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Thursday, 25 June 2009
Page: 7257

Mr RANDALL (4:40 PM) —I have previously spoken about the intense involvement of the Australian Workers Union in the Canning campaign of the 2007 federal election. Canning was a hotbed of union activity, as 2,000 of the AWU’s 4,600 WA members were Alcoa workers, predominantly based in my electorate. The AWU motivated its troops primarily to ‘fight the good fight’ and put Mr Rudd into government. A letter from then AWU Secretary Tim Daly was sent to union members in Canning, soliciting support for the local Labor candidate. The now member for Maribyrnong, Bill Shorten, called for the AWU to give $5 a week to the campaign against me. A bank account at a Halls Head branch of the Bendigo Bank was nominated for deposits. How convenient that it could be deducted from the workers’ pay!

While in itself this shows the union scouring a new level in Canning—without even mentioning the thuggery of polling day—I have since learned that their tactics for resourcing the campaign may stem deeper. The AWU set up an alias, passing themselves off as an Alcoa entity. They called themselves the Alcoa Allsites Operations. There is no reference whatsoever in the title to them being a union organisation but I understand that they were set up by union members who were workers at Alcoa, basically as an entity to garner funds. We know Alcoa Allsites Operations exist. This is a fact. They were disclosed by the ALP—at a Falcon post office box—for donations made over the threshold, totalling $36,000 in 2007-08. My information is that total donations could be as high as $78,000. Disclosure rules also require the donor to lodge a disclosure document. They got caught out because, quite rightly, the AEC wrote to them at the nominated postbox requesting the disclosure documentation. But it was returned as the post office box had been closed.

Through a bit of common sense, the AEC letter found its way to Alcoa directly because of the name. Alcoa knew it was not meant for them so did some digging around to uncover their namesake fund. I understand that each Alcoa site essentially has its own amenities fund, or as they call it a ‘site fund’. Now, let me stress that these funds have actually nothing to do with Alcoa management and Alcoa certainly play no role in their administration. In fact, Alcoa have a policy of staying away from political donations.

With major operations at Wagerup, Huntley, Pinjarra and Kwinana, the AWU collect fees from their members at each site. This is designed to cover incidental costs and, in theory, one would assume it was to be used for the benefit of union members. These funds accumulate and I am told they could amount to anything between $40,000 and $80,000 at each site. Whether these site funds make up the Alcoa Allsites Operations entity is presently unclear but one would suspect that at least a portion of each fund would have reached a central account. In their financial statements for the year ended 30 June 2008 the WA branch of the AWU make no secret of their ties to the Labor Party, declaring, ‘The branch have maintained their affiliation with both the ALP and Unions WA during the financial year.’ That year there was a surplus of $175,000. General donations from the branch total just over $2,000 for that year but at least $36,000 found its way to the ALP from its friend Alcoa Allsites Operations.

When John Hughes, the ALP candidate in Canning at the last election, was getting in campaign mode, there were several discussions about how to manage the campaign funds. It was abundantly clear from the initial letter sent out by the AWU supporting John Hughes as a ‘fresh face for Canning’—even though he was 63—that the AWU membership was to be the main source of funding for his campaign. I understand that Mr Hughes and his team were reluctant to give the ALP state secretary control of the campaign account and discussions were had with the AEC about the establishment and operation of campaign accounts and disclosure requirements. Questions have been raised about the management and legitimacy of these site funds. Workers have raised concerns that large sums of money from these site funds are unaccounted for. That is the problem: the funds are managed by the union bosses and there appears to be no way for workers to reconcile the use of those funds. This only supports the suspicion that the moneys may be used for purposes—

Mr Griffin —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order, with respect to relevance. This is completely irrelevant to any role—

The SPEAKER —There is no point of order on relevance. The minister will resume his seat. The member for Canning has the call.

Mr RANDALL —This only supports the suspicion that the moneys may be used for purposes other than those the workers intended. Undoubtedly, this causes tensions between the workers and union bosses. I have been informed that the workers have seen people buying second-hand utes and personal items, which begs the question of where the money comes from. New AWU state secretary Steven Price was Norm Dicks’s second-in-charge at Alcoa. Mr Dicks was defeated at the election because, I understand, there may be been some questions of his using the funds to his own advantage. I can only hope, for the sake of the members, that Mr Price is not tarred with the same brush.

Mr Griffin —Mr Speaker—

The SPEAKER —No. The minister will resume his seat.

Mr RANDALL —After the union spill there was some discontent amongst the members, and the Pinjarra group walked away from the site arrangements. We must remember that these site accounts are apparently not subject to any auditing requirements or disclosure, so the fees paid by the workers could be spent by the people collecting the fees and fiddling the books rather than for the benefit of union members. (Time expired)