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Tuesday, 10 February 2015
Page: 270

Former Member for Dobell


Senator SMITH (Western Australia) (14:26): My question is to the Minister for Employment, Senator Abetz. Will the minister update the Senate on efforts to bring former HSU boss and Labor MP Craig Thomson to justice for misusing union members' funds?


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:26): I can update Senator Smith and the Senate that, since the chamber last sat, the Victorian County Court has ruled on Craig Thomson's criminal conviction for stealing moneys from the Health Services Union. The court upheld the guilty finding against Mr Thomson on 13 counts of theft and fined him $25,000. In his appeal against the year-long jail sentence imposed last year, the appeal judge chastised him for the 'gross abuse of trust involved in his misuse of union funds' and described his 'very serious offending' as 'appalling'. The judge described Thomson's behaviour as 'self-indulgent', 'arrogant' and undertaken with 'no regard for the responsibility imposed in him'. Despite this, Mr Shorten, the Labor Party and the Australian Greens have consistently refused to condemn the actions of Labor's former member, Craig Thomson.

In 2012 Labor and the Greens voted down motions condemning this affront to honest, hard-working Australians. When asked whether he believed Mr Thomson's absurd and dishonest denials, Mr Shorten infamously replied: 'Yes, I believe him.' That would be the alternate prime minister.

I can also update the Senate and Senator Smith that the Fair Work Commission is conducting a parallel civil investigation into Mr Thomson's dealings. However, this is yet to be heard by a court—now some eight years or more have elapsed since the conduct in question by Mr Thomson. The Fair Work Commission's investigation took over three years just to produce one report and cost taxpayers $4 million. The current system is clearly broken and it is time—(Time expired)


Senator SMITH (Western Australia) (14:28): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Will the minister inform the Senate of the steps the government is taking to protect honest union members from corrupt union officials?


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:28): I can inform Senator Smith that the coalition has introduced the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill. The bill establishes a new penalties regime to ensure that unions are held to the same standards of behaviour as companies and their directors and with the same penalties. Why should a corrupt union official be liable for a fine of only $10,200 when, for the same corrupt conduct, a company director would be liable for five years' imprisonment or a fine of $320,000? The bill also establishes a Registered Organisations Commission to ensure that breaches of standards applying to union officials are investigated quickly and independently to deter potential offenders and to help educate people about improved standards. Clearly, the current system is failing and honest union members need to be protected. (Time expired)


Senator SMITH (Western Australia) (14:29): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister advise the Senate of any impediments to the government's efforts to reform trade union governance?


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:30): There is one great obstacle to protecting union members from corrupt union bosses and that has been the stance of Labor and Greens senators in this place. If these reforms are good enough for union and labour leaders such as Fair Work Commissioner Ian Cambridge, former National Secretary of the Australian Workers' Union Paul Howes, former Labor Attorney-General Robert McClelland, former ACTU Presidents and Labor ministers Martin Ferguson and Simon Crean, why are they not good enough for Mr Shorten, the Australian Labor Party and the Greens?

Senator Conroy interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Senator Conroy!

Senator ABETZ: Clearly, they have learnt nothing from the interim report of the Hayden royal commission or from Mr Craig Thomson and Mr Michael Williamson.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator ABETZ: The interjections from those opposite tell you everything the Australian people need to know. They will continue the racket. We seek to stop it. (Time expired)