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Thursday, 11 October 2012
Page: 8023

Senator CROSSIN (Northern Territory) (15:15): What a surprise to have another debate on behalf of the coalition about the role of the trade union movement in our society.

Senator Brandis: Corrupt trade union officials.

Senator CROSSIN: I will take that interjection, Senator Brandis. I stand here as a very proud trade union official, having worked for the National Tertiary Education Union and the Australian Education Union for a number of years and having been a very proud and active member of my original union, which is the teachers union. There is a reason people belong to a trade union and need to belong to a trade union—because their rights at work need to be protected from the likes of the people opposite us, who want to have a debate about the trade union movement in this country because it assists their purposes to always attack workers' rights, to always attack the benefits people enjoy in their workplace, to drive their wages down, to drive the conditions of employment down, to make the places in which they work unsafe, to make the profits bigger and to make the outcomes for the workers much cheaper. Of course they do not like the trade union movement because we are there and will continue to be there to defend the rights of workers to get a decent day's pay for a decent day's work and to do it in an environment that is safe.

I know of nobody in the business—none of my trade union colleagues and no members of the trade union movement I have ever met, worked with or associated with—who supports or wants to see some of the activities we have seen happening in the trade union movement. None of us support that action at all. We will do and say whatever we need to to make sure that those who are misappropriating trade union funds and who are using their positions in the wrong way are brought to justice. I stand by my colleagues as a trade union member who wants to ensure that the membership fees that are paid are used appropriately. As a government we have done a number of things to ensure that the regulation of the trade union movement in this country is as good as it possibly can be. The regulation of registered organisations has never been stronger. Trade unions are accountable and will continue to be accountable. The financial accountability and the transparency standards for unions and employer organisations have never been higher.

I notice we never stand here in this chamber and debate employer organisations that might seek to not perform so well. It might be an opportune time for me to mention what is going on with the Northern Territory Chamber of Commerce at this point in time. The Chamber of Commerce in the Northern Territory are struggling to pay their current workers at this point in time. Maybe we should turn the spotlight on what is actually happening with employer organisations, particularly in the Northern Territory at the moment.

Also Fair Work Australia's powers to investigate breaches, particularly in the trade union movement, have never been tougher. When I worked for the trade union movement I wanted to ensure that the members that I recruited and represented got best value for their dollar, that there were stringent negotiations and consultations on their behalf and that the dollars they invested in their union were actually expended to their benefit. Nobody on this side of this house or in the House of Representatives would support the misappropriation of funds and the misuse of those funds on behalf of their trade union members.

Every single chance you get you try to drive a wedge between the worker and the trade union movement. You try to make the trade union movement not an acceptable or important component in our society. Trade unions are there and they do a very valuable job. Trade union organisers do a very valuable job for workers who desperately need them, sometimes on a day-by-day basis.

Senator Abetz: We are talking about the corrupt ones.

Senator CROSSIN: I will take that interjection, Senator Abetz. Nobody on this side of the chamber supports trade union officials who misuse trade union funds. There are courts to deal with that and Fair Work Australia deals with that, and that is where the matter should be dealt with, is being dealt with and will continue to be dealt with, particularly under this government.