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Monday, 9 November 2015
Page: 7946

Registered Organisations

Senator LINDGREN (Queensland) (14:29): My question is to the Minister for Employment, Senator Cash. Will the minister inform the Senate of whether she is aware of any activity that highlights the necessity of improved accountability and governance of registered organisations?

Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (14:29): I thank Senator Lindgren for her question. We on this side of the chamber are strongly opposed to the corruption and misuse of membership funds wherever it occurs, whether the entity involved is a trade union or whether it is an employer body or other professional organisation.

Unfortunately, the royal commission has heard mounting evidence of reckless spending sprees carried out by one registered organisation in New South Wales. The spending sprees have included Tiffany jewellery, a corporate package for a Monster Truck show, indoor skydiving lessons and tattoos, all of which were charged to credit cards funded by the organisation's membership. I would hope that all in this chamber agree that officials should never view the hard-working members of their organisations as nothing more or less than a cash cow to be exploited for their own personal benefit. In fact, I am sure that all in this chamber, and the low-paid workers who paid almost $600 a year to join this organisation, would be absolutely outraged at how their personal moneys were spent.

What we have seen in the royal commission to date are three consistent themes: bogus invoices, secret payments and inflated false memberships. That is why this government has introduced changes to establish an effective regulator, the Registered Organisations Commission, with proper powers to ensure that this type of behaviour can no longer occur. If you are misappropriating members' funds, regardless of who you are, you deserve to be found out and penalised. If you are not, quite frankly, you have nothing to worry about.

Senator LINDGREN (Queensland) (14:31): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Will the minister advise the Senate why it is important that all registered organisations, not just trade unions, be accountable to their members?

Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (14:31): Yes, I can. All registered organisations, regardless of who they are, should be accountable for their behaviour, whether they be unions or employer associations. Your role as an official of one of these organisations does not entitle you to use the members' funds as your own personal piggy bank. It is a fact that these registered organisations do not face the same consequences as companies or company directors for doing the same wrong thing. For example, the current maximum penalty for even the worst misbehaviour within a registered organisation is capped at $10,800 for individuals. If a company director unlawfully uses their position to gain an advantage for themselves, they could be liable for a fine of up to $200,000. Under the current registered organisations act, this is not even illegal. Again, if you do not do anything wrong, you have nothing to fear. (Time expired)

Senator LINDGREN (Queensland) (14:32): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Is the minister aware of any impediments to ensuring that the officials of registered organisations are properly accountable for their use of members' funds?

Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (14:32): Of course, all of us on this side of the chamber are aware that it is those opposite who, three times now, have voted against the government's proposed changes to the registered organisations act. Registered organisations, regardless of who they are, are given special privileges under the Fair Work laws. With these privileges come certain responsibilities, and they must be accompanied by oversight, transparency and accountability. Like all Australians, I think, the government is aware that the majority of registered organisations do the right thing. They act lawfully and in their members' interests. But we believe that when they do not, as we have seen time and time again throughout this royal commission, they should be held to the same account as a company director. I have yet to have anybody explain to me why they should not be. Given the evidence that we have seen to date in the royal commission— (Time expired)