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Thursday, 19 March 2015
Page: 2907

Mr PYNE (SturtLeader of the House and Minister for Education and Training) (09:01): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I rise to reintroduce the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2014 [No. 2] because this government stands on the side of the honest worker. We are absolutely committed to ensuring that we never again have a situation like the one that occurred in the Health Services Union where union bosses can rip off union members.

The Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill implements the government's election commitment outlined in the 'Policy for Better Transparency and Accountability of Registered Organisations'. It will enhance the accountability and transparency of registered organisations by broadly aligning the obligations of office holders, penalties and powers of the regulator with the Corporations Act 2001.

The bill increases civil penalties and introduces criminal offences for serious breaches of officers' duties similar to those applicable under the Corporations Act. The bill also establishes the Registered Organisations Commission as independent but within the Office of the Fair Work Ombudsman.

Most importantly, especially for those opposite who claim this to be a partisan venture, the policy principles behind this bill are supported by Labor luminaries like Simon Crean, Martin Ferguson, Robert McClelland, even Paul Howes, Ian Cambridge and Steve Purvinas—all doyens of the labour movement. The bill also addresses concerns raised in the Federal Court by His Honour Justice Anthony North, who said that the penalties under the existing legislation are 'beneficially low to wrongdoers'.

This legislation will bring penalties in line with the Corporations Act, because we believe that there is no difference between a dodgy company director ripping off shareholders and a dodgy union boss ripping off members.

I want to absolutely stress that the only people who have anything to fear from this bill are those who are doing the wrong thing. I also want to reaffirm that the government firmly believes that the vast majority of officers of registered organisations do the right thing.

The bill was previously voted down in the Senate, but it is important to recognise that the debate was bizarre in that the primary reasons that the opposition opposed the bill are in fact actually issues already enshrined in the legislation as it currently stands today and are in full force. The onerous disclosure obligations that currently exist were in fact imposed by the Leader of the Opposition when he was the Minister for Workplace Relations, and they will be removed under the government's bill.

For example, the government moved amendments to remove unnecessary disclosure requirements on officers and organisations that were first included by the previous government's 2012 amendments to the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009.

They align disclosure requirements more closely with longstanding governance and accountability provisions under the Corporations Act 2001.

We have moved amendments to section 293C, which relate to disclosure of material personal interests of officers. This will significantly reduce the number of officers who will be required to make disclosures. The amendments ensure that:

Only disclosing officers, those whose duties relate to financial management of the organisations, must disclose their material personal interests.

Officers no longer need to disclose the material personal interests of their relatives.

Disclosures also only need to be made to an organisation's committee of management and can be given as standing notice. Previously, disclosures had to be given to the entire organisation and included in the officer and related party disclosure statement.

Previously there were no exceptions to the requirement for officers to disclose their material personal interests. A number of new exceptions have been included. A disclosing officer does not need to disclose their interests if, for example, they:

-arise because they are a member of a registered organisation and the interest is held in common with other members;

-arise in relation to their remuneration as an officer;

-relate to a contract the organisation is proposing to enter into that needs to be approved by members and will only impose obligations if approved by members; or

-if the interest is in a contract with a related party and arises merely because the officer is on the board of the related party or if the officer has given standing notice of their interest.

The government also moved to amend the current law to ensure that financial officers with relevant experience can apply to the Registered Organisations Commissioner for an exemption from approved governance training. This will mean fewer officers who are required to undertake such training.

These are all issues that were identified by Labor as problems. They are problems that exist in the law as it stands today. They are problems created by Labor, and we will fix them with this bill.

As my colleague the Minister for Employment has said previously, there is only one major party in this place that supports a clean and honest union movement. And it is not the party of the unions. In opposing this bill in the other place, the opposition demonstrated that it has learned nothing, and that its first instinct is to protect crooked union bosses rather than honest union members. This bill, had it been in place, would have protected union members from the likes of Craig Thomson and Michael Williamson. By not supporting the bill, the opposition is leaving union members at the mercy of future Craig Thomsons and Michael Williamsons.

I will not seek to cover the bill in further detail given that this is a reintroduction. I simply call on all members to support honest union members and honest union bosses by supporting this bill.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.