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.

5:16 pm

Photo of Jacqui LambieJacqui Lambie (Tasmania, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to briefly contribute to the debate on the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2014. I have serious concerns about this bill. Firstly, I worry that this federal Liberal Party legislation, just like Campbell Newman did in Queensland, seeks to deliberately destroy and undermine basic civil rights. In this instance, it is the right to silence for working Australians, while potential white-collar criminals in the corporate world are allowed to enjoy the freedoms, rights and privileges of all who live in a democratic society. On page 75, in division 6, the offences section of the bill indicates that a person being questioned faces a penalty if that person fails to answer a question. Former Queensland Premier Campbell Newman would have been proud of that destruction of a basic civil right: the right to silence. My question for the Liberal Party is: if a banker were being questioned over a crime that had been committed within their organisation, would their right to silence also be suspended?

Secondly, I am concerned that this legislation pre-empts the final recommendations of the landmark Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption. If you were a prudent political leader, surely you would wait until after the royal commission final recommendations were made public before you presented to the Australian people a complete legislative solution to corruption in the workplace. The royal commission's website informs the public:

The Commissioner John Dyson Heydon AC QC handed his interim report to the Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove at Government House in Canberra.

The Interim Report was tabled in Parliament on 19 December 2014.

During 2014, the Commission conducted more than 70 public and private hearings involving more than 220 witnesses in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane.

The Royal Commission will continue its program of public hearings in 2015. It is anticipated, at this stage, that no public hearings will be held before April. Further details will be posted as they become available.

Clearly, the royal commission final report will be presented to the Australian people towards the end of this year. Why does the Abbott Liberal government want to jump the gun and create unnecessary conflict?

Senator Abetz circulated the explanatory memorandum for this legislation. Senator Abetz is a fellow senator from Tasmania who has been in this place for over 20 years, while my community has suffered preventable economic and social crises. As I read Senator Abetz's explanatory notes to the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2014 and reflected upon his work, I had great difficulty naming just one outstanding achievement that he has accomplished for Tasmania.

Turning to Senator Abetz's work: broadly speaking, according to the explanatory memorandum, this bill will:

          The Liberal Party's key argument for this legislation is that they want to apply corporate standards of regulation to what they call registered organisations. Of course, what the Liberals call 'registered organisations' is what ordinary Australians call unions.

          Unlike members of the Liberal Party in this Senate, including Senator Abetz, I do not have an ingrained hatred for members of unions. I acknowledge that on balance the union movement in Australia has been an agent for positive change and has protected and strongly advocated for the rights of working Australian families. If we did not have unions and organised labour and their fights for better wages and conditions then Australia would be a poorer, less fair country.

          However, yes, I also acknowledge that the unions, just like the corporate world, have had their fair share of fraudsters, crooks and standover men who have ripped off their members and committed shocking crimes to satisfy their own greed and lust for power. Of course there is an ongoing need to monitor, investigate and enforce our laws wherever crime and corruption is found within any organisation, whether it be government departments, political parties, corporations or unions. Wherever there is a concentration of power and money, the risk for criminal or unethical behaviour increases, because, as we all know, if you are human, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

          However, the problem I have when the Liberals say they want to apply corporate standards of regulation to the unions is that Australian corporate standards are not all that flash. You only have to look at the corruption in one of the Liberal Party's biggest election donors, the banks, to realise that Australian corporate standards are about as good as the standards and regulations governing the Australian union movement. If Australian corporate standards were gold standard, then we would not have National Party members of this place, like Senator Williams, calling for a royal commission into Australian bank corruption.

          Let's bring some balance and clarity to this debate. At this stage of the debate, without all the facts from the royal commission, what is before us is the destruction of basic civil rights by this Liberal government while they suck up to their political donors and pat them on the back for corporate standards that they clearly lack. Tony Abbott has said:

          This is important legislation because it is vital for our country that we have clean unions.

          In that statement, there is an assumption that all unions are not clean; they are dirty and corrupt. That is a very big assumption given that it is coming from the leader of a political party with very close ties to an Australian banking industry with very big question marks over its own integrity while making record profits, and close ties with a big end of town known to sell their own grandmothers to improve shareholder return and profit margins. Mr Abbott's claims could easily be viewed as a case of pot calling kettle black.

          I believe that an equitable solution to corruption in the workplace and broader Australian society is the establishment of a permanent corruption watchdog whose star chamber powers will apply to bankers and union members equally. They must be applied equally. Combine that body with reformed world's best whistleblower or public interest disclosure laws that protect, encourage and reward genuine whistleblowers to come forward and then corruption in the workplace, corruption in government departments, corruption in the board rooms and corruption in political parties will be properly addressed.

          I make the point that this legislation can easily be viewed as an ideological attack on Australia's workers. It is part of a Liberal Party attempt to silence and weaken those who advocate on behalf of workers, because, once the Abbott Liberal government silences their workers, it becomes easy to exploit and steal money from them. We do not have to look far to see an example of a voiceless group of workers this Liberal government exploits and steals money from because they can. Of course, I am referring to members of our Australian Defence Force, who, unlike other public servants, are denied a voice by the very nature of their service. The Abbott Liberal government shamelessly exploits the Australian Defence Force's self-imposed silence and has forced an effective pay cut on them. Shame on you. Instead of speaking through a union or registered organisation, members of our Australian Defence Force suffer in silence while every member of the coalition in this chamber remains mute and allows this Liberal government to steal money from our Aussie diggers. One hundred and twenty-one million dollars per year is all that it would cost to deliver a fair pay rise to our sailors, diggers and members of our RAAF, but the PM refuses to do the right thing. Hopefully, the new PM will. Perhaps Malcolm Turnbull will remedy the defence pay injustice.

          In closing, I oppose the legislation before the House because it is ideologically motivated, unfair, it is not rational and it undermines basic civil liberties and rights. I have to say, that seems to be one consistency the Liberal Party has.

          5:27 pm

          Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

          I indicate that I will be voting for the measures in this bill, and I want to explain why. I make one comment in relation to Senator Lambie's contribution. She is right: the defence forces are not given a fair deal. They are not like other workers in the workplace in their ability to enterprise bargain. They cannot go on strike. I have a lot of sympathy for Senator Lambie's views in relation to defence forces. I do not have to urge her to keep up the campaign, because she is not giving up, so good on her.

          I want to make it very clear that I am a strong supporter of unions. I believe they play a vital role in protecting the rights of workers as well as holding employers, and politicians, accountable. I have been fortunate to work with a number of union officials on a variety of issues, from antidumping measures and aviation safety improvements to support for local jobs in the transport sector and to improve workplace compensation schemes. I could not have done that without the support of the union movement and working together with them on a whole range of issues.

          Many of these officials have shared their concerns with me about the cases of corruption that have been exposed. Some of them have even privately shared their desire for unions to be more accountable so that any hint of poor practices can be stamped out. Indeed, in terms of the royal commission into union corruption, I note that the national secretary of the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association, Steve Purvinas, has publicly commended that inquiry, although he is in the minority. Other unions feel that they are being unfairly singled out or unfairly treated. The union officials that I speak to do not fear transparency or accountability; in fact, they want it. They want it because they want to show to their members and to critics of the union movement that they are doing the right thing. They want it because they have nothing to hide. Of course, there needs to be a balance between accountability and excessive red tape, but I believe this bill, as amended, is a reasonable compromise.

          Indeed, it is worth reflecting on an article in the Financial Review on 30 July 2013, headed 'Judge slams penalties in union case', by Mathew Dunkley. It makes reference to the following:

          A Federal Court judge has criticised the penalties available under laws governing misconduct by union officials who are found to have inappropriately used members' money or failed to comply with governance regulations.

          It goes on to say:

          … Federal Court Judge Anthony North said he was unhappy at the relatively small penalties on offer, particularly in relation to the cost of the court proceedings.

          Justice North told the Melbourne court:

          The penalties are rather beneficially low … beneficial to wrongdoers.

          The report makes mention that:

          Justice North's comments have come as the federal Coalition—

          in opposition then—

          promises to introduce stiffer penalties for unions, bringing them more into line with the rule for corporations.

          That push has received support from Australian Workers' Union national secretary Paul Howes and retiring Labor frontbencher and former ACTU secretary Simon Crean.

          It is not as though this legislation is friendless in terms of the general principle and thrust of this legislation. I note that Mr Howes as head of the AWU, one of the nation's largest unions, had backed the coalition's plans for tougher penalties for union bosses who misuse members' funds and said, quite rightly, that he had no issue with moves to impose punishments that were in line with those faced by company directors.

          In an ideal world unions would exist to serve their members—and, in fact, I think the vast majority do so and do a very good job—but, unfortunately, in recent times we have seen some unions hijacked by unscrupulous individuals who have exploited these organisations for their own ends. Under the Corporations Act we set out the various requirements boards and executive officers must meet to ensure the reasonable protection of shareholders. We do this to codify in law the requirement that boards and executives work in the interests of their shareholders and the understanding that investors have the right to reasonable protections under the law.

          In my view, union members should have even greater protections than shareholders because the duty their union owes to them I believe goes much further than a financial return. People join unions in the belief and with the understanding that the organisation will support them and look after their rights. I think overwhelmingly that is the case. It is not about protecting a financial investment; it is about protecting them and their livelihoods. Members place a trust in their unions and a breach of this trust is in my view a serious matter that needs specific measures to target and prevent.

          I think it is important to note that the government has taken into account the concerns raised by the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee in response to the previous version of this bill. Those responses are welcome. I think the government's amendments in the other place address some significant concerns about the application of the bill and any unintended consequences. In particular, they address concerns about the application of the financial disclosure measures and ensure only the relevant parties are required to disclose, as well as the retrospective aspect of the bill. I am not being critical of the previous government in relation to their amendments but I think there were some unintended consequences in respect of that, so I think this does actually improve it. Ultimately, I believe this bill strikes a reasonable balance between scrutiny and freedom of association. There are very clear reasons why there needs to be change. In my view, while these measures do place a burden on unions—an additional burden in some cases—they provide greater protections for their members, and those, as all genuine union representatives would agree, are the ones we need to protect.

          I have two final comments. Ai Group's Chief Executive, Innes Willox, wrote to me recently in relation to this. He indicated that, as a registered organisation, the Ai Group was:

          … pleased that the latest version of the Bill includes a number of amendments introduced by the Federal Government to address the Ai Group's concerns including:

            If somebody is a volunteer shop steward on the floor there can be no reasonable basis for insisting that they be subjected to these. Also in there is:

              Corporations Act

            Innes Willox supports that—

                These are all sensible amendments. I think that the Ai Group, whilst it is on the other side of the fence, has been shown to be an organisation that has cooperated well with the union movement. I think their former head, Heather Ridout, worked well with the union movement. I think Innes Willox is of the same tone and mindset to have a cooperative approach to industrial relations. I think their concerns have been dealt with substantially. I think there has been an improvement in respect of this.

                I have a couple of questions I want to put to the minister. He may respond to these in his summing up. Firstly, insofar as there may be unintended consequences in respect of this bill in terms of unnecessary red tape or unnecessary burden—not just teething problems with the legislation but also any systemic issues that need to be dealt with—what undertakings will the government give to review this on a regular basis to ensure that these matters are dealt with? Secondly, insofar as there will need to be some resourcing of the advisory service that is anticipated, can the minister indicate what those resources will be and how easy it will be for a union, large or small, that requires assistance in terms of complying with this legislation to get that assistance, particularly in the early phases of the legislation? These are matters to be dealt with.

                Finally, in the broad context, there are other pieces of legislation that the government is putting up on industrial relations. I would like to think that this is the least controversial of all of those measures. They will be the subject of other scrutiny and other debate in due course. On balance, I support this legislation. I think it will overall enhance the accountability of unions to their members and I think the overwhelming number of union representatives in this country would welcome that.

                5:36 pm

                Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Employment) Share this | | Hansard source

                I thank all honourable senators for their contribution to this debate on the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2014 but, let's be frank, some more than others.

                Registered organisations play an important role in the affairs of workplace relations in this nation. Registered organisations are given special privileges under the Fair Work Act. With those privileges should come countervailing responsibilities. Every year, hundreds of thousands of people pay hard-earned wages as dues of literally hundreds of dollars per annum to unions and small businesses, similarly to employer organisations in Australia. Those organisations are known as registered organisations. Regrettably, the rorts, the rackets and the rip-offs have been in the media on an almost daily basis. Think Williamson; think Thomson; think Transport Workers Union, the CFMEU and, indeed, the Australian Workers Union. The community strongly favours these reforms.

                Until this parliament acts, Australia will not have a sufficiently robust system to ensure that the sort of corruption that was revealed during the numerous scandals can be uncovered and eradicated. It is already systemic. To do nothing is not a responsible option. It is simply no longer tenable to argue that the present system is adequate to deal with or discourage the kind of behaviour that we have witnessed. The government believes that the majority of registered organisations do the right thing and indeed, in many cases, maintain higher standards than those who are currently required or would be required under this legislation.

                However, the recent investigations into the Health Services Union illustrate that, unfortunately, financial impropriety can and does occur under the current governance regime for registered organisations. The charges and allegations against the former ALP member of parliament Craig Thomson and the former ALP national president Michael Williamson, in their capacity as officers of the Health Services Union, are shocking and unacceptable. Mr Thomson is still facing allegations that his 2007 federal election campaign was partly funded by siphoning union money without authorisation. Mr Williamson has pleaded guilty to misusing almost $1 million of Health Services Union members' funds. Mr Williamson has also been accused of destroying documents and hindering investigations.

                Members of the Health Services Union are rightly asking how this gross breach of trust could happen. Questions have also arisen with numerous other registered organisations. Members of registered organisations are asking whether this could happen in their organisation. For those of us who worked in the parliament in earlier years, Mr Shorten and Senator Wong were the chief defenders of the Mr Williamsons and the Mr Thomsons of this world. Regrettably, the ALP and Greens political parties are the recipients of literally hundreds of thousands of dollars from these organisations. That is why they are so silent on matters of corruption in these organisations, and I fear that they are the beneficiaries of some of the 'funny' money that gets slushed through some unscrupulous trade union activities.

                The Health Services Union investigation exposed significant shortfalls in the current framework. The investigation into Mr Thomson of the Health Services Union by the Fair Work Commission has cost taxpayers almost $4 million. The report took three years to produce and now, eight years after the initial breaches, court action is still being heard. Clearly, there is something wrong with the framework. That is why there is a need for this bill.

                This bill will establish an independent watchdog, the Registered Organisations Commission, to monitor and regulate registered organisations with enhanced investigation and information-gathering powers to ensure that the law is being upheld. It will strengthen the requirement for officers' disclosure of material personal interests and related voting and decision-making rights, and it will change the grounds for disqualification and ineligibility for office. It will strengthen existing financial accounting, disclosure and transparency obligations under the registered organisations act by putting certain rule obligations on the face of the registered organisations act and making them enforceable as civil-remedy provisions.

                It will increase civil penalties and introduce criminal offences for serious breaches of officers' duties as well as introduce new offences in relation to the conduct of investigations under the registered organisations act. It will fix the rushed amendments made by the former government that require even some shop stewards around Australia to disclose their husband's, wife's or children's income and assets. That was alluded to by Senator Xenophon's very considered contribution in this debate. They were requirements imposed by Mr Shorten, the current leader of the Australian Labor Party, and we want to fix that mess. More on that later.

                I want to take some time to address some of the concerns that have been raised by senators. In relation to penalties, it is important that the government's expectation is that the top penalty will only be imposed, if at all, for the most heinous of offences. The penalties will be imposed by none other than the courts. We know that the courts have had an issue with the current framework, when even Federal Court judge Anthony North made these almost unprecedented comments last year:

                The penalties [under the current Act] are rather beneficially low…beneficial to wrongdoers.

                In other words, the penalty does not fit the gravity of the offence. So why would any senator seek to vote to keep that situation in place, when even Federal Court judge Anthony North has come to that conclusion? It is very compelling, very persuasive, and it is a matter of regret that the Australian Labor Party and the Greens have not succumbed to the logic and wisdom of Justice North on this occasion.

                I simply pose the question: why should a corrupt union official who has ripped off hundreds of thousands of dollars from a union only be liable for a fine of $10,200 when, for the same corrupt conduct, a company director would be liable for five years imprisonment or a fine of $320,000? What is the material difference, what is the moral difference, between a company director ripping off shareholders and a union official—or, for that matter, an employer official—ripping off members? There is no moral difference, there is no material difference and the penalties should be as close as possible.

                Some registered organisations have indicated concern that the new penalties will mean that they have will have difficulty persuading people to take on official responsibilities. If that is the case, it is a sad reflection and, quite frankly, I do not believe it. It is very simple: no wrongdoing, no penalty. And the penalty, of course, would in any event be court imposed. The only people who have anything to fear are those who are doing the wrong thing. A rigorous structure and process will be in place for investigation and prosecution of alleged wrongdoing. Officers who are operating within the law—which is, might I add, the overwhelming majority of them—will have no reason to fear taking on official responsibilities. The overwhelming number of officers who are already doing the right thing should be comforted in knowing that unlawful behaviour will be dealt with, thus ensuring ongoing member confidence in registered organisations as a whole.

                Very importantly, I would invite honourable senators to recognise that this bill actually cleans up the mess created by Mr Shorten and the former government. Our legislation will amend the disclosure requirements for officers of registered organisations, to more closely align them with the Corporations Act so that the requirement to disclose material possession personal interests applies—and I stress this—only to those officers whose duties relate to the financial management of the organisation. That is a change we would make from the current law. I simply say to those who have railed against these provisions and the others I go through: keep in mind: vote this bill down and all those provisions will remain and we will be seeking from the Fair Work Commission their attitude in relation to pursuing all these requirements that the Labor Party put into the legislation and that Senator Bilyk and others championed.

                We will also remove the more invasive disclosure requirements for officers to report family members' income and assets, thereby more closely aligning with the Corporations Act. That exists now, ham-fistedly put into the legislation by Mr Shorten, and it now has dire and inappropriate consequences for those who want to be involved in the trade union movement or employer organisations. The bill will align the material personal interest disclosure requirements for officers so that disclosures only need to be made to the governing body and not to the entire membership. Mr Shorten's legislation now requires it to go out to the entire membership—a complete breach of privacy. But where are the Greens on this? Nowhere to be heard on this breach of privacy, because it is okay because Mr Shorten did it. You can actually get rid of this provision by supporting this legislation.

                We will limit disclosures of related party payments to payments made above a certain prescribed threshold and with certain other exceptions based on those exceptions in the Corporations Act for member approval of related party transactions, and we would provide the Registered Organisations Commissioner with the discretion to waive training requirements of officers of registered organisations. For example, if a member is a certified and practising accountant, they would not have to go through the course being provided by the Fair Work Commission—another example of Mr Shorten's ham-fisted approach. The unions want this removed—they admit that; they acknowledge that—but they do not want the extra penalties, and that is why they have taken this regrettable attitude to this legislation, and that is why the Labor Party, in lock-step with them, are doing the same.

                Let me be very clear: unless these amendments pass this parliament, officials of registered organisations will run the very real risk of being in breach of the laws as they stand today in relation to the issues identified by the opposition themselves. When they are enforced and all the people out there rightly complain about the enforcement of these provisions, we will say to them: 'Thank the Australian Greens and the Australian Labor Party for not removing these provisions when they actually had the opportunity of doing so and assisting in cleaning up certain elements in the trade union movement.'

                It does seem passing strange that we get lectures from those opposite, including the crossbench, that this is somehow an ideological attack on workers and that we somehow believe that all unions are corrupt. Even if you might think that that is what we think, you are wrong. Even if you were to park that to the side, why is it that Paul Howes, a former secretary of the Australian Workers Union, was able to say on 26 November 2012:

                The reality is I do not have any issue with increasing the level of requirements and penalties on trade unions for breaching basic ethics like misappropriation of funds.

                It is pretty simple stuff. Mr Howes does not have a problem. Another former leader of the Australian Workers Union and indeed of the Labor movement, now Fair Work Commissioner, Ian Cambridge, made similar commentary, as did former Labor Attorney-General Robert McClelland and two former ACTU presidents and Labor ministers, in Martin Ferguson and Simon Crean. They are somehow embarked on this ideological attack on workers?

                No, they are decent trade union leaders that have seen a once proud organisation brought into the gutter through corruption, and they want to see it cleaned up, and we as a government do as well.

                I note that our friends in Palmer United have issued a media release today saying that they would abstain from voting on any 'legalisation' proposals. Here we are not seeking to legalise anything—in fact, we are trying to ensure that certain things are made illegal—so I would invite them to vote for us on this matter, albeit I think there might be a spelling mistake and they meant 'legislation' rather than 'legalisation'. But I will take it at its face value and say that we are not seeking to legalise anything with this; we are in fact intending to make illegal certain activities.

                In relation to Senator Xenophon, I do give him an undertaking that, in the event that there are any unintended consequences, of course we as a government would seek to deal with them in an expeditious manner, because what we want out of this is a clean system of registered organisations, be they trade unions or employer organisations, so that members can have confidence in the way that their organisations are run. In relation to the advisory service, that is already being provided as we speak—albeit in limited form, I would suggest—by the Fair Work Commission. When, if this legislation is passed, the Registered Organisations Commission becomes a node within the Fair Work Ombudsman, that educative role would, of course, continue.

                Can I now quickly return—time escapes—to those matters referred to by Senator Cameron in one of his excellently impassioned speeches—but completely devoid of facts. He asserted that the Ai Group had stated their opposition to the legislation. We heard from Senator Xenophon that they actually support it. For Senator Cameron to come into this place and assert one thing, whereas Senator Xenophon can actually quote a letter saying the exact opposite, indicates the paucity of factual information that Senator Cameron brings to these debates.

                He suggests that the bill proposes to amend the act to restrict officers from taking part in certain decisions. It goes for page after page. Each and every one of his allegations relates to the legislation that is in place already, courtesy of the Australian Labor Party's ham-fisted approach in an attempt to gazump us when we announced our policy for a Registered Organisations Commission. In his ham-fisted approach, all the ills that Senator Cameron refers to are in fact already in the legislation, and we seek to remove them from the legislation and do him a favour. The only thing we are really asking for is that there be an increased regime of penalties and a bit more transparency. Senator Cameron, the Labor Party and the Greens want to live with all these things that they are against for fear of increased penalties. Why are they scared of the courts imposing penalties if a wrongdoing has been uncovered?

                In relation to another senator, who suggested that the right to silence was somehow being removed, it is already there. There is no change in that area whatsoever. If that is a reason to vote against the legislation, because of something that is already in the legislation, it is a bit hard to engage in that debate.

                In the final seconds, can I simply say that this is a policy on which the government ran at the last election. It was well and truly ventilated and put before the Australian people. There were no ifs and buts. People knew exactly where we stood on this important issue. We introduced this legislation within the first sitting week of the parliament because we considered it to be so important, and now that it has come before the Senate again I invite the Senate to support the legislation.

                Photo of Sam DastyariSam Dastyari (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

                The question is that the bill be read a second time.