Committees Report - Education and Employment Reference Committee

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (16:05): This report and inquiry by the Education and Employment References Committee show the high farce that this Senate chamber has turned into. It is the practice of the Senate that, when bills are brought into this chamber, they are referred to a committee of the Senate to look at. That is what happened in this case. The bill was referred to the appropriate committee, which is the Education and Employment Legislation Committee. That committee looked into the report, it looked into the bill and it recommended that the bill be passed.

That is the procedure. But because the Greens and the Labor Party control the numbers in the Senate, the Greens and the Labor Party realised that the legislation committee would look at it thoroughly, would come to a balanced and unbiased decision on the legislation and would accept the need for unions to be honest and to use their members' money honestly.

But the Labor Party and the Greens did not want to attack the groups that sponsor all of the Labor senators in this place. So they referred the same bill to another committee of the Senate, on which the Labor Party and the Greens have a majority. They did this so that they could bring in a report saying that this bill should not be passed. That is my first objection.

The second inquiry was a complete waste of the Senate's time and resources because it was an inquiry into exactly the same subject that another committee of the Senate had already spent time and money appropriately looking into. If we go to the substantive issue—what this is all about—it is saying to the union movement: 'You should have the same standards of accountability to your members, to the people who contribute money to you, as public companies have.' Who could possibly argue with that? I just heard a spurious argument that I am still trying to understand: public companies use the money of shareholders, contributors, to make a profit so that makes them different to a group of people who contribute money to a union that is supposed to be looking after their affairs but may not be doing so. If it is good enough for shareholders' money to be looked after by having certain standards, certain procedures and certain requirements in place for the honest operation of those public companies, why does it not apply to the unions?

Senator Gallacher: It does.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I am told it does. So how come the Health Services Union is in the mess that it is in? It is almost bankrupt because a couple of its leaders were fiddling the books and using the moneys contributed to the union by some of the lowest paid workers in Australia. This money was being criminally misspent.

Senator Gallacher interjecting

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I hear a Labor member saying, 'Yes, well, we don't agree with HSU either.' Thanks for coming on board, but it is a bit late. Remember how you all defended Mr Thomson and the way he acted as a representative of the Health Services Union? Remember every time you objected to any proper inquiry into it? Remember that? You cannot forget that.

This is not just about the Health Services Union. Senators will be aware that the Fair Work Commission has recently launched proceedings against the Musicians Union of Australia and that it currently has inquiries or investigations into the Australian Rail Tram and Bus Industry Union; the Australian Salaried Medical Officers Federation; the Communications, Electrical, Electronic, Energy, Information, Postal, Plumbing and Allied Services Union of Australia; the Flight Attendants Association of Australia; the Textile Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia; the Australian Nursing Federation; and the Australian Childcare Centres Association. So it is not confined to the Health Services Union. You cannot tell me that what Mr Williamson, the former president of the Australian Labor Party, and Mr Craig Thomson did to the HSU is a one-off event. You cannot tell me that in the whole union movement, across the spectrum, that is a one-off event. Clearly, there has been no accountability in the union movement.

Senator Gallacher: Rubbish!

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I am told that this is rubbish. What happened with the HSU? If it were not for a whistleblower, those people would still be there ripping off members. There are other inquiries being held by the Fair Work Commission. If it is good enough for public companies—and it is good enough for public companies—why wouldn't you do this for the unions? Me thinks all those opposite—and I do not mean this pejoratively—are here because of the union movement's assistance with voting numbers and campaign funds. If that is the way they want to run it, that is fine—but there must be accountability. Just because these people put you here does not mean to say that you can give them a green card to use the money on prostitutes, porn videos or whatever, as happened in the HSU case.

I am not saying that this has happened in the other union cases under investigation—but they are under investigation. Why shouldn't they be under investigation if there is any suggestion of corruption, foul play or dishonest use of members' money? Why wouldn't you want that looked into? I certainly do not for a moment suggest that any of my colleagues opposite, of whom most were officers in various unions, did anything improper in their day; I am not saying that for a moment. But why wouldn't you support this bill, which could prove that, which could take away any suggestion that there is impropriety? I agree with you that it is appropriate for public companies; it is essential for public companies—but why is it not essential for another group who are using other people's money? We know from recent events that in least one case this has not happened.

As I say, you cannot convince me that that was a one-off incident. In fact, coming from the state of Queensland and knowing of the long and colourful history of the AWU—

Senator Sterle: Joh, Russ Hinze—

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Well, include them in it. I am on your side in relation to the two gentlemen you mention. But the AWU in Queensland has, let me say, a very colourful history, and you cannot tell me that it has been squeaky clean. I think Mr Howes supports greater accountability for the union movement—and well he should. I think any decent unionist would say: 'We've got nothing to hide, so have whatever inquiries you like, have what rules and regulations you like. We don't care. We would like the opportunity of being able to say "We've been investigated and we've been found to be clean".' This is why I find it just incredible that the Labor Party and their mates in the Greens have again had a Senate committee trawl over evidence and deliberations that have already been made into this very same bill by another Senate committee.

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