Senate debates

Monday, 17 August 2015

Bills

Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2014 [No. 2]; Second Reading

5:23 pm

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party) Share this | Hansard source

There were four, and they went to issues exactly as Senator Lines was talking about. If you have somebody heading up a registered organisation who has significant knowledge of financial obligations then there is no reason that we should actually be running that person through a financial training package as a matter of course, just to get the tick in the box. Some people like a tick in the box for no reason, but I do not see why we should actually be wasting the time and money of the person who is very busily volunteering in a trade union or indeed a registered organisation. Many employer groups are themselves run by volunteers, not just by employees. So that was going to be overregulation and an overkill for some people.

We also recommended that the obligation placed on officers to disclose every payment be reduced, with certain exclusions including limiting disclosures to payments made above a certain threshold. So we streamlined a lot of the reporting requirements that were originally envisaged. And that is a good thing because it not only cuts down on the administrative workload for those volunteers but is also quite consistent with our approach as a government to minimise regulation and red tape for those in the community.

Senator Lines went to the fact that we have looked at this bill a lot, and no-one more than the education and employment committee. I would like to make some brief comments, as it is the opportune time now, on our report brought down this month. It is useful to note that we have actually incorporated the four amendments within the bill. The bill comprises two schedules and seeks to amend the Fair Work Act 2009 and the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009 to improve the governance and oversight of registered organisations.

The government's legislative response was in response to the HSU scandal, and it was wonderful to hear Senator Lines put on the record her abhorrence for that particular issue and the impact it had not only on the members of that union but also on the confidence more broadly within the Australian community around the behaviour of union officials. I guess it was in that context that this particular legislative package came forward.

Schedule 1 establishes the Registered Organisations Commission, and it is to be headed by the Registered Organisations Commissioner, which I think would be entirely appropriate. The functions and powers of the commissioner are actually based on those of the General Manager of the Fair Work Commission, as well as those set out in the ASIC Act 2001.

The ALP's claim that if you are making a profit you should be treated differently to if you are not making a profit was really interesting. When it comes to governance, I am not sure the amount of money you are dealing with should be the deciding factor. I think anybody who is presiding over the interests of others, those officials and leaders, should be subject to the same guidelines whether they are volunteers or paid and whether their organisation is a not-for-profit or a profit organisation. And I do not know why the lowest paid workers in our community should not be able to have that sort of confidence in those who seek to represent them.

Schedule 2 is in two parts. Part 1 alters the reporting and disclosure obligations of registered organisations and their officers, increases civil penalties for noncompliance and introduces new criminal offences for the most serious contraventions. I think that is important. I think also what is important is there is no budgetary cost for the government and the arrears estimates and compliance cost for every registered organisation is about $1,270 per year on average. I think for us to secure the confidence of the wider community that trade unions in particular but also other registered organisations are being governed appropriately, that is a small price to pay.

I would also like to respond to claims that there was a lack of consultation. Given the amount of reports that have been generated out of my own committee and the serious consultation that was done by the minister's office in the formulation of this particular package, I am absolutely confident that trade unions were consulted, that the community was consulted and that employer groups were consulted. I refuse to accept from the ALP that the government is simply going about trashing the trade union movement, that there is somehow a sense within the government that when the polls are bad we will pull out our bashing-the-trade-union card. It is simply not the case.

This government—and I have said it many times in this place—is the best friend the Australian worker has ever had. We are serious about ensuring a stable and productive economy so that the Australian worker can be secure in their job. We are not just looking at the jobs of today but our competitiveness agenda ensures that we are looking at the jobs for tomorrow. It is transformative what we are going through at the moment. The technological advances, the types of strategies we are implementing through education policies are going to ensure that our workforce going forward is skilled for the 21st century, which is exactly what we need to be doing.

Labor's changes whilst they were in government were quite good. They went a little way but they did not go far enough. I think what we are doing is actually giving utter confidence to the sector more broadly, because we need to restore faith in unions and we need to restore faith in employer representative bodies. I am really sick of the idea that good legislation, legislation that wants to deal with the bullying behaviour—the unlawful behaviour of some of those in the trade union movement—is somehow trashing trade unions. It is not; it is actually about ensuring that people who go to work everyday are not going to be subject to attack. I think that is about a fair go for all people in the Australian community. To assume that it is just some Trojan horse for Work Choices, that this sort of legislation and our legislative agenda in this area are simply about being the Grim Reaper of Work Choices is simply false. Look at the evidence coming out of the royal commission or read the papers or be in my home state of Victoria and look at the behaviour of Cesar Melham, look at the behaviour of the CFMEU over a long period of time and the impact that has had on public infrastructure projects. It is not just wasting the taxpayer dollar, it is not just wasting the union members' dollar and misappropriating it but it is actually wasting—particularly Victorian—taxpayers' dollars as project after project experiences blowout. It is doing untold damage.

Another comment made by those opposite throughout the course of this debate is that somehow we roll out the Dorothy Dixers around trade unions whenever the polls are down. What a joke. We have been asking very good questions on this side of the chamber about the inappropriate behaviour of some union officials over a long period of time. I do not shy away from that at all. Throughout the course of a current Senate inquiry into temporary working visas in my own committee, the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee, we have had very strong representation from a variety of unions around issues with the 417 and 457 visa classes. Specifically, if you log on to the ACTU's website, you will see the Aussie jobs campaign—it must be preselection time for some people at the moment but it is still going swimmingly. The issue is, when you actually delve a little closer into the types of skill shortages that exist across the Australian economy, guess what? It turns out the union movement is experiencing a skill shortage as well. It is experiencing a skill shortage as we heard in question time today with a question answered by Senator Cash in a very powerful manner in response to evidence and questions on notice through the education and employment committee. Workplace relations advisers for 457 visas are in short supply, guess where? In trade unions.

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