Tuesday, 22 November 2016
Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2014; Consideration of Senate Message
I want to comment on the Senate's proposed amendments to the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2014. As you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, there was a debate that went until after two o'clock this morning in the other place about this bill. I want to make it very clear, firstly, that Labor believe that there was room to find longstanding reform in this area, and that is why we moved five separate amendments, including providing that the regulator for registered organisations be the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. We believe that is a mature body, one that would be invulnerable to executive government interference. We believe it would treat registered organisations and companies in the same manner. So the government would have had a change, if you like, to the law where we had a regulator that would treat bodies the same and be seen to be treating them the same, but, unfortunately, that amendment was not accepted by the government and by the Senate. I just wanted to put on record that that reform would have been significant and longstanding, unlike some of the amendments that have been proposed and accepted in the Senate.
In relation to the matters that have been accepted, firstly the whistleblower protection provisions proposed by Senator Xenophon, we in principle support greater protection to be afforded to whistleblowers. In fact, one of our five amendments went to the protection of whistleblowers. However, given that we were given no time to consider the amendments moved by Senator Xenophon, we did not support his amendment but had our own amendment. We are also concerned that the basis upon which Senator Xenophon moved that amendment was that there is an undertaking by the government to extend protection to whistleblowers beyond registered organisations to the corporate and public sectors. We think that undertaking means nothing unless there is evidence to suggest that the government will respond to that undertaking—and we do not see any evidence of that. So we cannot support the amendment in its form, although I want to make it very clear that we in principle did support protection afforded to whistleblowers, and that is why we had our own amendment. In relation to the compliance arrangements with respect to auditors, we too think that there needs to be greater compliance—and had our own amendments rejected in the Senate.
I think it is important to note that we did not come to this matter seeking to stymie or impede the intention of the legislation. In fact, we believed our amendments, if accepted, would have improved the bill. Our amendments would have improved the bill with respect to the regulation of registered organisations and they would have ensured that the regulation of those bodies would have been the same of companies. We would have ensured that whistleblowers would have been afforded protection and that auditors would have had greater compliance in order to ensure that they did not act improperly or fail to report matters that were improper. We also, of course, sought to amend the bill to reduce the donation disclosure for candidates of registered organisations, provided the government accepted an amendment to the Electoral Act that would also reduce the threshold for donations to federal candidates of federal electorates to $1,000. If it is fair enough to lecture union candidates that there should be disclosure on donations in their elections to a candidate, for example, who wants to run a union, surely it is reasonable to expect that people who seek to become a member of this place be subject to the same levels of transparency—and yet the government failed to accept that reform.
We do not accept the amendments as put, but, in principle, we support whistleblower protection and support greater compliance on auditors. We will continue to fight for better disclosure laws to make sure that the government ultimately accepts that $13,000 or more is not an acceptable threshold for transparency when donations are provided either to union candidates or, for that matter, federal candidates of federal elections. We will also ensure—and it is the reason why we cannot support the bill—that volunteers in registered organisations should be exempt from these laws. That was not accepted by the government and, for that reason, we have to oppose the amendments.