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Thursday, 15 October 2015
Page: 7806

Industrial Relations


Senator JOHNSTON (Western Australia) (14:38): My question is to the Minister for Employment, Senator Cash. Will the minister inform the Senate about the need for greater transparency in dealings between registered industrial organisations and employers?


Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (14:38): I thank Senator Johnston for what is an extremely important question. Senators will be aware that this government has previously introduced legislation to ensure greater accountability and transparency in the operation of registered organisations. It is also a fact that Labor and the Greens have consistently opposed this legislation. In short, we on this side of the chamber are seeking to provide transparency in the decision-making process and the disbursement of union members' funds. We believe that, if money is secretly changing hands between an employer and a union, surely common sense dictates that the union members have a right to know.

What we do know based on the evidence from the Heydon royal commission this week is that approximately $300,000 secretly changed hands between the builders of the East West Tollway in Melbourne and the Australian Workers Union. This happened when the current Labor leader, Bill Shorten, was the top Victorian union boss in the AWU, and the AWU's members had no idea at all that a secret deal was in place. The royal commission has also heard very strong evidence to suggest that Mr Shorten was present at the negotiations where it was decided that the large sum of money should change hands. Any union official worthy of the responsibility that is entrusted to them by the membership would not be taking part in these kinds of shady backroom deals. There is clearly an urgency to introduce greater transparency for these sorts of deals when workers are kept in the dark and an employer pays a union mysterious payments. (Time expired)


Senator JOHNSTON (Western Australia) (14:40): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Will the minister update the Senate on any recent allegations of secret deals between unions and employers.


Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (14:41): Unfortunately, yes I can. I can update the Senate on recent allegations of secret payments made to the AWU by employers. What we do know from the evidence that has been provided is that these payments were made. Unfortunately, I cannot update the Senate on the reasons for which those payments were made. What we do not know is why these payments were made and exactly what the AWU gave to the employer in return. But I can advise the Senate that there is one person who can clean this up and, quite frankly, can clean it up this afternoon—and that is, of course, the Leader of the Opposition. He could answer the following questions: why he kept this deal secret from his members if he was confident that it was above board? What was his role in the negotiations for these payments? What was the company buying when it made these payments? And what was the AWU giving in return? Simple questions that require answers. (Time expired)


Senator JOHNSTON (Western Australia) (14:42): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Will the minister advise the Senate of the importance of union members knowing when their union is receiving secret payments from their employer.


Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (14:42): I think I speak for senators on this side of the chamber when I say that union members do have a right to know what their union officials are doing. Unfortunately, however, there have been many occasions where backroom deals have been done by union officials to receive money from employers. Take, for instance, the current Leader of the Opposition's time at the AWU. It is a matter of fact that, under his leadership at the AWU, he oversaw the 2006 enterprise agreement with Cleanevent. This was the agreement that those on the other side refuse to acknowledge stripped away all penalty rates for 5,000 low-paid cleaners, with no compensation given to them in return. This is, of course, the same Bill Shorten who relies on the CFMEU for his support. This is, of course, the same Bill Shorten who takes his orders from the CFMEU.