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Tuesday, 26 June 2012
Page: 4539

Senator BOYCE (Queensland) (19:50): I would like to thank my Senate colleagues on the coalition side for the brevity of the remarks they have made, because we have a long list of people who will be unable to speak when the guillotine drops on the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amend­ment Bill 2012 at the behest of the Labor government in 10 minutes time. We had a similar situation for the inquiry into this bill, where there was almost no time for debate or for proper inquiry. We in fact had witnesses to the inquiry who made exactly that point. The Master Builders of Australia said they were concerned about the truncated timetable for the committee's processes in considering the bills. The Australian Chamber of Com­merce and Industry said it was regrettable that the timetable did not provide a more fulsome opportunity to consider submissions of registered organisations which will be affected by the bill.

Before continuing, I would like very quickly to run through the nine recommen­dations that were made by coalition members of the committee and participating members of the Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Legislation Committee in relation to what really should have happened around Fair Work Australia in getting its governance right and getting some honesty into the process. The first recom­mendation was that the bill be removed from the Senate guillotine motion to allow for full and proper consideration by the Senate and the committee. As a number of other speak­ers have pointed out, there is nothing time sensitive about this piece of legislation other than that the government did not fix it two or three years ago. The second recommendation is that this bill be subject to a regulatory impact statement in line with the Office of Best Practice Regulation guidelines. Again, what an excellent way of trying to give the public confidence that they have properly overcome the stench that surrounds Fair Work and its current processes of inquiry.

The third recommendation is that the bill be amended to ensure absolute clarity with the new clauses relating to cooperation with police and law enforcement agencies. How bizarre that in 2012 in Australia a body that is uncovering dishonesty and corruption relating to the misuse of members' money should not be clearly subject to police and other regulatory organisations, that we have to put special laws through for it! The people who believe that this should not be brought into the legislation are the same people, I suspect, who would take advantage of those loopholes in the legislation and misuse union members' funds.

The next recommendation is that Fair Work Australia be provided with the express power to prepare a brief of evidence, and we are talking here of the case around Mr Craig Thomson and the appalling situation that it is impossible not to come to the conclusion has been orchestrated by this government in its desperate, naked, smelly attempt to remain as the government. It is just beyond belief that a body such as Fair Work Australia—having examined, discovered and made findings around dishonesty and misuse of funds, as they have in their report—not report that to a body who could then proceed to take action about that dishonesty and misuse of funds. There can only be one reason why this government would not want that to happen and of course it is about its own grubby survival.

The next recommendation is that further debate on this bill be suspended until the August 2012 parliamentary sitting. That would not seem to be too large a wish to have granted by the government. It is only two months that we are talking about. We are, as I said, not talking about time-sensitive legislation, except in the sense that it should have been passed and passed a long time ago and that it should have been passed in a far stronger way than is currently before us.

The coalition have put out a policy in this area called the plan for better transparency and accountability of registered organisa­tions and we have encouraged the govern­ment to look at this and to consider imple­menting it in full. We have suggested that the Registered Organisations Com­mission should be established within the Office of the Fair Work Ombudsman. It is quite bizarre to suggest that Fair Work Australia could possibly now be considered by anybody to have the credibility or the confidence of any organisation that might be held accountable. We have also suggested that accountability and transparency provisions as well as penalty provisions should be brought in line with the Corporations Act 2001. The final recommendation is that the bill be considered after the conclusion of the KPMG review and further improved with substantive amendments.

There is nothing that is not easy to implement in the dissenting report of the coalition if you want transparent and honest behaviour within the registered unions of Australia. It is quite reasonable for us to expect within our company boards, within the boards that run organisations using other people's funds, such as not-for-profit companies and registered organisations, that we will have a high level of probity, that we will have a high understanding and applica­tion of governance and that anyone likely to experience a conflict of interest will say so. We have no problems whatsoever with that being the way this is run. The government, unfortunately, do and the only reason that I can see for not wanting to hold union officers and officials to the same level of accountability as you might senior corporate officials is that the government is a bit worried about what might happen to some of its union mates.

I would echo the words of I think most speakers in saying that I believe that 99 per cent of the officials in our registered organisations are men and women who are there to do the best, in their view, for their membership and to use the funds of their members wisely and carefully for the good of those members. But it is pretty clear—and it is very sad that we have not had an ad­mission of this—that there are some rotten apples in the barrel of the union membership in Australia. We support, as we did when­ever we saw corruption or dishonesty within the corporations sector, the same strong application of a carrot-and-stick approach to get good behaviour happening. What we have seen here is a government that is not capable or brave enough to behave in an honest way towards unions and union membership.

The point has already been made, I believe, that Minister Shorten and Minister Combet were members of the Australian Council of Trade Unions at the same time as Mr Craig Thomson was. In normal circumstances, I would say, 'So what?' In the current circumstances, I want a very clear explanation and a very clear account to assure me that they are not in any way involved in the prevarication and the dishonesty that has gone on around this bill, because it is pretty clear that the government is simply hiding behind its power to guillotine, to continue to destroy confidence in the system in Australia.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: The time allocated for consideration of this bill has now expired.

The PRESIDENT: The question is that the second reading amendment moved by Senator Abetz, on sheet 7247, be agreed to.