House debates

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Questions without Notice

Workplace Relations

2:18 pm

Photo of Rick WilsonRick Wilson (O'Connor, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Minister for Industrial Relations. Will the minister update the House on the government's actions to protect the wages of Australian workers from the actions of militant unions?

Photo of Christian PorterChristian Porter (Pearce, Liberal Party, Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for his question. As the member is aware, right now in Australia there is over $2 billion under management in what are known as workers' entitlement funds. Those funds are meant to keep safe and secure money that may, in the future, be needed to pay for events such as long service leave, sick leave or, very importantly, severance and redundancy payments. There are nine large workers' entitlement funds in operation. We described yesterday that one of those funds, known as Protect, transferred, just before the last election, $32 million worth of workers' money, meant to be kept safe and secure for the purposes of future severance payments, back to the Electrical Trades Union. There is no rational explanation as to why that occurred. So bad is it that there's a loan facility in case Protect run out of money to pay for severance payments. They might be able to borrow some back if they ask nicely. It is outrageous.

But today there is another example of the complete misappropriation of workers' funds, from the same severance fund, Protect. There are a range of enterprise agreements that have a clause that insists and requires that two per cent of workers' wages go not to the worker but to the fund Protect for the purposes of income protection insurance. There's nothing wrong with that on its face. That is money that could be kept in the fund Protect for the income protection insurance of the workers. But it's money that doesn't go into the pockets of the workers and it's money they earned. For instance, there's a two per cent of payroll clause for income protection for Dubai Ports' operations in Australia. Keep in mind these are very large operations. Dubai Ports' payroll in Australia is, we think, in excess of $260 million per year.

Today in the media it emerged that there is a document that no-one has ever seen before which outlines an agreement between the Electrical Trades Union and Protect, under the heading 'beneficial term', and it is really beneficial: the ETU will receive a benefit from the income protection insurance payments in the amount of approximately 16 per cent of the total fund income insurance contributions. So, of those millions of dollars worth of wages, year on year, that go into the Protect insurance fund, 16 per cent goes straight back to the Electrical Trades Union.

This government says that, in the banking sector, a secret commission is deplorable; in this sector, it is equally deplorable. This is workers' money that they get no benefit from that is siphoned off to the ETU. And right now the MUA, part of the militant CFMMEU, is pushing very hard for another two per cent of wages clause so that the money, millions of dollars, will flow into this organisation, Protect. What everyone here and, I think, the workers would like to know is: is there going to be a similar kickback in that arrangement? The only way we will ever know is if this legislation passes, to make the relationship transparent. (Time expired)