Senate debates

Monday, 2 March 2015


Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2014; Second Reading

5:11 pm

Photo of Anne UrquhartAnne Urquhart (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

Clearly, we have the strongest system we have ever had and it is working well. Those opposite try to pretend that this bill is about bringing registered organisations into line with requirements for company directors. But this is not what they have done. Instead, it places higher penalties and more onerous requirements on officers in registered organisations.

In the inquiry into the previous bill, the Australian Industry Group said:

The bill would impose a far more onerous regime for officers of registered organisations than what applies to directors of public companies.

In fact, there are a number of areas in the bill which are inappropriate and extend beyond the provisions in the Corporations Act. For example, the maximum penalty for a 'serious contravention' of particular sections of the company act is $200,000 for an individual and $1 million for a body corporate. This is less than the amount in the bill. And unlike the Corporations Act, the penalties in the bill will automatically increase as the value of a penalty unit increases. Not only that, but the bill is very vague on what exactly constitutes a 'serious' contravention, other than to say that it is a contravention that is 'serious'—clear as mud, I think you would agree. So it would appear that penalties would be available regardless of whether the conduct meets the definition of a 'serious contravention'.

But it is not only the higher penalties and more onerous requirements that registered organisations have to deal with. There are new criminal provisions which would mean that registered organisations—employer bodies and unions—will have difficulty in persuading people, often in a voluntary capacity, to take on official responsibilities. Again, the Australian Industry Group stated:

If the proposed criminal penalties and proposed massive financial penalties for breaches of duties are included in the Registered Organisations Act, this would operate as a major disincentive to existing voluntary officers of registered organisations continuing in their roles, and would deter other people from holding office.

These are genuine concerns that have not been addressed by the government.

Unions have also raised very serious and legitimate concerns about the impacts of the proposed laws. Usually, when you have industry bodies and unions lining up in agreement there is something very wrong. And this case is no different. As a responsible opposition, Labor tried to engage with the government to ensure penalties did not exceed those of the Corporations Act 2001. But the government was unwilling to accept that proposal. And that is because they are not interested in fairness. They are not interested in good governance. They are only interested in destroying unions. This is a government that cannot be trusted with workplace relations.

Those opposite have a long and shameful history of attacking the rights of Australians at work. In 2004 they did not tell the Australian people their plans to introduce WorkChoices and AWAs. In 2005 they told the Australian people their pay and conditions 'were protected by law' when they were not. In 2008, Mr Tony Abbott said Work Choices was 'good for wages; it was good for jobs; and it was good for workers. And let's never forget that.'

And things have not got much better in this bad coalition government. It instituted the highly ideological Commission of Audit, which recommended that the minimum wage go backwards by one per cent a year in real terms for a decade. Analysis by the ACTU showed that this would entrench poverty by pushing the real value of the minimum wage down to its 1998 level of $12 an hour. This government promised not to touch penalty rates and then gave the Productivity Commission open slather to look at this and many other aspects of industrial relations which we were told were off the table. It has also put legislation before this place which would allow penalty rates to be traded away. It extended the royal commission into the trade union movement for a year without the royal commission asking for it. This will further delay recommendations, yet the government persists with a bill that covers subject matter relating to the royal commission.

Of course, the opposition will consider the recommendations of this commission carefully when they are released, instead of the government pre-empting its own inquiry and the recommendations it will make. Labor will not support a politically motivated witch-hunt designed to kill off unions just because the government seeks to reward its friends in big business. This bill is pre-emptive; this bill is ill conceived; and it is also yet another broken promise by this government. I urge senators in this place not to support this. Do not support another broken promise of this bad government.


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