THE AUSTRALIAN Parliament has taken a long overdue step towards improving the governance, transparency and management of trade unions and registered employer organisations by today voting up legislation to establish a new Registered Organisations Commission.

The Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Bill 2014 passed early this morning with the purpose of amending the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009 to:

  • create a Registered Organisations Commissioner (Commissioner), and a Registered Organisations Commission (ROC), within (but independent of) the Office of the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) to supervise, monitor and regulate the conduct of employer and employee organisations registered under the Registered Organisations Act;
  • strengthen requirements for financial accounting, transparency and disclosure by officers of registered organisations of material personal interests;
  • provide stronger coercive investigatory powers for the Commissioner (with fewer limitations on their use); and
  • increase civil penalties and introduce criminal offences for breaches of officers’ duties, and create new offences in relation to the conduct of investigations under the Registered Organisations Act.

After negotiating on this legislation for months, the Turnbull government secured its passage with the support of all crossbench senators except Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie.

This was achieved by agreeing to various amendments put forward by Nick Xenophon and his Senate team, and Senator Derryn Hinch, that principally related to providing additional protections to whistleblowers.

Implications for AMMA members

Improved governance of registered unions and employer associations is very important for employers, including AMMA’s members throughout the resource industry.

Corruption and misuses of member money entrench cultures of entitlement and industrial belligerence, and reinforce disconnects between union agendas and the needs of employees and employers the workplace level.

Minister for Employment Michaelia Cash, who consulted heavily with AMMA on this legislation, said in a statement that officials from registered organisations will now be subjected to similar standards as company directors under Corporations Law, including more thorough reporting and disclosure and, for those who break the law, bigger penalties.

AMMA chief executive Steve Knott congratulated the government and the crossbench for getting the legislation over the line.

“We hope this is the start of a process of pushing back against the ALP/ Greens/ Jacqui Lambie Alliance that seeks to shield these groups from a higher level of governance that is standard operating practice in every other business undertaking,” Mr Knott said.

“While AMMA has long maintained that all registered organisations should be regulated under the Corporations Act 2001, just as companies and their directors are, the new Registered Organisations Commission is a sound policy outcome and will significantly improve the governance and accountability of Australian unions and registered employer groups.”

Reg Orgs passage bodes well for ABCC

Resource employers are now looking to the Australian Parliament to address the far more substantive issue of lawlessness and corruption in the construction sector – an issue which impacts taxpayers, communities and small, medium and large businesses – by voting to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).

The ABCC Bills will be debated on the Senate from today. The legislation is considered more contentious than the Registered Organisations laws, and the government will need to again secure the support of crossbench Senators to secure its passage.

This morning’s positive developments have shown the crossbench of the Nick Xenophon team, One Nation, Senator David Leyonhjelm and Senator Hinch is open to passing workplace relations legislation and willing to articulate and propose amendments necessary to secure their support.

Commenting on the ABCC legislation this morning, Mr Knott said that it was well beyond time that the Australian Parliament draws a line under the abhorrent behaviours we are seeing coming out of the construction sector.

“Intimidation, thuggery and outright lawlessness should not be accepted anywhere, including in one of the key pillars of our national economy that involves massive amounts of public spending and the delivery of critical community and productive infrastructure,” he said.

“Just this week there are reports that more than $100 billion worth of major projects in Australia have been specifically targeted by the CFMEU’s militancy, including some of the largest resources and energy projects ever built anywhere in the world.

“We trust the Senate crossbench to act in the national interest and ultimately pass this legislation rather than leaving the job half done.”

For further information on the Registered Organisations and/or ABCC matters, please contact AMMA’s head of policy Scott Barklamb via [email protected]