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Thursday, 11 October 2012
Page: 8022

Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (15:09): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Finance and Deregulation (Senator Wong) to a question without notice asked by Senator Ronaldson today relating to the inappropriate use of union members’ money.

Trade unions play a vital role in our community, but the members of many of those trade unions have been betrayed by the union bosses who are involved in a web of corruption, a web of self-enrichment and a web of self-aggrandisement. When the Craig Thomson issue and the Health Services Union matters came to light, we were promised it was an isolated incident. Over $500,000 had been ripped off from some of Australia's lowest paid workers. Then we had the exposure of former ALP president Michael Williamson's $20 million rip-off of Australia's lowest paid workers. Now we have the Electrical Trade Union scam, which goes back for some time.

In 2000 the ETU set up a fund known as Protect—what an ironic name—to provide income protection insurance for electrical industry employees. Mr Mighell told employers the insurance premium would be $14.50 per employee. The actual cost was in fact only $10.75. The balance was funnelled into the Electrical Trade Union trust funds, or slush funds, and the Electrical Trade Union simply kept the moneys. And who kept these moneys? None other than Tony Mokbel's accountant, Michael Heiner, with trustees including Mr Mighell and the now senator Gavin Marshall. And the field officer for the project, for Protect? The now member for Deakin, Mike Symon, was to sign up as many employers as possible with, of course, the inflated premium.

According to the Cole royal commission: 'Unknown to the employers who contributed to the premiums for the income protection insurance, and NECA, the employer organisation, a private arrangement was made whereby large sums of money were paid by a company to the ETU as commission either directly or through a trust. Over a little more than two years, a sum exceeding $2.5 million was paid or became payable in this way, yet producing no additional benefit in respect of income protection.' And guess what? The funds included purchasing a home in Tasmania for former ALP candidate Kevin Harkins whilst he was Tasmanian ETU secretary. And if that is not bad enough, having got away with the Tasmanian purchase, they then moved to the harbourside of Sydney and bought a mansion for over $1 million for an ETU official national assistant secretary. None other than Dean Mighell has alleged that there was an attempt to disguise this purchase of the mansion by using the New South Wales branch 'so they didn't have to do go through the books of the union nationally in order to get approval for it'.

So we have the Health Services Union. We have the Electrical Trades Union, And, of course, we have the Australian Workers Union, which, since 1989, has been engaged in the defrauding of its members, and that has now been well documented by the activities of Mr Wilson and Mr Ludwig and those that have brought it to the public's attention, including the former Attorney-General, which has shown that $672,925 from 13 separate bank accounts was taken away from the hard-working membership of that union. We ask: where is Paul Howes in all this? Where are the Australian Workers Union officials that are now in this parliament—what are they doing to represent the interests of the low-paid union members that they claim to protect?

Put simply, trade union members have nothing to fear from the coalition and everything to fear from trade union bosses. The coalition has a strong policy of rooting out the rorting, whereas Labor has a strong policy of protecting the perpetrators. To protect the role and reputation of true trade unionism, trade unionists can only rely on the coalition to clean up their once proud movement with penalties applicable to company directors. (Time expired)