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Wednesday, 22 June 1994
Page: 1897

Senator SHORT (4.28 p.m.) —I congratulate my colleague Senator Abetz on bringing this very important matter to the attention of the Senate. It is the first matter of public importance that he has brought on. He has picked a very important topic and, moreover, he has done it very well. What he has raised are very important issues of principle and morality, and questions of the use and misuse of public funds—and public funds are nothing other than taxpayers' money.

  I do not want to go over all the points in relation to the shabby, shameful TUTA affair that Senator Abetz and my other friend and colleague Senator Crane have so ably dealt with. What I do want to look at are some of the wider issues of the relationship between this Labor government and the trade union movement. I do not believe that the people of Australia are aware of the way in which this government has rorted the taxes of this country to provide funds to the trade union movement which, in other ways, have flowed back to the ALP for many of its activities.

  As we all know, there are very special relationships between the trade union movement, the Australian Labor Party and the Labor government. The trade union movement has a unique relationship with one political party, the ALP, which no other non-party interest group has. It occurs at a number of levels. Many unions are affiliated with the ALP. This gives the unions extensive powers within the Labor Party and, therefore, within the government.

  The ALP policy platform formally highlights the special emphasis that the trade union movement has within the ALP. This is translated at a practical level in many ways which give the trade union movement great strength within the Labor Party and, therefore, the decision making processes of Labor governments. In turn, unions contribute a percentage of their members' union dues to the ALP regardless, I point out, of the political persuasion of the individual members. In addition to that, affiliation fees are sent to the ALP from affiliated unions. That figure is reportedly of the order of $5 million a year, and that is in addition to the other payments I have mentioned.

  Also, with the ALP in power, the union movement has a very special relationship with the government. That has been evident right through the 11 years of this Labor government. The power of the trade union movement, particularly of the office bearers of the ACTU, has been unparalleled in this country. Indeed, in a radio interview during the election campaign in 1990 the president of the ACTU, Martin Ferguson, said:

We are a partner in government with the ALP . . . and we are part and parcel of the government of Australia and prepared to be identified with the ALP.

Jennie George, of whom much has been said in this debate by my colleagues, said a very similar thing after the 1993 election to the effect that it was the trade union movement that had won the election.

  Another matter of grave significance is the union movement's special tax status that provides advantages to the ALP. In addition to having the special relationship with the ALP, the bulk of the union movement's finances come from tax free sources. This has a number of ramifications because of the electoral disclosure requirements of the ALP and for other reasons. The trade unions are granted exemptions from tax on income under section 23F of the Income Tax Assessment Act. They also raise funds from union subscriptions which are compulsorily levied at the workplace on all union members—as I said, regardless of the individual union members' political support—and the subscriptions are also tax deductible by union members. Again, the impact of this on the ALP is considerable.

  The other thing I want to draw attention to—this is perhaps the most important of all, and the greatest rort of all—is the government grant funding to unions and, in turn, the flow back of that funding, which uses taxpayers' money, to the ALP. The Keating government's use of taxpayers' money to fund its industrial wing more than rivals in dollars the sports rorts affair that recently brought down Ros Kelly. I have been following this subject for many years and the latest figures that I have received through questions on notice reveal that trade unions received a minimum payout of $14.4 million in the last election year, 1992-93, a 40 per cent increase on the $10.2 million received in 1991-92. The minimum handout to the trade union movement over the life of the Hawke-Keating government is over $66 million. The annual figure has increased each year. In 1992-93 it was more than six times greater than the figure for Labor's first year in government. I seek leave to table a list of the payments to trade union movements by the Hawke-Keating Labor governments.

  Leave granted.

Senator SHORT —That is an underestimate on the most conservative of calculations when we take into account the TUTA funding and other funding that has been referred to. The all-up handout to the union movement by the Hawke-Keating governments would now well exceed $120 million, and could be as high as $150 million or more. That is taxpayers' money. No greater rort of taxpayers' money has ever occurred in this country than that. (Time expired)