Bills - Fair Work Amendment (Corrupting Benefits) Bill 2017 - Second Reading


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (13:43): For those listening to this debate, you may not have understood from my friend and colleague, the previous speaker, what this bill, the Fair Work Amendment (Corrupting Benefits) Bill 2017, is about. I just mention initially that this bill is about banning secret and corrupting payments from businesses to unions. The bill also requires that, for legitimate payments arising from enterprise agreements, there be a full disclosure. That's what this bill is about.

The previous speaker indicated that the bill was about demonising unions. I say to Senator Cameron: they don't need this bill or me or anyone on this side of the chamber to demonise unions; they are doing it themselves. I will shortly give you just some of the corrupting payments which do demonise unions, not by anything the government or I or the minister have done but by what the union officials themselves have done. This is what is demonising unions. You only have to look at the paper any day of the week and you will see some report of yet another union being fined because they believe they are above the law. The law is for everybody else except the unions. Fortunately, the courts are taking the appropriate action and fining them. This is probably why membership of unions is at a record low of 10 per cent of the workforce in the private sector. Ten per cent of workers in the private sector choose to join a union. I suspect that workers are leaving the unions in droves because of this inappropriate and corrupt behaviour that the Fair Work Amendment (Corrupting Benefits) Bill 2017 seeks to address.

I know every member of the opposition in this place is here only because of the unions. The unions control the preselection process. They then tell senators, once they are elected here, what they should do. I reiterate, that might be sort of acceptable if the unions represented all workers, but the unions represent less than 10 per cent of workers in the private sector. So it's that very small coterie of workers and union bosses who direct the Labor Party and write their speeches for them in these sorts of debates.

The union movement should be above reproach and above suspicion. Where the unions do perform a worthwhile purpose, they should be allowed to do it without having attributed to them the sort of corrupt conduct that this bill is trying to address. This matter went before the Heydon royal commission, which uncovered a raft of payments between unions and employers that were designed to ensure that companies got favourable treatment from the unions. He called these payments 'corrupting benefits'; hence the name of this bill. The benefits were often disguised by false invoices marked as payments for 'training' or similar, and made as part of a deal in enterprise agreement negotiations or accompanied by lists of employees' names that were used secretly to join employees to a union without their knowledge. Some officials have been paid private kickbacks—and this is all documented in court records—that they used for their own personal expenses. We know the example of Mr Craig Thomson, formerly, I am ashamed to say, a member of this parliament and for many years protected by members of the Australian Labor Party, including one senator, who was at the time the guy who was protecting him and paying his legal bills, or was arranging for someone to pay his legal bills. Whether that arrangement came from within Australia or outside, we will never know.

In return for this corrupt behaviour, employers expected to gain more flexible and cheaper employee pay conditions, and win work and avoid strikes and other industrial powers. It's not only directed at the unions; this is also directed at those businesses that participate in the corrupt actions. Mr Acting Deputy President O'Sullivan, I have a list of some examples, which will take me to the end of my speech to go through. These are facts; these are not Ian Macdonald making things up—facts found by the courts to be corrupting actions. I said these are not made up by Ian Macdonald. I talk about me, Ian Macdonald, an LNP senator from Queensland. I don't want that to be confused with another politician, a Labor politician, named Ian Macdonald, who is currently, I understand, serving jail—for what? For allegedly—well, he's serving time, so it must have been proven—for giving a licence to a union official for a very, very valuable coalmine. As I understand it, both the union official and my namesake, the Labor politician from New South Wales, are serving time at Her Majesty's pleasure.

Mr Acting Deputy President, I will mention just a few of the other instances that this bill is trying to address. There was a secret payment—this was revealed by the royal commission—of $100,000 from Toll to TEACHO, a TWU entity, to secure an enterprise agreement with a promise to pay a further $50,000 for information about Toll's competitors. This is not only about cleaning up union corruption; it's also about cleaning up some business activities that are less than fair. There was a payment of over $350,000 from SapuraKencana to the Maritime Union of Australia at the time it was planning to use foreign-crewed boats. Why would they do that? There is nearly $1 million from Dredging International to the MUA apparently to secure an enterprise agreement. There is a $2,500 payment from an underworld figure, Mr George Alex, to officials of the CFMEU in New South Wales to ensure favourable treatment of Mr Alex's companies, even though they were repeatedly phoenixed—I see Senator Dastyari here so he'll no doubt tell us more about phoenix companies—leaving workers without jobs and with unpaid wages and entitlements. There was the $150,000 in-kind home renovations made by Mirvac to former CFMEU Queensland president Dave Hanna to secure industrial peace and favourable treatment. The payments were disguised by inflated invoices from subcontractors on their existing Orion shopping centre project.

I repeat: this is not me making up some facts or the minister making up tales. This is evidence to the royal commission—it is factual. There was over $118,000 from the owner of several construction companies to the CFMEU New South Wales to avoid entering its enterprise agreement. These payments were disguised as donations for various charitable causes, including safety industry dinners at a Friends of the Sinn Fein speaking tour. This sort of thing has to stop; this bill is meant to stop these corrupt practices. Where there are payments made that might be legitimate, they should be clearly explained so there is full accountability.

Unfortunately, I'm not going to have time to go through this very long list, but it's a list that should be understood, because this sort of activity is corrupt and it needs to be addressed. I congratulate the minister for having the courage to bring this bill forward. I know she's consulted widely, including with the opposition, on the terms of the bill. I certainly urge its support so that this matter can be addressed by the parliament and by the law.

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