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Tuesday, 8 November 2016
Page: 2122

Registered Organisations

Senator HUME (Victoria) (14:19): My question is to the Minister for Employment, Senator Cash. Can the minister inform the Senate of events that highlight the need for enhanced governance and accountability rules for registered organisations?

Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (14:19): I thank Senator Hume for the question and, disappointingly, I can. Senators will be aware over many, many years now of numerous examples of rorts and rip-offs of hardworking union members. Perhaps the most egregious examples are, of course, in the Health Services Union. Former secretary Craig Thomson took $300,000 of members' money. Why? For his own campaign to enter parliament and for personal indulgences including using prostitutes. Between Craig Thomson, Kathy Jackson and former national president Michael Williamson, HSU members were cheated out of more than $2.3 million. Based on reports in the papers of late, they are not the only HSU officials who have benefited from their members' money for their own purposes. Of course, it has not gone unnoticed in this chamber that Craig Thomson is not the only former HSU official having serious questions to answer who has come into the parliament.

Disappointingly, there have also been notorious rorts by union officials in other unions. I am sure senators will be horrified to know that in the TWU two officials bought themselves American utes—F350s—at $150,000 each for their own personal use. MWU officials used hardworking union members' money on holidays, concert tickets, sporting tickets and even utilising a dating website.

But what about Bill Shorten taking a secret donation from his former union—$40,000 to fund his political campaign, conveniently not disclosed until just before the royal commission was about to question him?

The PRESIDENT: I remind senators to refer to members in the other place by their correct names or titles. Senator Hume, a supplementary question?

Senator HUME (Victoria) (14:21): Can the minister inform the Senate how the government's reforms will benefit union members?

Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (14:21): Yes, I can because, as we on this side know, the victims of this financial impropriety and breaches of trust are honest, hardworking union members. In the case of the rorts by the Health Services Union we are talking about money that comes from nurses, aged-care and disability workers, hospital cleaners and others who themselves pay around $600 a year in their annual fees to be represented by the union officials. Instead what has occurred is they have been ripped off. In terms of the government's response, our registered organisations bill will ensure that both union and employer organisations are subject to a similar level of transparency and accountability as companies. It will establish a proper regulator. It will ensure more thorough reporting and disclosure and, for those who break the law—and there are many of them—appropriate penalties.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Hume, a final supplementary question.

Senator HUME (Victoria) (14:22): 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) (14:22): I have listed a lot of what has occurred. One of the issues this parliament faces is clearly that the laws that are currently in place have done nothing and continue to allow these types of rorts and rip-offs to occur. When you talk about registered organisations, approximately 47 unions and 63 employer organisations have an annual revenue of approximately $1.5 billion and have ownership and control of assets worth $2.5 billion. They represent around two million members. These members deserve to know that their union or employer group is acting ethically, honestly and in their best interests, not for personal gratification. We know there is a problem, and it is this side of the chamber that is looking to solve that problem.