Thursday, 1 August 2019
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Industrial Relations. Will the minister advise the House how the Morrison government is backing Australian workers who choose better protection of their entitlements over lining the pockets of unions and employer associations? And is the minister aware of any other approaches on this important issue?
I thank the member for his question. Of course we are a government on the side of those Australians who have money in workers benefit funds and want to see that money properly spent on workers benefits and properly accounted for. Why do we need this transparency? Yesterday, we found out that the Protect workers benefit fund had transferred, in two years, $45 million to the ETU, $10.4 million of which went to NECA, an employer organisation. The bill before the House would simply require proper accounting for what goes into the benefit funds, what comes out and how it's spent so that we can all actually know that it is spent to the benefit of workers. The shadow minister's position is stated this way. He says:
… I don't think it's legitimate to say … we need more scrutiny over the jointly managed funds, where all the money has been going to specific programs that workers benefit from …
But that is the question, isn't it? Is all the money going to specific programs that workers benefit from?
Opposition members interjecting—
We have a yes from members opposite. What about the $10.4 million that went to NECA just to improve their bottom line? How did that $10.4 million benefit workers? How much money is enough before you start wanting transparency? Is it $45 million or $100 million? How about $125 million, because when you reverse-engineer and look at the money going into the ETU, how much money has gone into the ETU over the last 10 years? There's $125 million from sources that it is just impossible to determine. A huge amount of that money is clearly from workers benefit funds. Let's look at the specific programs that apparently workers are benefiting from. For management fees to the ETU, there's a total of $27 million. That's $27 million in management fees. There's admin income of $26 million, trust distributions of a paltry $67 million, and how about, just for good measure, directors fees and interests of $5 million.
Last week the shadow minister said he was very alarmed at all of this. Now, the shadow minister is 'entirely comfortable' with what the ETU has done. If Charles Darwin had uncovered the survival of the 'most comfortable' rather than the survival of the fittest, these people would rule the earth. They are the most easily assured people of all time—$125 million has gone to the ETU with no proper accounting whatsoever. What we want to see is proper accounting that says that that money is being spent on domestic violence programs, postnatal depression programs, funeral services or gambling assistance. What we don't want to see is $5 million being spent on directors' fees. (Time expired)