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Tuesday, 27 November 2012
Page: 9861

Senator KROGER (VictoriaChief Opposition Whip in the Senate) (15:37): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—


The Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Towards Transparency) Bill 2012 will amend the Fair Work Registered Organisations Act 2009 to improve protection for the hundreds of thousands of members who belong to these organisations, by strengthening the financial disclosure rules, enshrining higher duties for officers, and increasing penalties to provide a genuine deterrent against misuse of position and power.

In April this year the Coalition released a Plan for Better Transparency and Accountability of Registered Organisations. This plan is designed to protect the interests of Australians who join trade unions or employer associations.

The Coalition's plan will improve standards of governance and financial accountability by, among other things, aligning the rules for registered organisations more closely with the laws that exist for companies under the Corporations Act 2001.

The worst aspect of the ongoing HSU scandal is that 70,000 low paid workers had their hard-earned money misspent by union officials on political campaigns and escort services. Earlier this year, Fair Work Australia found that HSU officials had used union members' money for personal advantage, failed to act in the best interest of members, and breached financial management rules.

Since that time the list of scandals, revelations, and unanswered questions involving some registered organisations has continued to grow. It is clear that real change is needed now.

This bill will give effect to three key elements of our policy:

To ensure that financial reports are lodged on time and in compliance with the relevant provisions of the RO Act by clarifying circumstances where a report is non-compliant, and increasing the penalty for late filing and non-compliance;

To deter malfeasance by creating new penalties for organisations, their officers and employees who do not act in good faith, or use their position or information, to directly or indirectly create a financial gain for themselves or someone else to the detriment of the organisation; and

To deter non-compliance with court orders by creating new penalties for organisations, their officers and employees who do not comply with the order of a court.

This will provide a genuine deterrent against misuse of position and power.

Registered organisations are a central part of the Fair Work regime and they must operate to the highest of standards. The Coalition believes that the members of registered organisations deserve transparent and accountable representation. Australian workers who join trade unions deserve to know that their membership fees are being used for proper purposes.

The Coalition's bill should be welcomed by the overwhelming majority of registered organisations and their officers who do the right thing and have nothing to hide from their members.

The Coalition calls on the Government to support this bill.

If the Government refuses to support this bill, it will be further evidence that Labor under Ms Gillard is not committed to the good governance of employer associations and unions.

Senator KROGER: I seek leave for Senator Abetz to continue his remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.