Senate debates

Monday, 17 August 2015


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

5:43 pm

Photo of Barry O'SullivanBarry O'Sullivan (Queensland, National Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to make a contribution to this debate on the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2014 [No. 2] and I am very pleased to see Senator Lambie in the chamber because we know her position on these matters, as she understands the impact that some of this behaviour can have on productivity in places like her home state of Tasmania. I am almost prepared to declare my love for Tasmanians is right up there with my Queenslanders.

This legislation is about transparency. It is about accountability. It is about, in this case, some organisations including some trade union organisations being held to account. It is about the duty of care that they have to stakeholders, to beneficiaries of their efforts or victims where there are acts and/or omissions that arise out of the abuse of their power or the abuse of their position.

It includes the story in relation to criminal and unlawful behaviour. What are quite apparent are some shortcomings in the jurisdictional capacity of our nation to deal with this criminal and unlawful behaviour, particularly in those organisations that practise that, which includes—as has been well established in this place—a number of trade unions. Of course, it is about some of these organisations avoiding detection. The way they are doing that is that they are coming in here with their patrons. There are members of the Australian Labor Party and there are members of the Australian Greens who will make every effort in this place to resist this legislation and like legislation, to ensure that we never, ever restore the accountability that is required in such important sectors in our community. I have a fairly thick hide on me, I do not mind saying—but they do so, and there is a thickness of hide, I might say, that I have not seen too often.

First of all they fail to declare their conflict of interest. They fail to declare the hundreds and hundreds and millions of dollars that are pumped into their organisations to see that they are effectively returned to this place, to what is, by any standards, a very well paid, very well supported job. And they do that, it would seem—and we will talk about this a little bit later on—on the back of donations from companies that they have achieved in many instances at the cost of the people they are hoping to represent.

All we need to do as each of the senators makes their contribution—be it from ours or from the other side—is to keep in mind these key principles, these key touchstones. Ask yourself: does that support transparency? Ask yourself: does that support accountability? Ask yourself: will that hold the individuals to account so that their duty of care is taken, or does it leave us vulnerable to a continued abuse of their position and their power?

I want to reflect on the contribution made by Senator Ludwig. I know Senator Ludwig is up in his office now watching my contribution because I have got word that he does that as a matter of practice. What Senator Ludwig had to say—and it was a very, very interesting statement—was that the government is endeavouring to use transparency and accountability as a stalking horse on the unions. That is worth repeating: using transparency and accountability as a stalking horse on the trade unions. He went on to say that the royal commission was attacking unions, so the royal commission was the Trojan Horse. I know that my colleague Senator McKenzie has very eloquently set out some of the work and productivity work of the commission, and we will come back to that again in a moment.

I want to revisit—because some of the senators opposite were not here when I made a contribution on a separate bill the other day relating to these matters—where I was able to quote a union official who was calling on the Australian Federal Police to withdraw blackmail charges against one of their senior executive. Here is the old story. They say that for one man it is an empty Coke bottle; for the other it is a 5c piece. In this case we had the union official who described the behaviour of his colleague as 'normal negotiating methods'. That was his reflection on the circumstances, but to the Australian Federal Police it was the very, very serious crime of blackmail. I have some personal experience in this space. You cannot have corruption without some element of blackmail being involved. It is the way that people are blackmailed and threatened that if they do or do not do certain things there will be repercussions.

Let us just, if we might, revisit the royal commission. This is the 'stalking horse' that is using transparency and accountability as a stalking horse on the unions. Well, thank the Lord, might I say. Praise the Lord that that is what is happening, when you look at the litany of matters that have been exposed. Of course, these have nothing to do with the 600-plus breaches, offences, that have been prosecuted against a variety of unions and the over $6 million worth of penalties—which, I am instructed, are paid for by the unions, by those people who have secured the penalties against them. This is just a simple way to ensure that the behaviour permeates.

One of my favourites is the fact that Mr Shorten, the Leader of the Opposition and a union man through and through—it would seem, until you read some of the evidence that was given before this royal commission—accepted a $40,000 donation from a construction company. Now let us just stop there. Unibilt was the company. Let us just stop there. Mr Shorten, representing the interests of the membership of his union, accepted a $40,000 donation. That is a considerable sum of money by any standards and probably reflected something about the base wage of some of the individuals that he was representing in this particular circumstance. The interesting thing is that it comes from the construction company. These are the people against whom Mr Shorten is charged with representing the interests of his members. We all know what a union representative does with the employers, and that is to try and get the very best deal for those stakeholders who place their great trust in their union representative, just as stakeholders place trust in the boards of companies—and we are going to make a bit of a comparison later on, because there has been much said about how companies should be accountable but unions and registered organisations should not.

He got $40,000. What did he do with that? Let me think. Did he promote the interests of the union members? The answer is no—and, in case I forget to answer one of my own questions, we will just take a standard no for all of them. Did he put it to the welfare of the members? Did he put it into a fund? Was there any sort of benevolent application of that? That would be no, no and no. Did he distribute it? He has just achieved something off the employer, which is what he is charged to do. Did he distribute it to the members? No. Let us not continue with the mystery. What did he do with that? He paid the wages of people in his election campaign, the wages of his election campaign director. So, in an abuse of his position on behalf of the members that he was representing, he took off the enemy—if you listen to the Labor Party—off a corporation over which he was exercising—

Senator Polley interjecting—

I know it is unpleasant—through you, Mr Deputy President. I do understand this is unpleasant and I am trying to keep my remarks as measured as I can, because I have been known to sort of embellish on occasions—but not today. Mr Shorten took the money and he paid the wages of his campaign director.

Senator Polley interjecting—

Senator Bilyk interjecting—

If one of you are going to make a contribution—I say to you, through you, Mr Deputy President—it will be your chance to condemn these activities, something that you have never done. I have listened to hundreds of hours of contributions in this space, particularly about the CFMEU, and not once, not for one nanosecond, have I heard you make a contribution to condemn the behaviour—not just the unlawful, fraudulent behaviour but the behaviour as particularised by my colleague earlier in relation to threats, intimidation and evidence about outright assaults. Not once have I heard anybody make a contribution from the other side where they have used the word 'transparency'. Sorry; in the interests of being fair, I did hear Senator Ludwig use it. He talked about transparency and accountability, as a stalking horse, but, that contribution aside, I have not heard anyone on that side of the chamber use the words 'transparency' or 'accountability'. I have never heard any reference about being held to account or any reference to a duty of care—nothing. Most particularly, I have not heard you condemn the behaviour of this absolutely criminal organisation known as the CFMEU, about which this parliament, this Senate, has been endeavouring to bring measures into play so that we can regulate their behaviour, for the people who are affected by their behaviour—who are your constituency largely, members of that trade union. The day that I hear that, the little bit of hair I have got left will fall out.

So Mr Shorten accepted $40,000. Did he disclose that? Yes, he did disclose it, but it was only two days before he appeared before the royal commission—48 hours. Mind you, it had slipped his mind for eight years. But, two days out, 48 hours out, Mr Shorten finally—I use the words 'came clean'; you might use some other words. He heard the galloping hooves. He looked over his shoulder, and there was that stalking horse coming at him, with its teeth bared and its mane flowing in the wind, and what did he do? He ran straight into the Electoral Commission office to hide from the stalking horse and deliver up his declaration of this money. It was pathetic.

Senator Polley interjecting—

Senator Bilyk interjecting—

I hear you. I do not know what you are saying because I am busy making my contribution but—this is how clever I am—I can talk this loud, not listen to you and know that you have not used the words 'transparency', 'accountability', 'held to account', 'duty of care', 'abuse of power', 'criminal or unlawful behaviour' or 'avoiding detection for eight years with only two days to go'. That was real skin-of-the-teeth sort of stuff, right?


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