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Monday, 25 June 2012
Page: 7649

Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (13:25): It is obvious, as a number of members have already made clear in their contributions to this debate, that the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2012 is a response to some pretty concerning allegations that have been made in recent times about expenditure of union money in this country. There should be a fundamental principle that applies whatever your union, and that is that members' funds are spent for the advancement of members' interests.

Unions are one of the few organisations that we have left in this country where members are able to exercise some very real control over the direction of their organisation and who runs it. You will find more democracy and control in a union than you will find in a publicly listed or a privately listed company or in many incorporated associations. It is a fundamental principle of unions, but it of course relies on members being properly informed about what happens in their union, including in their union leadership.

To the extent that this bill aims to provide members of unions with more information about what is happening in their own organisations, we are supportive of the intent of the bill. We note that the ACTU, the Australian Council of Trade Unions, also supports this legislation. However, I do wish to raise one comment, which is that I wonder whether, in their haste to introduce this bill, the government have created in some ways an unlevel playing field.

The requirements for disclosure of remuneration that are found in this bill would be a very good principle if they in fact applied across the board. But what we know is that, in many instances, unions and workers will find themselves negotiating with private proprietary limited companies and those companies may be very big and very powerful. There is no obligation on the five most senior staff within a privately listed company to tell the union or the workforce what they are earning and yet there will be an obligation on the people in the union to disclose their remuneration. So, potentially, as a result of this bill, we will have a situation where a union official—and it might not even be an elected official; it might be a staff member—is sitting down across the table from a very well paid human resources manager or consultant or one of the directors of the company, and one side will know what the other gets paid but the reverse will not be the case.

I am concerned that that may lead to a situation of significant power imbalance between workers and their representatives on the one hand and employers who may be very big and powerful employers on the other. For all the reasons I outlined before, that is not enough reason to stand in the way of this bill. But we do note that perhaps, in their haste, the government have tipped the playing field slightly against the people that this is supposed to assist.