high standard of financial reporting from our registered organisations, given the trust members place in their unions and employer associations to operate honestly and to responsibly use the funds derived from membership fees. Registered organisations have enormous economic, legal and political influence. During the recent court disclosures about union wrongdoing it would have been a surprise to many Australians that unscrupulous operators were at liberty to oversee their organisations at a far lower standard when compared to corporations or other comparable bodies.
To buttress these changes, registered organisations will need to disclose remuneration paid to their top five officers in union headquarters and subsidiary branches. Importantly, officers will be required to disclose their and their relatives' material personal interests to all members. This will include any payments made to persons or entities in which an officer has declared an interest, with the aim of preventing individuals from improperly benefiting from their position.
The regulations will also be backed up by a suite of penalties that will mean officers from registered organisations will face similar penalties to companies and directors who break the law. The headline figure is five years imprisonment for serious breaches of officers' duties as well as offences in relation to the conduct of investigations under the registered organisations act. I commend this bill to the House.