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Monday, 20 June 2011
Page: 3341


Senator CORMANN (Western Australia) (21:31): The coalition will be moving a series of amendments to make this bad piece of legislation a little bit less bad, because what this legislation is about is empire building and further entrenching the dominance of the union movement as the exclusive employee representative on Commonwealth superannuation boards. We have had speeches here from Senator Cameron and my colleague from Western Australia, Senator Pratt, and their speeches, I am sure, will be sent to their preselectors in the days ahead. I can see Senator Cameron nodding.

The circumstance is this: not a single member on that side of the chamber should be allowed to vote on this legislation, because they are all conflicted. They should all be absenting themselves from speaking and voting on this legislation because they all have a conflict of interest. Every single one of those members on that side is a member of the union movement. Every single member on that side of the parliament is doing the bidding of the union movement. This is not about the best interests of workers across Australia. This is not about the best interests of public sector employees and their superannuation. This is not about the best interests of retired public servants. This is about enshrining the vested interests of the union movement in a corporate governance structure of Commonwealth superannuation.

Senator Cameron: Here comes Work Choices.

Senator Pratt interjecting

Senator CORMANN: And of course here we have Senator Cameron, on cue, and Senator Pratt, on cue, doing as they are told, acting as the agents of the union movement. Madam Chair, you tell me why it is appropriate, when only 41 per cent of public sector employees are members of a union, that unions should have 100 per cent of the employee representatives positions on the board to be created under this legislation.

Senator Cameron interjecting

Senator CORMANN: And they are jumping up and down, and yelling and screaming, because of course they feel exposed. They know that they are conflicted. They know that what they are doing is not right. They know it is inappropriate. Why should the 59 per cent of employees who choose not to be a member of a union not have representation on the board to be created under this legislation? Furthermore, why should the ACTU have this sort of control over military superannuation arrange­ments, as is to be enshrined by this legislation?

This legislation is completely inappropriate. It is not driven by the public interest; it is driven by the Labor Party's consideration of the vested interests of the union movement. Surely if the government was acting in the public interest and in the best interests of public sector employees at least one of the three employee representative positions on this board would be filled by somebody who was not nominated by the ACTU. You tell me one good reason, Madam Chair, why the 59 per cent of public sector employees who are not members of unions should not have some representation on the board that is looking after their superannuation. The union movement thinks that the superannuation arrangements are their plaything.

We had Senator Sherry out here saying what a great contribution the unions have made to superannuation in Australia. You know what? I would just refer the minister to what is happening with the MTAA. I refer the minister to the things that are happening in the failed merger between—

Senator Sherry: It's actually an employer fund, the MTAA.

Senator CORMANN: You talk about the great contribution of unions and industry super funds, and you of course know, Minister—through you, Madam Chair—that union representatives on that fund went to Fair Work Australia to demand that Fair Work Australia identify that fund as a default superannuation fund without declaring the conflict, without declaring that they were actually trustees on that fund. This is the sort of stuff that we are dealing with in superannuation across Australia today.

And we are talking about a significant amount of people's money. We are talking about $1.3 trillion across the superannuation industry—money that belongs to Australian families. So the corporate governance arrangements are very important. The corporate governance arrangements, whether they are in relation to Commonwealth super, industry super funds or retail funds, are very important. The Cooper review, which this minister commissioned, made a whole series of recommendations to improve corporate governance arrangements. And this gov­ernment has rejected every single recom­mendation that could in any way weaken the stranglehold of the union movement on superannuation corporate governance arrangements across Australia.

So it is completely inappropriate—the way the government is seeking to enshrine the dominance of the ACTU when it comes to employee representation on the board to be created under this legislation by giving the ACTU 100 per cent of the ACTU nominated positions. The minister is saying that we are against unions having any involvement in the superannuation industry. That is not true. Of course the unions should have involvement in the corporate gover­nance arrangements of the superannuation arrangements. But why should the union movement have 100 per cent of employee representative positions on the board to be created under this legislation when they represent only 41 per cent of public sector employees? Why should the 59 per cent of public sector employees who choose not to be members of a union not have some representation on that board, even if they had just one?

Senator Feeney interjecting

Senator CORMANN: I know that Senator Feeney wants to get in on the act because he wants to make sure he can send a few notes to his preselectors to say, 'I did the right thing: I stood up for your interests in the parliament.' As I say, every single member on that side of the parliament should absent themselves from the vote on this legislation because every single member on that side of the parliament is conflicted when it comes to this issue. They are acting not in the public interest; they are acting in the vested interests of the union movement. They know that if anything happened to the ACTU representation on this board they would pay for it with their job at their next preselection. That is what this is all about.

Senator Feeney interjecting

Senator Cameron interjecting

Senator CORMANN: They are yelling and screaming, and I can see that Senator Feeney is sitting right next to Senator Cameron so they can get this thing going. No amount of yelling and screaming across the chamber is going to hide the fact that this is completely inappropriate. You are not acting in the public interest. You are acting in the best interests of the union movement, who you are of course representing in this chamber. With those few words in relation to my first series of amendments, I seek leave to move those amendments together.

Leave granted.

Senator CORMANN: I move amendments (1) to (12) on sheet 7089 together:

(1)   Clause 11, page 8 (lines 18 to 23), omit subclause (2), substitute:

   (2)   Subject to subsection (5), the Chief of the Defence Force may nominate, in writing, 2 of the 10 other directors.

Note:   The Minister chooses the remaining 8 other directors.

[remove ACTU nomination of Board members]

(2)   Clause 11, page 9 (lines 1 to 3), omit subclause (4).

[remove ACTU nomination of Board members]

(3)   Clause 12, page 9 (lines 19 and 20), omit “the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions or”.

[remove ACTU nomination of Board members]

(4)   Clause 16, page 10 (lines 27 and 28), omit “the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions or”.

[remove ACTU nomination of Board members]

(5)   Clause 16, page 11 (line 1), omit “President or Chief, as appropriate”, substitute “Chief” .

[remove ACTU nomination of Board members]

(6)   Clause 17, page 11 (line 21), omit “(7),”.

[remove ACTU nomination of Board members]

(7)   Clause 17, page 11 (line 28), omit “(7),”.

[remove ACTU nomination of Board members]

(8)   Clause 17, page 12 (line 4), omit “(7) to”, substitute “(8) and”.

[remove ACTU nomination of Board members]

(9)   Clause 17, page 12 (lines 7 to 10), omit subclause (7).

[remove ACTU nomination of Board members]

(10)   Clause 17, page 12 (lines 15 and 16), omit “the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions or”.

[remove ACTU nomination of Board members]

(11)   Clause 18, page 13 (lines 6 to 14), omit subclause (5).

[remove ACTU nomination of Board members]

(12)   Clause 38, page 29 (lines 26 and 27), omit “the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions and”.

[remove ACTU nomination of Board members]

Essentially, the effect of these amendments is to remove ACTU nomination of board members. What we would encourage the government to do is to come back to the parliament not with a proposal for the minister to nominate all of the employee representatives but with a process which would actually ensure that there is representation of the diversity of views across employees, not just of the 41 per cent of employees in the public sector who choose to be members of unions but also of the 59 per cent who choose not to be members of unions.

I flag now that we are also concerned about the fact that the ACTU has more members on this board as employee representatives than the Defence Force. As well, we are very concerned that the quorum under this legislation is set at nine out of 11, and of course with three ACTU members on this board that will mean that the ACTU on their own can prevent a quorum being reached. The minister will say that the ACTU does not play those sorts of games trying to prevent a quorum. Well, we have seen stranger things happen. You tell me why we need a quorum of nine out of 11. Why would it not be possible to have a quorum of eight out of 11, which would just happen to mean that the ACTU on their own could not prevent a quorum being reached for meetings of the board under this legislation? Tell me one good reason why the ACTU should be put in a position where, on their own, they can prevent a quorum being reached.

If we had a requirement in Senate committees that six out of seven members of a committee had to be there in order to reach a quorum, a lot of our meetings would never take place. That might suit the government because that would mean less scrutiny of bad government legislation, but of course that is not the arrangement that is in place here. There should not be a quorum arrangement enshrined in this legislation which requires nine out of 11 directors to be present, which gives the ACTU the opportunity to prevent a quorum being reached.

I flag now that if these amendments are unsuccessful—I hope they are not; I commend them to the chamber—then I will move some further amendments to ensure that the ACTU on their own cannot prevent a quorum being reached by the board of the Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation.