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Thursday, 10 November 2016
Page: 2501

Registered Organisations


Senator HUME (Victoria) (15:10): My question is to the Minister for Employment, Senator Cash. Is the minister aware of support for strengthening accountability and improving governance of registered organisations?


Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (15:10): I thank Senator Hume for her question—and yes, I am. The need to further strengthen accountability and improved governance in registered organisations is acknowledged by many respected former union leaders. For example, Bill Shorten's successor as National Secretary of the Australian Workers Union, Paul Howes, said three years ago:

I can't see any reason why anyone in the—

union—

movement would fear having the same penalties that apply to company directors.

Mr Howes also stated that he had no issue with coalition policy. Former ACTU President Martin Ferguson stated:

There is an absolute obligation on the union movement to clean up its house.

Former Labor Attorney-General Robert McClelland said there was 'unquestionably a case for further legislative reform'. And former ACTU Secretary Bill Kelty has publicly stated:

I was always on that side of the debate which said that unions are public bodies so they are accountable to members for their management …

I never cared that people knew how much I got paid. We had very strict rules about how much money you could earn outside the ACTU too.

Sensible figures—and I think these people are seen as sensible figures—within the Australian union movement recognise that the integrity and credibility of organisations depend on them being transparent and accountable. It is very clear that the existing laws in relation to registered organisations do not demand this accountability and transparency. Because there is a flaw in the existing policy, it is incumbent upon this parliament and this Senate to rectify that flaw.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Hume, a supplementary question.



Senator HUME (Victoria) (15:12): Can the minister inform the Senate of the importance of greater accountability for unions and employer groups?


Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (15:12): Yes, I can. If we do not pass this greater accountability and transparency, the rorts and the rip-offs will continue. Again, just this week, we have read reports of Health Services Union Secretary Diana Asmar cashing out $25,975 in maternity leave. This arrangement was criticised in many quarters. For example, former ACTU President Jennie George said:

No employer, including a union, should condone the cashing out of maternity leave.

…   …   …   

… [It] reflects a total lack of understanding of the purpose of the entitlement ...

Last financial year, Ms Asmar reportedly received $50,000 in leave payouts on top of her six-figure salary. This is unacceptable and should be disclosed to the members. (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Hume, a final supplementary question.



Senator HUME (Victoria) (15:14): Can the minister inform the Senate of the consequences of inaction?


Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (15:14): As I said, just this week yet again, we have been made aware of further rorts and rip-offs. In Australia, there are 47 unions and 63 employer groups representing two million members—that is, two million hardworking Australians. It is incumbent upon this parliament to ensure that the interests of these hardworking Australians are protected.

None of these hardworking Australians who hand over considerable amounts of money to their organisations deserve the leaders of those organisations to then treat their money and their organisations as their personal piggy banks. These organisations have annual revenue in excess of $1.5 billion. They have ownership or control of assets of around $2.5 billion. They have tax-exempt status, and we deserve only the very best from them. (Time expired)