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Monday, 26 November 2012
Page: 9748


Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South Wales) (17:14): I say to Senator Gallacher: not everybody got the memo that you got on slush funds. Quite frankly, the fallacy in your argument is that they do not appear on the books. That is the whole purpose of a slush fund.

As a former lawyer with the Australian Government Solicitor, I did my fair share of winding up companies that did not pay their tax. At that time union officials were the first to ring me up—justly and justifiably so—to complain about workers' funds, most usually group tax, and super guarantee obligations that had not been met. They were very happy to ring me baying for corporate scalps, so today I ask this: why should it be any different when union officials, knowingly and fraudulently, misappropriate union funds? Why should they be treated differently?

It is time that dodgy union officials are treated in the same way as dodgy company directors. Why should they remain a protected species? The time has come for union officials who rip off their members to be appropriately punished, not just punished when they finally get caught because somebody rats on them, as appears to have happened in these circumstances. Those opposite cannot continue to make excuses for dodgy behaviour in the union movement. It is vitally important that standards of governance and financial accountability be improved and the rules that exist for companies under the Corporations Act be aligned for registered organisations.

We have seen the spectacle this year of the Health Services Union and the 70,000 low-paid workers that had their hard-earned union dues misspent by union officials such as Mr Williamson and Mr Thomson on political campaigns, escort agencies and a whole range of other things that we are now seeing in relation to Mr Williamson's proceedings. And we saw, through the Fair Work Australia report, how these moneys had been abused. Senator Abetz, as part of his portfolio, has gone through not just the HSU but the other unions where this has been happening and I suspect that we are going to see more and more. Therefore it is vitally important that the private member's bill be supported but, of course, those opposite will be fighting tooth and nail against this legislation. Why? Because their union masters will dictate to them what they have to do. So I would not be very surprised if we see those opposite going down the path of saying, 'No, we're not going to support this legislation,' because their political masters tell them so.

As I said, we are witnessing the HSU unravel and the spectacle of a former ALP president and the union's former president, Mr Williamson, so I say to those opposite: if your federal president were up to his neck in this sort of corruption then, of course, the fish smells from the head. This fish is really stinky. We are seeing it now with Mr Williamson's proceedings. We may well see it with Mr Thomson. The reality is this: if your president was prepared to indulge in this sort of behaviour it is little wonder that corruption is endemic throughout the union movement, so don't come into this place and, holier than thou, talk about the union movement. If your president was prepared to go and do what he did, it is little wonder that people like Mr Thomson and other people were involved in activities such as that.

Since August last year I have placed on the record, in a series of speeches, assertions in relation to Mr Williamson, Mr Thomson and other ALP figures and I look forward to seeing those assertions proven through these proceedings. As the investigating officer in New South Wales has indicated, these are the first charges:

"These are the first charges of what I believe will be a series of charges in respect of allegations of fraud committed upon the Health Services Union," Detective Superintendent Colin Dyson said.

Interestingly enough, I note the reaction of Mr Williamson, with his son, trying to spirit away a suitcase of documents during a police raid at the HSU. It is very typical, isn't it? When you know there is incriminating evidence, you try and get rid of it. Interestingly enough too, files have gone missing as part of the AWU scandal—but more on that at another time. And, of course, we have seen that defrauding a union carries up to 10 years jail and that the money laundering of $400,000 matter for Mr Williamson, if that is proven, carries a 15-year sentence. As for the two-way protection racket matter with Mr Thomson, which is still ongoing, I have talked about the documents which form part of the attachments to the Fair Work Australia report. Yes, the report is available but those eight folders of documents have not been made available. As I have repeatedly said, they will never see the light of day. That goes to show how systematically the HSU did it, so that does indicate, I am sure, that this will be replicated in other unions—time will tell—and that goes to show why those opposite will protect those documents for as long as they possibly can and they will never see the light of day.

So whilst the administrator starts to move to recoup the HSU funds, Mr Thomson's solicitor has the audacity to threaten to issue defamation threats against people who even suggest that his client used union funds to pay for prostitutes. Therefore what does that say about people who may want to report corruption? Unless there is a proper piece of legislation and a proper legislative framework to give protection to those people so that they know that something is going to happen, we are going to continue to see this. After everything that Mr Thomson has been up to the audacity of the man to try and threaten people with defamation because they say, as I quote:

"Craig Thomson, you are a liar, you paid for prostitutes with my money and the money of every other HSU member. You [took] $100,000 from us. I dare you to sue me," said Ms Hart, in The Daily Telegraph last week.

Then we come to the AWU scandal, and it is actually good to see Mr Howes finally coming out about the corruption in his union. He says:

… there is a higher responsibility for us as guardians of workers' money to protect that money and to act diligently ...

It is a pity that it has taken him so long to come out into the public arena. We have the Prime Minister stonewalling. Ms Gillard, you can stonewall all you like. You can argue that you were young and naive—I hardly think that 32 is young or naive—but the reality is that, eventually, Prime Minister, the truth will out. You can try and stonewall and you can use weasel words but you should be going into that place and making a statement, but you will not do that because you know that if you mislead parliament there are grave consequences for you. So I am sure that you will continue to stonewall and you will continue to give these little doorstops where you say absolutely nothing, but you fear going into that place and making a statement because you know that if you lie to the parliament there will be consequences.

No debate about corruption, and certainly the union movement, can go without some mention of New South Wales—the home of ALP corruption. I am looking forward to hearing what Senator Thistlethwaite has to say on this and the daily dealings that we are seeing coming out through the ICAC inquiry. I do not normally quote Brian Toohey but, on this occasion, he talked about 'Labor's own rum corps'. He said about Bob Carr that he had long suspected that Obeid would end up before the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption. Minister Carr, if you knew that, why did you promote him as a minister? He became a minister under your watch, and what is happening goes to the very heart of Mr Obeid's suitability to have remained in parliament, let alone to have been promoted to the ministry. (Time expired)