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Wednesday, 12 February 2014
Page: 284


Mr BUCHHOLZ (WrightGovernment Whip) (19:33): Since the election there has been an abundance of credible claims by none other than senior union officials claiming unlawful activity, corruption, organised crime, and involvement in standover tactics, kickbacks and so on. As a result of the government's recent announcement, we will be recommending to Her Excellency an appointment of a royal commission into union governance and corruption to be headed by High Court Justice Dyson Heydon.

When we have a look at the allegations that surround union corruption, they have not come from our side of the House; they have come from within the internal ranks. If you have been following the Hansard here this afternoon, you will have witnessed the intimidation, the standover tactics in this parliament to try to intimidate speakers, to shut them down so that they cannot make their speech for the first time in this House in this term. The connection is that every Labor member in this House is a servant to a union movement in some capacity. They cannot hold a seat unless they are aligned to some union. I will stand corrected if that is not the case. Is there a Labor member in this House who is not a member of a union?

A government member: Maybe Canberra?

Mr BUCHHOLZ: Maybe Canberra. So, this is a government that is unconditionally committed to democracy. We are committed to democracy and the role that the laws play in shaping our society for the better. This royal commission is designed to bring to the surface the bottom feeders that are bringing honest workers and honest businesses into disrepute—honest members of the union movement who have been ripped off by corrupt officials and are experiencing unsavoury behaviour in the workplace as a result of the toxic culture that has begun to fester in particular, it would appear, within the construction sector. Prime Minister Abbott's objective is simple: ensuring that honest, decent, ordinary Australians are being protected from those who think they are above the law.

There are too many cases of corruption and unlawfulness that go unreported. Workers and members of trade unions in this country are now entitled to know whether their money, their pay—in union fees—is being invested in their best interests or is being used for the primary purpose of union slush funds. They should not have their hard-earned money put towards funding corrupt officials who spend their time running scams on the side, organisations on the side, or worse, in their self-interest and in some cases criminal activity. The union movement was built on the worker's rights. I fear that the union movement has become more about the self-appointed rights of officials rather than the rights of the worker.

Australia is a country that should be proud of its trade union history. Trade unions have a predominant place in our history and have improved the lives of many of the Australians who fought hard for better wage conditions and workplace accident compensation. However, this history is becoming increasingly tarnished from scandal upon scandal, corruption claim upon corruption claim.

Paul Howse, the national secretary of the AWU, recently conceded that the union movement in Australia has lost sight of itself. For Paul Howse, a senior union leader and secretary of the AWU, those were incredible words. He conceded that as a union leader he has to deal with his fair share of bad eggs. He acknowledged that a culture of thuggery and criminal associations exists within their organisations. It is outrageous that this behaviour happens openly and blatantly, as acknowledged by senior union members.

If he is willing to admit that at the National Press Club, are there other secrets or issues that he is not willing to reveal and that will only come out on the back of a royal commission? Is the truth too defamatory to admit? Who would know? What is the actual state of the union movement in Australia? To get these questions answered is why a royal commission is needed. That is why the union movement needs to be held to account and why this government is putting the law first. (Time expired)