Wednesday, 9 December 2020
Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Withdrawal from Amalgamations) Bill 2020; Second Reading
I will start by acknowledging, because it was raised, that the opposition was provided a draft of the bill over the course of the weekend. There were objections to the bill that we raised. For transparency, it's important to make the point that we were provided with a copy of the bill to consider over the course of the weekend. There were some specific parts of it to which we took objection, and the bill that has been introduced today by the minister does not contain the sections that we objected to. So I want to acknowledge the cooperation of the minister and his office. This is certainly, from our perspective—and I respect the different views of the crossbench—a much more constructive way of working than has often occurred.
The bill before us represents a commonsense technical amendment to the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009—specifically the provisions in the act that deal with withdrawal from amalgamation. Currently the act allows a constituent part of an amalgamated union to withdraw from the remainder of the union. It's a democratic process involving a ballot of the members of that part of the union that would be seeking to withdraw from the amalgamation. The problem with the provisions as they currently exist is that they only provide a window of between two and five years after an amalgamation in which a vote of that kind can take place. It's a narrow window that doesn't contemplate the possibility that the desire for a demerger and the reasons for a demerger may arise after that five-year window.
So the bill creates an exemption to the time limitation via a new appropriateness test in section 94A of the bill. That provision allows the Fair Work Commission to grant an application for a withdrawal ballot if certain conditions are met. These conditions in the bill that has been presented to us are narrower than what had been presented to us over the weekend, and it's with that in mind that Labor is in a position to support the bill presented by the minister. The new section, subsection 94A(2), explains that the conditions are:
It will require the applicant to file its plans for withdrawal, which include the rules of the amalgamated union and proposed new union, the names of the respective organisations post withdrawal, and the allocation of the assets and liabilities between the amalgamated organisation and the newly registered organisation. The rules set out must avoid any overlap in coverage between the demerged entities.
It's important to note that there are many unions which have had amalgamations but have not retained the sorts of divisions that would satisfy the definition here of 'constituent part'. Where an amalgamation has taken place and there are no longer separate constituent parts within the union, then the capacity that's provided here would not arise. But where divisions have continued to run as quite independent bodies, as is the case in a small number of amalgamated unions, then this will be possible, but only possible if the test of unlawfulness, as I described before, is met. With these points in mind, Labor is in a position to support the legislation.