Monday, 20 August 2012
Health Services Union
At the request of Senator Abetz, I move:
That the Senate—
(i) Mr Michael Williamson’s recent roles as President of the Australian Labor Party (ALP), member of the ALP Industrial Committee, Executive Member of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Vice President of Unions NSW, Vice President of the ALP New South Wales Branch and Trustee of First State Super, and
(ii) findings by Mr Ian Temby, QC and Mr Dennis Robertson, FCA that, while Mr Williamson was General Secretary of the Health Services Union (HSU) East Branch, he, his family, his company and his close associates benefitted from $20 million in union members’ funds which was spent without proper financial control;
(b) condemns this use of union members’ funds at the HSU by Mr Williamson as found by Mr Temby and Mr Robertson; and
(c) calls for stronger penalties under the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009 than the present $6 600 monetary penalty and to include penalties under the Corporations Act 2001.
The government does not support this motion. The government has been clear that we do not condone the misuse of members' funds by trade unions. We have been clear that we consider the conduct outlined in the Temby report to be unacceptable. On these matters there is no question. That is why we have moved and passed legislation in this parliament to increase the financial accountability and transparency of trade unions and to triple penalties. That is why we applied to the Federal Court to appoint an independent administrator for the HSU. On both matters we got not one iota of support from the opposition.
This government also respects the independence of Australia's tribunals and our courts. We understand that it is not our role to seek to unduly influence investigations or court processes. This simply is not our role. The opposition has been inconsistent on this matter from day one. They accused us of interference, then called on us to intervene and then wanted matters to be dealt with in the courts, but they want to act as judge and jury in the meantime. The hypocrisy is breathtaking. (Time expired)
Even the ACTU have condemned Mr Williamson. At present the penalty is a $6,600 fine for a possible $21 million fraud. Company directors in a similar circumstance face $220,000 fines and a potential five-year period of imprisonment. But, if you are a union official, under this government and with the Greens $6,600 will be the maximum penalty. We know that three-quarters of Labor senators are former union bosses, and one wonders whether that has any influence in relation to the way they vote given that Mr Temby and Mr Robertson have made these devastating findings against the former National President of the Australian Labor Party. (Time expired)
The Australian Greens certainly do not condone the behaviour that occurred from Mr Michael Williamson and what went on in the union, and we support the government's move to treble the penalties under the legislation. What Senator Abetz is doing is failing to recognise that action has been taken, that condemnation has been all round and that nobody condones the behaviour that was set out in these particular cases.
Mr President, on a point of order, I request that the Greens indicate whether they would vote in favour of paragraphs (a) and (b) of the motion, as Senator Milne has just asserted, because if so I would ask that the motion be put in two parts: paragraphs (a) and (b) together and then paragraph (c). We will see whether Senator Milne actually is willing to vote as she spoke.
In terms of the point of order, that is not a point of order, but you are quite entitled and it is your right to ask for different elements of the—if you want to vote different ways. You cannot pre-empt what someone else might be doing on the voting.
I am aware of that. I just want to give the Greens the opportunity to vote according to their conscience. If what Senator Milne has said is to be believed then I would imagine the Greens would vote with the coalition on paragraphs (a) and (b) but, of course, would vote against paragraph (c).
In light of the fact that Senator Abetz took a point of order in order to make his point, I too make a point of order. If Senator Abetz wishes to amend his motion then I would ask him to amend it and bring it back tomorrow so that we can have a look.