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Thursday, 11 October 2012
Page: 8027

Senator BACK (Western AustraliaDeputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (15:32): I am delighted to refute resoundingly the comments of Senators Bilyk and Crossin. When it comes to questions about support for unions from this side, I stand very proudly as the grandson of a gentleman, Tom Back, who was the secretary of the Lumpers Union on the Fremantle wharves during the Depression years. So pleased were his members by the actions he took over that time that they paid for his tombstone.

More recently, when managing and directing my company in Tasmania, I was the person who had to stand up to the Australian Transport Union and go to the industrial court to protect the jobs of my fuel drivers. I negotiated what I believe was the first ever EBA for the fuel industry in south-eastern Australia. It was a Labor appointed industrial advocate who actually said to me, 'Dr Back, if you can't get agreement from the union, I will allow you to undertake a non-union EBA.' So I will not stand here and be lectured by Senator Bilyk, Senator Crossin or senator anybody else on our support for the role the unions play.

What I will stand here and condemn is the activity of those union officials who misuse and abuse the funds that are entrusted to them by union members. I speak particularly, as Senator Brandis has, in terms of the AWU. I go back to a 1989 flyer promoting none other than Mr Bruce Wilson, as general secretary of the Australian Workers Union, and Mr Bill Ludwig as its president. The promo said: 'Bruce Wilson and Bill Ludwig have had enough, enough of luxury homes purchased with $395,000 of your union fees for an executive mansion for the union hierarchy.' The same flyer said that the Sydney head office had been sold for $1.9 million to only be sold a week later for a figure of $2.8 million and then not long afterwards for $9.85 million. This is the same Bruce Wilson who in 1993 was associated with the formation in my home state of Western Australia of the AWU Workplace Reform Association. This was after the 1989 brochure promoting Mr Wilson and his apparent honesty.

Why do I have the link back to WA? It is because this was the era of the evil, perverted Labor WA Inc.—that shocking period under then Premier Brian Burke that led to such an incredible cost to the Western Australian community. In a subsequent royal commission—which then Labor Premier Carmen Lawrence was forced to call—it was revealed that there was a loss of at least $600 million of public moneys as a result of WA Inc. under then Premiers Brian Burke and Peter Dowding and others associated with them. It was in this era that Mr Wilson and his cronies were able to con some $673,000 out of businesses in WA.

I remember only too well the actions of those people. Nobody could get a government contract in WA in the late 1980s or the early 1990s unless they contributed to a slush fund. Even more disturbingly at that time, the lawyer for the group in setting up the AWU Workplace Reform Association advised the Western Australian department responsible for incorporating the organisation that its role was for the development of change to work to achieve safe workplaces. Who was the person who wrote that document allegedly? It was none other than the now Prime Minister of this country, Ms Gillard. It was in a discussion not long ago afterwards with her own associates at Slater and Gordon that she said to them that in fact it was ostensibly for workplace reform as a union election slush fund. She said she regretted that particular comment. I bet she regretted it, because the money was in fact to be used to fund election campaigns.

We want to see a removal of corruption in the union movement where it exists. We want to see penalties coming into line with those for company directors, not $6,600 but the same penalties that company directors face—$220,000 and five years in jail. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.