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Wednesday, 9 November 2016
Page: 2321

Registered Organisations

Senator PATERSON (Victoria) (14:23): My question is to the Minister for Employment, Senator Cash. It is a policy question, Mr President. Labor senators might like to try it. Can the minister inform the Senate of any activity that highlights the urgent need for greater 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) (14:24): I thank Senator Paterson for his question—and, yes, I can. In recent years, it has been very disappointing that Australians have learned of certain unions and certain union officials that have not acted in the best interests of their organisations or their members. This has happened because of the inadequate laws in place that have allowed this behaviour to occur. For example, we have learned of the Australian Workers Union practice of issuing false invoices that are conveniently marked as 'training', 'OHS' or similar, but what they are really for is covering payments for stacked union memberships. Those who were secretly signed up included netballers and horse-racing jockeys, including the last two Melbourne Cup winners. They were signed up without their knowledge. They had never agreed to join the union and had never given their consent.

Why was this done? Having these numbers on the books of the AWU bolstered their power base within the Australian Labor Party. We have also heard of other deals done between an employer and a union. That employer was Cleanevent and again the union was AWU. In this case, the employer, Cleanevent, agreed to pay to the union $25,000 per year for three years. What did the union get in return? They got the names of all of the employees, but what is worse is that they stripped the workers of their penalty rates. Just in case people do not know: who was the National Secretary of the AWU at the time? None other than the Leader of the Opposition at the moment, Bill Shorten. An absolute disgrace.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Paterson, a supplementary question.

Senator PATERSON (Victoria) (14:27): Will the minister advise the Senate of current arrangements for accountability of registered organisations? Why is it 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) (14:27): The facts of the matter are this: across Australia there are 47 unions and 63 employer groups representing two million members. These registered organisations have annual revenue in excess of $1.5 billion and they have ownership or control of assets worth $2 billion. That is why it is so important that the laws are in place to ensure accountability and transparency. What we need are laws that ensure there is an independent overseer, a regulator, similar to that for the Corporations Law. We also need to ensure that proper accountability and transparency is in place. If an employer organisation or a union organisation is doing something that involves members' money, all we say is the members deserve to know. (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Paterson, a final supplementary question.

Senator PATERSON (Victoria) (14:28): Is the minister aware of any impediments to ensuring that officials of registered organisations are properly accountable for their use of members' funds?

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (14:28): Given the reaction in particular from those on the other side, the answer to that is yes. It is unfortunate, because, when you look at the two million workers across Australia, the value of the funds, $1.5 billion, and the value of the assets that are under their control, $2 billion, deal after deal after deal that has been done by union officials and employers—some employers are complicit in this—has been to the detriment of the workers. How can anyone in this place not agree that the current laws are inadequate? They do not provide for the requisite level of transparency or accountability. The laws that are in place fail the two million members of these organisations. The appropriate thing to do as policymakers is realise there is a deficiency and put in place laws to ensure these types of deals cannot be done. (Time expired)