Registered organisations & workplace reform

I rise to speak on the importance of workplace relations reform in Australia for our nation, its workers, children and our democracy.

I rise to speak on the importance of workplace relations reform in Australia for our nation, its workers, children and our democracy. The Australian public must look askance and wonder why this parliament cannot come together to deliver better governance of registered organisations. Most Australian workers, and particularly the two million members of registered organisations, must wonder what is going on when this parliament has to debate the very idea that registered organisations should be subject to the same standards as corporations.

It is disappointing—indeed, worthy of despair—that those on the benches opposite frustrate the government from delivering what the Australian public expects. I cannot understand why those opposite think that millionaire shareholders should have available to them rights in the management of their corporate organisations that members of registered organisations cannot have. Of course, it really should not be a surprise, as The Sydney Morning Herald reserves its front page and the ABC runs a lead story every time a company gives money to the Liberal Party. However, they neglect the tens of millions of dollars that the union movement funnels through to the Labor Party, and even ignore when significant undeclared sums are paid by building companies directly to the Leader of the Opposition and his campaign manager.

This paid-up claque represents the very worst that money can buy in politics. But don't the unions get their money's worth! Nothing is too low for those opposite to defend. Physical violence on building sites—for Labor, that is not a problem. Extending the visas of outlaw bikie gang members with multiple charges is not a problem; productivity-slouching, costing billions more to deliver critical public infrastructure—none of these things is a problem.

The legislation is not about union busting; to start with, it will impact 63 employer organisations compared with 47 unions.

The Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill is about protecting workers, ensuring accountability of officials and reducing conflicts of interest. It is about giving members rights they should already have. These are rights they would have if the members of the parliamentary Labor Party cared as much for the ordinary workers as they do for the higher echelons of the union movement—that is, those very people who control Labor preselections. This legislation is about holding officials of unions and employer organisations to the right standard.

If Labor thinks that these standards are too high or that they are not right, I presume they will be moving amendments to the Corporations Act to right this wrong for company directors and shareholders alike. But you are likely to see the Pittwater freeze over on a warm summer day before that happens, because the Labor Party believe in double standards. They believe that millionaire shareholders should have rights that union members such as hospital cleaners can only dream of having. The Labor Party and their parliamentary members cry crocodile tears for workers whenever they can, but they reserve their passion and real fight for the union officials that pay their bills and control their preselections, while these union officials spend the hard-earned dues of their members on overseas trips, tattoos and their children's school fees.

The Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption uncovered numerous examples of misuse of members' funds, as well as a deep-seated culture of lawlessness. Gaps in current laws mean that many more unethical and questionable practices go undetected and unpunished. We cannot have a healthy democracy when one half of the parliament is beholden to organisations that refuse to even disclose the salaries of and payments to their officials.

The bill will: amend the existing registered organisations legislation to introduce a new robust regulator, the Registered Organisations Commission, or ROC; provide for the same standards of accountability to be applied to registered organisations and their officers as those which currently apply to companies and their directors; and increase the penalties for failing to comply with those requirements. The powers of the ROC will be modelled on those of corporate regulators. New accountability measures will include requiring registered organisations to disclose remuneration paid to their top five officers in head office and in branches, and requiring officers to disclose conflicts of interest. These cannot be described as onerous obligations on registered organisations—unless the relevant organisations have something to hide from their members.

It is time that the parliament saw the union movement that resists such basic compliance and reporting obligations for what it is—a giant vampire squid whose tentacles are wrapped tightly around the productivity of this nation and the welfare of its membership. This legislation will help to pry it loose and remove the sustenance and oxygen from the parasitic elements of these organisations.