Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 13 May 2014
Page: 2387

Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (12:52): It is always good to follow Senator Back. He is always interesting, if nothing else, and I do not think there was much else in that speech this afternoon. I rise on behalf of the Labor Party to oppose the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2013. This bill is unnecessary. It imposes massive regulatory burdens on voluntary organisations based on the coalition's ideological opposition to collective organisations acting in the interests of their members. That is fundamentally what this is about. The bill is not about accountability; it is about the coalition's obsession with destroying collective bargaining in this country. The bill is about the government introducing over-the-top regulation and red tape on the trade union movement while at the same time railing against regulation and red tape in every other area of the economy. This is hypocrisy on a grand scale, but it is something we have to get used to with the Abbott government.

After failing to reduce workers' rights with Work Choices, the coalition have now embarked on an attack on the organisations that support employers and workers. The ideology and strategy is clear: destroy effective unions and you destroy workers' capacity to protect their wages and conditions. The bill is designed to make it extremely difficult for unions and employer organisations to operate as they have over the last 150 years—that is, with volunteer rank and file membership on their governing bodies. Rank and file members would be faced with huge obligations and penalties far outweighing and inconsistent with the role they play on their unions' governing bodies.

The bill is an attempt to treat all employer organisations and unions as if the default driver is criminality and personal greed. When criminality and greed is exposed in the business sector, the usual argument from business and the coalition is that laws should not be enacted based on the behaviour of individuals which is inconsistent with the general behaviour in business and industry. I have heard this argument several times from the opposite side. For ideological reasons, this approach is not applicable when it comes to the trade union movement. Labor is appalled by the behaviour of a small number of individuals who deceitfully and criminally stole the funds of the union and its members for their own personal gain. Those individuals have faced proper processes, and one is in jail and another one looks like going to jail.

Labor moved decisively with this issue and, after consultation with employer organisations and unions, we effected the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Act 2012 and the Fair Work Amendment Act 2013. These laws are rigorous, balanced and appropriate. Labor's laws strengthened the legislative provisions concerning disclosure and transparency of decision making. This was done while understanding and recognising the difference between voluntary organisations and for-profit businesses.

The government claims that this bill will place the regulation of registered organisations on the same footing as the regulation of corporations under the Corporations Act. There is absolutely no logic to this approach. Voluntary organisations are significantly different from corporations, are subject to significant regulatory overview and have regulatory requirements that ensure compliance with appropriate standards for voluntary organisations. The coalition bill, by design, will establish a more onerous regulatory regime on volunteers who make up the committees of management of registered organisations than that which applies to highly paid executives on company boards. So you have an ordinary worker who says: 'I will help with my union. I want to engage with my union.' They go on the board and they are subject to more scrutiny and harder laws than those affecting other business people earning $150,000 a year to sit on a board. And these workers get not a cent. These volunteers get not a cent to do the work that they do.

The legislation has more to do with an ideological attack on the trade union movement than it has with any genuine desire to ensure standards for voluntary organisations. A range of submissions was provided to the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee during its inquiry into the bill. It is clear that the coalition have managed to do one thing. They have managed to do something that is unheard of in the industrial history of Australia. They have united employer organisations and the trade union movement against this overt attack on collective organisation in this country. I would have thought, given the explosive revelations in New South Wales in ICAC, that the coalition would be more concerned about cleaning up their own act than attacking, for purely ideological reasons, unions of employers and employees.

Senator Back used some highly provocative language in his submission, something that is the stock and trade of the coalition in this country. He spoke about shame. He spoke about honour. He spoke about transparency. And he spoke about the need for rigorous penalties. Let me tell you, I agree that those principles should apply to the New South Wales Liberal Party and the federal Liberal Party in their operations, with all their slush funds and all their trusts that are hiding money from the proper organisations in this country—and I will come to that in some detail.

I would have thought that the coalition would have been keen to do some internal analysis of the promises that they made to the Australian public prior to the election, prior to the reality that the public will have to face tonight with an austerity budget that will hand money back to big business—hundreds of millions of dollars will go back to Twiggy Forrest, Gina Rinehart, BHP and Rio Tinto—while people will have to wait longer to get a pension, while the value of the pension will decline, while people will have to pay more for petrol every time they get in a car and while people will have to hand over more money every time they go to the doctor. I would have thought that these would be the issues that the Liberal Party would be discussing. I know that some like Senator Macdonald are discussing these not only within the party but in the public arena. So the hypocrisy of the coalition knows no bounds—taking money out of the pockets of ordinary Australians and putting money back into the pockets of the billionaire mining companies and billionaire miners.

No amount of dissembling as to what is a tax and what is not a tax and no amount of rhetorical ballet dancing in relation to lowering the overall tax burden will hide the reality of the broken promises of the coalition. Remember your leader Tony Abbott's statement: 'No new taxes, no surprises, no broken promises, no cuts to health and no cuts to education.' Remember those words tonight when he puts his hand in the pocket of every ordinary Australian on the basis of some unreal fiscal crisis, some unreal budgetary crisis, some unreal budgetary emergency. It is all a nonsense.

The issues of lies, deceit and broken promises should be addressed internally in the coalition. Workers and employer organisations should be allowed to operate under the various international conventions that we are legally obliged to uphold. Attacking the trade union movement and working people in this country with penal provisions and trumped-up royal commissions should stop, and the coalition should set about cleaning up their own act by announcing a royal commission into Liberal and National party slush funds. That is what they should be doing. The public in New South Wales and across Australia have been watching in horror as the rogues' gallery of Liberal Party members and politicians parade at ICAC, exposing the unfair and illegal approach that is taken by the Liberal Party to undermine democracy in this country. That is something that I think they should be looking at, instead of attacking employer organisations and the trade union movement in this country.

The public are watching in fascination as Liberal politician after Liberal politician is exposed for corrupt and illegal practices—practices designed to corrupt democracy and corrupt the democratic processes in New South Wales, practices designed to illegally avoid the exposure of cash for influence in the coalition. That should be the focus of a royal commission, not the trumped-up, biased royal commission into the trade union movement.

Ray Carter, an adviser to Chris Hartcher, one of the leading Liberals in New South Wales, said that they all knowingly and deliberately were running donations from prohibited donors and they were running those donations through the Free Enterprise Foundation, which is a foundation associated with the federal Liberal Party. So we have Senator Back coming in here trying to smear the whole trade union movement because of the illegal activities of a few people, activities that are reprehensible, and force legislation on the whole trade union movement because of the illegal activities of a few people but not being prepared to do anything about the illegal activities of the Liberal Party. Trying to undermine democracy in Australia, in my view, is one of the most reprehensible things you can do.

The Liberal Party in New South Wales, and it looks like they have been aided and abetted by the Liberal Party in Canberra, have been laundering slush funds from illegal donors in New South Wales into Canberra and back into New South Wales. That is being exposed day in and day out. Yet what is the priority for the Liberal Party? It is to attack the trade union movement and turn a blind eye to the corruption and illegality in the Liberal Party. They attack the trade union movement because they do not want workers to collectively bargain. I just think it is outrageous. For Senator Back, and for any of the Liberals, to come in here and fail to mention this issue is pure hypocrisy. Senator Back comes in here and tells these stories about being out in the bush talking to a union member and the union member says this and the union member says that. If Senator Back has got any evidence of corruption or illegal activity, he should take that to the police. He should take that to the authorities. I challenge Senator Back to come back in here and explain to the parliament what he did with that allegation, whether he advised the appropriate authorities that, as a senator, he has been advised of illegal activity in Western Australia. What did he do about it? My bet is he did nothing. My bet is that it is probably a made-up story anyway to embellish his pretty boring speech in here on this issue. I challenge Senator Back: 'Come back in here, tell us when you went to the police, tell us what you have told the police and let's get the thing dealt with by the authorities. Don't come in here trying to smear the trade union movement with unsubstantiated allegations.' That is stock-in-trade for the coalition in this country.

The issues relating to compliance under the Workplace Relations Act are confined to isolated criminality by a small number of corrupt individuals. The issues of coalition corruption, influenced heavily by greed and stupidity, are now the hallmark of this coalition and seem to be a systemic part of the culture of the Liberal Party. The isolated problems of the trade union movement have been addressed by the Labor Party, the ACTU and the police. No attempt has been made by the coalition, and especially the Liberal Party, to deal with corruption of the democratic processes in New South Wales.

We now see these links back to Canberra, with the corrupt money flow from New South Wales laundered in Canberra and used by Liberal Party politicians in New South Wales. Never in the history of Australian politics have we seen the systemic undermining of the democratic processes and the laws of the land as we are watching in New South Wales. Never in the history of Australian politics have we seen a Liberal premier having to stand down because he misled the corruption watchdog. Never in the history of Australian politics have we witnessed a senator—Senator Sinodinos—a frontbencher, recently sitting across this chamber, attempting to justify a payment of $200,000 for 40 hours work and to justify a $4,000-an-hour payment to drive from the CBD of Sydney to Castle Hill. $4,000 an hour! Never in the history of Australian politics have we seen Liberal politician after Liberal politician appear before a corruption inquiry and, one after the other, fall on their swords. Never in the history of Australian politics has the web of influence peddling for cash been exposed as it has with the Liberal Party.

And never in the history of politics has a political party with so many internal corrupt activities tried to divert attention from their own illegal activities by attacking the trade union movement in such a systematic way. Why is the coalition attacking the trade union movement when the real issue for democracy in this country is the operation of Liberal Party slush funds? Let us have a royal commission into Eightbyfive, the Millennium Forum, the Forward Brisbane Leadership Fund, the Cormack Foundation, the Free Enterprise Foundation, the Greenfields Foundation, Bunori Pty Ltd—an organisation that Senator Sinodinos failed to disclose that he had an interest in when he became a senator—Vapold Pty Ltd, the North Sydney Forum and Vaughan Constructions—a company that went bust, but which weeks before it went bust, leaving workers with no pay and subcontractors with no payments, gave $400,000 to the Liberal Party.

Those of the type of people we have sitting over there; trying to lecture Labor and the trade union movement about honesty, about shame and about honour. I welcome these debates in this place, and I call on the Liberal Party to actually form a royal commission into the dishonest operation of the Liberal Party both at the federal level and in New South Wales. And while we are at it, let's spread it up to Brisbane and let's get it over in Perth because I am sure the same peddling of influence for money is underway in the Liberal Party right around this country. There will be Nick Di Girolamo's equivalents everywhere in the Liberal Party.

So instead of attacking the trade union movement, which is out there battling to get workers a fair go, they should be investigating their own internals. They should be setting up a royal commission to look at the corruption and the deceit and the dishonesty in the Liberal Party. Leave the trade union movement alone, leave the employer organisations alone; start looking at your own backyard, that is where the corruption is. (Time expired)