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Tuesday, 3 December 2013
Page: 1384

Mr BROUGH (Fisher) (13:03): Firstly, let me congratulate the member for Wright for having the strength of character to bring his private member’s bill forward in the last parliament. I was a little reluctant to speak on the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2013 because I did not want to bring my ideology into it. I am a strong supporter of the unions, and being such a strong supporter of the unions I see this bill as probably being the strongest tool that any union boss or rep could possibly have when going to a workplace. Mr Deputy Speaker, let me put it to you this way: you turn up to a workplace and say to a worker such as a nurse, a construction worker or a policeman, 'Listen, from now on, I would like to take $20, $30, $40, $50 out of your pay.' They say, 'Well, I'm not so sure that's a great idea. What about that Thomson affair? What about what happened with the HSU?' And you say, 'Let me just put it straight to you: anybody that plays around with your money is going to get whacked with a massive stick. They're going to be thrown in jail. They're going to be investigated and they're going to be investigated quickly.' And he or she says: 'Oh, that sounds a bit better. That's not the way it used to be.'

So you can give them confidence. You can give the workers of Australia confidence that when they take money out of their back pocket and put it into a union they can be assured it is not going to be misappropriated, misused, given to someone who does not deserve it or, worse still, knocked off. Surely, all of those who sit opposite who acquaint themselves with union delegates are pushing this argument on them every day, saying: 'Let's embrace this piece of legislation. Let's take it and build the union numbers.'

In this debate so far we have had a lot of talk about unions, so I took the opportunity to go back to Fair Work Australia and look at their registered organisations, because they are not just union organisations—far from it. We have the Australian Aircrew Officers Association, the Agribusiness Employers Federation, the Australian Education Union. That is just the 'A's for you. There is the Building Services Contractors Association, the Confederation of ACT Industry, Clubs Australia—the list goes on. It gives you a bit of a feel that there are unions but there are also employer associations.

As I have been listening to the debate, I have noted some of the issues that have been raised so far. Some people would say I need to be certified to listen to some of the debates in here, but we come to this place to try and share ideas. I was hoping that the member for Melbourne would be speaking before me, as he was scheduled, because I listened to his contribution yesterday on another workplace relations bill, where he talked about human rights. I was hoping that he would repeat his statements today so that I could rebut him. You see, it is all well and good to talk about human rights and about making sure that the rule of law is being applied equally, but it seems that it only applies to one side of the ledger in the Greens' lexicon. My view is that we need to be evenly balanced and to give people confidence, because confidence is the imperative that we all need before we invest in anything or anyone. It is people that we are talking about here.

The member for Wright talked about being above reproach. When I go back to 1996 and the standards that applied then in this place to the disclosure of your pecuniary interests, I can see that they have now changed markedly, because that has been the expectation of the public. By increasing the disclosure laws in this bill means that we are meeting the expectation of the public.

Now, because I was not in this place for the last six years—and because of that I spent more time with the public—I can tell you about the dismay that was there with this ongoing saga of the HSU. Let us be frank, there were comments made to me almost daily, such as: 'Surely, there's political interference here. Maybe that's what this is all about. Maybe they're stalling with all of this and using Fair Work Australia as a political pawn.' These were comments coming back from our fellow Australians who had lost confidence in Fair Work Australia and even in this parliament and the people who are involved with it.

This bill goes some way towards addressing those concerns that so many people had. I would challenge those opposite to tell me they did not hear the same thing, not only from non-union members but also from their own union bases and their membership. People were dismayed and they felt let down. They thought it was dirty, and they were right. It does not have to be that way. This bill is about, as the member for Wright said, lifting the high-jump bar. It is about putting in standards. When you set low standards and then fail to achieve them, you see what happens. Today, we have the consequences of that being played out in the courts.

As I said, this is not about unions; this is about all registered organisations. I took the opportunity today to ring one of the newest and smallest registered organisations to see whether they would have an issue with this. I did that because we are now hearing all the time that—and I will use these words—this will be 'a disincentive' to being involved, that this is an attack on trade unions, that this should go to more consultation, that this is an overreach and that people will not be involved. Let me tell this place that the private teachers' professional association in Queensland—which is a union by any other name and one of the smallest ones; it is just getting started—says, 'We fully embrace this.' It gives them another tool.

Mr Buchholz: Incredible.

Mr BROUGH: As the member for Wright says, it is incredible. These are teachers who need to be part of the union to have protection in case of litigation—in the same way that nurses and police often join unions for that one purpose. But I tell you what, it makes them awfully angry when they see what has occurred over the last two years, and they must wonder what is happening to their money. We just had the Sunshine Coast University Private Hospital open. I will be delighted to be able to go back to them and the Sunshine Coast Public University Hospital, when it opens in 2016, and to say to them, 'You will be able to have confidence as health workers, because the legislation is in the parliament.' Mind you, there is only one thing standing in the way of giving them certainty and confidence. It is the Labor Party.

Why does the Labor Party come in here and say, 'We don't want to lift the high-jump bar, we do not want to improve and increase standards, and we do not want to occupy the realm the public expects of us.' What is it that those opposite are afraid of? What is it that they are protecting? It is simply not good enough to say that this is going to be too burdensome.

Let us just have a quick look at the bill at a glance. This bill provides for a registered organisations commissioner. It also provides for the organisation itself—I will get there in a moment. It requires increased disclosure. So think about this for a moment: what does that actually mean? You may be an employee of a registered organisation. Let us go through a few of those organisations again: the Australian and International Pilots Association, the Australian Meat Industry Council and the AMWU. There is a bit of variation for you. Take yourselves out of the parliament for a moment and put yourselves in the meatworks as a paid union employee. Isn't it reasonable that a worker can turn up to you—you have been paid through the worker's contributions, union fees or affiliation fees—and get to know whether there is some sort of a conflict between what you are doing in your paid job and the associations you have outside, or that the association that you are part of is giving money to a third entity, which is again a conflict? Is that not a reasonable thing for people to be able to do? I would say to you that if you are going to stand in this place and argue that it is not, then you are out of sync with community expectations today.

This is about a separate body. This bill provides for a supervised registered organisation to be a separate body. It explicitly did not consider registered organisations in the 2012 act under the previous parliament. You have got to ask yourself why. The final report of that review mentioned that it would be appropriate, however, to consider changes to the law to make clear separation between Fair Work Australia's functions as a tribunal and as an administrator overseeing registered organisations.

That is exactly what we are doing here. We are providing for additional penalties, an independent body, an independent commissioner and stronger disclosure laws. All of those should be tools that the union representatives and the associations of employers go out to their members and use as benefits and reasons you can have confidence to invest in them. Yet every speaker on the other side will get up here and say that this should not occur.

Let us go into the increased disclosure in a little bit more detail. First of all, the top executives' remuneration will have to be disclosed, as has recently been disclosed by the ABC. I do not think that did anybody any harm. I think the public were probably quite delighted to learn what some of the ABC personnel are earning. Maybe some of the union representatives, and the rank and file, will be interested to know what their representatives are earning. Surely there cannot be anything wrong with that.

So, the remuneration of an officer of an organisation has to be disclosed. Those nominated for a position on a board, branch or peak council must in addition also disclosure remuneration paid to them by related parties. There is an important one: the remuneration paid to them 'by related parties' will be disclosed. It is a bit like the NRL, really. You have players and you have salary caps. They get their wages from the club, but there is a bit of a backhand deal to try and sweeten the deal.

Mr Buchholz: Mum might be employed as a cleaner and pick up $100,000.

Mr BROUGH: There you go! Mum might be one of the highest paid cleaners and get $100,000. Do we really want that? Do we want to lose the trust of workers? The union movement has been in freefall and maybe it is because of the attitude of those sitting opposite. Today, they could have come into this place and said, 'Look, we are going to disagree on some of the finer points—we think you have properly gone too far—but we recognise that the public's trust in many of our public institutions, and in particular our registered organisations, has come to such a low that we need to raise the bar.' It is not that challenging, really. But they do not seem to be too perturbed about it.

The last issue that I wish to raise here is about coercive investigative powers, and we raised this yesterday in the debate on the building and construction industry bills. The reality is that you want people who know about dishonest behaviour, fraudulent behaviour or behaviour against the interests of workers to feel that they have the confidence to be able to deliver and to know that they can be required to deliver that data, material or evidence. In doing so, they are actually protecting the workers' interests, and we are supporting them in doing that. The policy commitment was reaffirmed by the Minister for Education, Christopher Pyne, when he said:

The commission will have stronger investigation and information-gathering powers than those that currently apply. These will be modelled on those available to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission …

That is totally appropriate. We are setting the standards. We are pitching them against an already existing body. It is about money; but, above all, it is about trust in people.

I say to those opposite: it is time to get on board. It is time to listen to your constituents, not your union mates. Yes, there is a cost to this. We acknowledge that. But it is a cost worth bearing to ensure that people can have faith in our institutions and, most importantly, that we can have faith in the people who front up to us and ask us for our hard-earned money to be part of their association.

I commend the bill not only to the House but to the Labor Party—to have a rethink. This is an opportunity lost to you. Take up that opportunity. Grab it with both hands. Perhaps the member for Moreton, who is to speak next, will have had a change of heart after this contribution and will stand before us today and say, 'I'm a changed man and I'm going back up to the southern suburbs of Brisbane and I'm going to say, "I never realised, but the member for Fisher put me straight'.'

Mr Perrett: Hell will freeze over!

Mr BROUGH: And, when he has done that, I am sure that he will be a better man for it and the parliament will be better for it. I now look forward to the contribution from the member for Moreton!

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Mitchell ): I wouldn't hold your breath on that! The question before the House is that the amendment be agreed to.