Monday, 17 August 2015
Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2014 [No. 2]; Second Reading
As I was saying before the debate on the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2014 [No. 2] was interrupted, the bill's obligations on officers of the trade unions and employer associations is too wide and creates an undue administrative burden on some registered organisations that are less than one per cent of the financial size of companies that have less stringent obligations under the Corporations Act. The most important problem, however, is that registered organisations are not companies. It seems to be a matter that seems to have escaped the attention of the government. The government has completely failed to recognise the difference between corporations and registered organisations. Unions are different to corporations, which are different to charities and clubs, and Australia rightly regulates each type of entity differently. Otherwise, the rationale of their debate would be, 'We will use the corporations power to regulate small incorporated bodies. 'We will use the corporations power to regulate charities, clubs and companies and they will all be put into the one mix.' It is not surprising that the government might want that but, ultimately, it is not a sensible or rational policy choice.
As we know, many different entities in this country are covered by different regulatory regimes that are more appropriately suited to what they do and how they do it. That is the sensible option and the sensible way forward. The Independent Panel on Best Practice for Union Governance, in its report to the ACTU, found that a number of researchers have questioned the merit of drawing upon a corporate model of accountability, pointing to the fact that trade unions are very different types of organisations and that, even within trade unions, there are different organisations, ranging from the very large to the very small. Their rationales for formation, the purposes they serve and the nature of their membership are some of the largest differences. You do not have in Woolworths or Coles or a multinational business, for example, a management body that is elected by the members. Shareholders are different. They have large financial exposure to a company by reason of the size of their shareholding; by contrast to union members who necessarily invest only their generally fairly modest membership fees.
But, in truth, this is not a debate about unions and how they should be regulated. This government is using this piece of legislation as a way to bash unions and to use accountability and transparency as the stalking horse, as a way to undermine unions.
Senator O'Sullivan interjecting—
I will take that interjection, because I know Senator O'Sullivan really does like unions. He would have been a member of a union for 20-odd years and probably used their services many times over the period that he was a member of the police union. I would not even be surprised if Senator O'Sullivan had been in an official capacity in that union. I am sure he would agree with me that this legislation is all about bashing unions, and nothing else. The government of course have many other things that they can talk about, but in this instance they do not want to talk about some of the important issues that face Australia. What they would rather do is try to distract everyone's attention away from some of the big issues and onto unions.
Amongst other things, the opposition sought to engage with the government to flesh out what they sought to achieve in relation to these reforms and whether the government would, in a bipartisan way, allow amendments, including amendments that would ensure penalties were not greater than those in the Corporations Act. As I understand it—and I am happy to be corrected—the shadow minister, Brendan O'Connor, engaged with the Minister for Employment about these very issues; however, the government remained implacable.
The government continue to peddle this line that they want the position that they have promulgated. They do not want to negotiate; they do not want to actually secure the passage of this legislation to improve accountability and transparency. Why? Because they want to use it as a Trojan Horse to bash trade unions with. They are simply using the bill, along with millions of taxpayers' dollars being spent on the royal commission, to attack those they perceive as their political enemies, as may play out in the royal commission today.
There have been fundamentally unfair pieces of legislation introduced into the parliament that seek to cut hard-earned working conditions for workers who want to achieve a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. There was a Productivity Commission review into the Fair Work legislation, which is the government's mandate to cut rights and conditions by using the Productivity Commission as another Trojan Horse. In fact, they have got a team of horses.
The dirty trick to cut government cleaners' pay is another example of where the government are undermining our strong industrial relations system, as is scrapping the low-income super contribution, hitting the retirement incomes of low-paid working Australians. And we have seen them delay the increase in the superannuation guarantee. The Prime Minister had promised that no worker would go backwards under him, but his freeze means workers on average wages would be $579 worse off over a four-year agreement.
The government have also had a shocking public sector bargaining framework which is designed, I think, to have no outcome for workers in the public sector. And let's not forget the 180-degree turnaround on paid parental leave. I would like to hear their explanation of that U-turn. We have also heard from 10 coalition backbenchers, and members of the frontbench, coming out and calling for the abolition or cutting of penalty rates. This is the policy pursuit of those opposite. We have also got the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption where, just last week, The Sydney Morning Herald revealed that the commissioner, His Honour Dyson Heydon, had accepted an invitation to attend a New South Wales Liberal Party fundraiser and, as I understand it, that is playing out as we speak. The coalition are confused, but they really do have a shocking record on industrial relations. And it is not surprising to anyone that when they said WorkChoices was dead, buried and cremated, they had their fingers crossed behind their backs.
Before the last election the now Prime Minister tried to convince the Australian people that, if elected, he would not make any substantial changes to the workplace relations landscape. He promised he would not touch workers' conditions; he promised he would not cut wages or penalties. How things change in such a very short period of time! More than half-way through the term we have now got a raft of policy changes that this government wants to implement to hurt working families. Labor does not support this bill.