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Tuesday, 5 December 2000
Page: 23346

Dr NELSON (2:15 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business. Has the minister's attention been drawn to media reports that the government will introduce legislation in two parts next year to govern registered organisations? Will the minister inform the House why the legislation will be split and the impact that it will have on registered organisations and on other parties?

Mr REITH (Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business) —I thank the member for Bradfield for his question. I have seen those reports. In fact, I think we will introduce three pieces of legislation next year, including a transitional bill. We commissioned a report on the whole question of the procedures for registered organisations, which include employer associations as well as unions. That report was made public. The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters is also looking at elections within registered organisations, and its report and recommendations have been taken into account. We have had discussions with the parties and we have released an exposure draft on the legislation. We have had discussions with the ACTU and ACCI.

We are also mindful of the fact that the Australian Democrats have made it pretty clear that they do not like the bills coming to the Senate to be too chunky: they like the idea of more bite sized chunks. We have taken all those things into consideration and we will put the legislation before parliament at the start of next year. It is basically all ready to go; it is just a matter of making final preparations to introduce the bill.

There is no doubt that transparency in the arrangements of registered organisations is important. There have been many cases over the years—particularly in respect of unions—when members have simply not known where the dollars that they paid by way of subscriptions have gone. I have an independent accountant's report from 1998 referring to the books of the Australian Workers Union centrally funded branches which says:

In our opinion the AWU centrally funded branches have not kept satisfactory accounting records, including records of the sources and nature of the income of the Australian Workers Union centrally funded branches, including income from members, records of the nature and purpose of the expenditure of the Australian Workers Union centrally funded branches.

I noted some very interesting rather more current statements in today's press about what goes on with unions and members' money. There is a report in this morning's Canberra Times about an inquiry that is going on in Queensland. According to that newspaper, a former AWU organiser, Mr Bermingham, apparently told the inquiry:

You would go and tell Mike Kaiser that certain memberships had to be paid ... he would ring Bill—

that is Bill Ludwig—

and money would be left in an envelope on the counter ... in cash.

It was probably in a brown paper bag. According to Mr Bermingham:

... the fund was set up after a fund-raiser at Brisbane's Hilton Hotel and was run out of the then office of one of the federal MPs.

We all know that a lot of federal MPs are basically in the hands of the AWU. Bill Ludwig is so powerful that he does not just put nonentities into the lower house; he has got his son in the Senate.

Mr Crean —What about your son?

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr REITH —Let them get it out of their system, Mr Speaker. The fact is that the AWU runs you blokes in Queensland.

Honourable members interjecting

Mr SPEAKER —When a measure of maturity is exhibited in the House, I will recognise the minister.

Mr REITH —Brian Courtice was a federal Labor member of parliament and the other day he said this about the control of the AWU

Mr Bevis —Did you ring him up?

Mr REITH —I didn't have to ring him up, mate; he was on radio—the whole country heard what he had to say.

Mr SPEAKER —The minister will not respond to interjections.

Mr REITH —He said:

The issue here is industrial power leads to political power leads to legislative power.

That was reminiscent of the member for Fremantle, who said:

The unions have a disproportionate influence over the Labor Party.

That is a significant problem when the leader of the parliamentary party does not have the ticker to stand up to the Bill Ludwigs of the AWU. As the Financial Review said this morning:

But the Queensland rorting has dragged into the public spotlight the destructive underbelly of factional politics, where an outside interest group such as the Australian Workers Union can exert influence far beyond its numbers on Labor Party preselections and eventually the composition of the Federal Cabinet.

When we announced that we would be taking further action on registered organisations, what was the Labor Party's response?

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr REITH —I would like to hear about it in more detail if it is going to be interjected.

Mr SPEAKER —The Leader of the House will respond to the question, not to interjections.

Mr REITH —Their response is the response of the ACTU: no way known will they support legislation in respect of further workplace relations reform. It is about time the Leader of the Opposition tackled what has been a significant problem for the Labor Party, and that is the disproportionate influence of some of these unions. They basically own you and a whole lot of those sitting behind you lock, stock and barrel, and the challenge will come for the Leader of the Opposition. The exposure draft is already out, but the Leader of the Opposition's challenge will come in February when he must decide whether he will go along with the ACTU, who just say no—that is their policy—or whether he will support sensible government measures that have been the subject of a lot of consultation and that will clean up some of the financial discrepancies in registered organisations.