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Tuesday, 3 December 2013
Page: 1391

Mr SIMPKINS (Cowan) (13:32): I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2013. When people join registered organisations and pay their fees, there should be accountability. There should be openness and clarity about the purpose of the fees—what they will be used for—and accountability for where the money goes. That is why I absolutely support this bill. Things need to change. There is quite a deal of history behind this legislation, with many examples of why it is needed. I will go into some of those examples.

I will start by agreeing with the member for Moreton about something. He said that the Labor Party is the party of the trade unions. That is absolutely true. On other occasions I have heard people suggest that they are the party of the workers, but now we hear very clearly from the member for Moreton that they are the party of the trade unions. I will go into why that is the case. There is no doubt about it; it is very true.

In 2012, a former Leader of the Opposition, Mr Mark Latham, wrote:

Unions have become more like 'virtual' bodies, poor in membership numbers but rich in resources leveraged from super financing, training funds and contractor extortion.

Very clearly Mark Latham, a former Leader of the Labor Party, knew that these registered organisations, in so many cases, are not nickel-and-dime outfits. There is a lot of money involved with them. This is the point—there is money, there are resources and there is influence. That is what influences those on the other side and that is what it has always been about. I will go into more detail about that.

I support this bill because it involves higher penalties for breaches of current civil penalty provisions and even criminal penalties in some cases—and that is right. It involves stricter reporting and disclosure obligations to align with the Corporations Act of 2001. It also involves the establishment of a Registered Organisations Commission with a Registered Organisations Commissioner. That commissioner and that commission will have independent investigative and enforcement capacity. There needs to be a cop on the beat. There needs to be someone looking over shoulders in order to look after the interests and the contributions of members of registered organisations, including trade unions.

I can understand why there is widespread opposition to this bill, to the accountability the government wants to put in place. Those over on that side have received calls. There is no doubt about it. They have been told what they should be doing and to oppose this bill. As we know, and as Mark Latham said, the unions are highly influential. As was said by the member for Moreton: if you are going to be a Labor member of parliament, you need to be a member of one of the unions—or, in his case, of three. If you want to stand for preselection for the Labor Party, you need to have friends. You need to get the cooperation of union bosses, union leaders, union secretaries—whatever you choose to call them, you need to have their cooperation. That does not of course come free, because there is no shortage of people on that side lining up for safe seats.

Once a person has received preselection, particularly for a safe Labor seat, they can expect the favours to be called in—that the friends who put them in that position will call on them to do certain things. It might be to vote against a bill like this. Once you are preselected, you also need some financial capacity, some financial backing. So if the union does not want to help with your election bid, obviously the preselection has only gone so far. In either case we know preselection is heavily determined by the union movement. Obviously favours will result from that, and the financial capital to run an election campaign will involve the calling in of favours in the future. There is no doubt that the Labor Party is the party of the trade unions, and that is where the influence is.

We also know that the Greens will oppose this legislation. It was widely reported that in the last election campaign, and I think in the campaign before that, the member for Melbourne was heavily supported by the unions. Again, we know where his bread is buttered and there is no doubt that he also will be against this bill. All the Greens in the Senate will also see benefit from opposing the legislation and doing the bidding of those who are not elected to this place. This bill seeks to impose accountability in the same way that those who serve on directorships of corporations are accountable. It is the same form of accountability, on behalf of the membership, for registered organisations, unions et cetera. All those on the other side, and the Greens, are opposed to that and this is the payback for the support I have mentioned.

The member for Moreton talked about one of the unions he was a part of and how it was a very small operation—as he said, a bit of a nickel-and-dime outfit, with meal money seven evenings a year and things like that. There are two articles about this issue—one from the Age and one from the Sydney Morning Herald. It is a change for someone on our side to be looking at articles from those two great newspapers. There is a reference to an internal election of the Queensland branch of the Transport Workers Union towards the end of 2010. The incumbent to the secretary's position was left-wing union organiser Hughie Williams. He had been the secretary of that union for over 20 years, and in that time he had put together a bit of an empire—assets of some $11 million. That $11 million was obviously used for certain purposes, and under Hughie Williams at that time it was a left-wing union. There was an orchestrated bid to unseat him and replace him with someone who was linked to the right of the Labor Party—the right of the union movement. It has been reported by Fairfax in the last week or so that $500,000 was put together by the federal leadership of the TWU in Sydney with the support of the Health Services Union leader at the time, Michael Williamson—a man with a reputation that has been tested in the courts—and a team of young ALP operatives, apparently including staffers from the offices of Labor senators David Feeney and Stephen Hutchins. So says Fairfax Media, anyway.

The member for Moreton said it was a nickel-and-dime outfit—a meal a month or something like that—and yet the reality is that it was so important that people were prepared to spend $500,000 to change the leadership, and to change the Queensland branch of the TWU from the left over to the right. We know who else is involved with the right of the Labor Party. That is one example of what is taking place in registered organisations. These are big organisations, there are assets, and, in the case of the Queensland branch of the TWU, when that union moves from one faction to another faction it results in votes for preselections, seats in parliament and the other influence peddling that is all part of this.

The article in the Sydney Morning Herald of 30 November talked extensively about Mr Cesar Melhem, who was the union secretary of the AWU. Mr Melhem was apparently one of the directors of a fund called Industry 2020. It has been revealed through this article that Mr Melhem was in fact the only director of Industry 2020 and that basically he had run it over a number of years and his position as the union secretary of the Victorian branch of the AWU had never been challenged. He had accumulated quite an amount of money within this Industry 2020 fund. Now, the article describes Industry 2020 as one of myriad slush funds, training schemes and tricks for diverting union and parliamentary resources—it is quite interesting that part—that generate millions of dollars in 'funny money' currently sloshing around the Australian labour movement.

It certainly seems, according to the Sydney Morning Herald and, before that, the Age, that there is quite a bit of money involved. There is quite a bit of influence, and there are reasons for people to be involved with these sorts of organisations. The reality is that, through all this, no-one is benefiting at the lowest levels. This is all about people at the top. This is all about the influence on the other side. Sometimes it is about how many seats they get over there. Sometimes it is about assets and resources and funds, and some of them can be quite shady. So it is important that we do actually have bills like this which truly address the needs and the interests of the people at the grassroots of these registered organisations. I think it is outrageous that those that seek to oppose and get in the way of this, those who are obviously influenced by those who are the principal pre-selectors, should try to get in the way of what is in the best interests of the normal grassroots members of these sorts of registered organisations.

I think that there is no doubt that you do not need to look back too far, just to 2010, and more recently in the case of Industry 2020. These are big organisations. There is a lot of money involved. There is a lot of influence involved. It is really important that someone acts now in the best interests of the members of these registered organisations. I know it is not those at the top of the organisations that others might be trying to defend, but we have to act in this place on behalf of those at the grassroots, those that can barely afford their fees anyway. We should make sure that those fees go to the right places and for the right causes. So I commend this bill to the House.