A strong, independent watchdog will deliver better protection for members of Australia’s trade unions and employer organisations, under a Bill introduced to Federal Parliament today.
Minister for Employment Eric Abetz said the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2013 will provide the certainty and high operating standards that members of registered organisations are entitled to expect.
“The Bill introduces a suite of measures designed to see governance of registered organisations lifted to a consistently high standard across the board,” Senator Abetz said.
“The Government believes most registered organisations do the right thing and, in many cases, maintain higher standards than those currently required.
“However, the recent investigations into the Health Services Union show financial impropriety can occur under the current regulatory framework.”
The Bill establishes a dedicated independent watchdog—the Registered Organisations Commission—to improve oversight.
The Commission will have stronger investigative and information gathering powers, modelled on those available to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. It will have the power to commence legal proceedings and refer possible offences to prosecutors and law enforcement agencies.
“The Bill also ensures there are appropriate sanctions against efforts to hinder or mislead investigations,” Senator Abetz said.
“This will give all members confidence that should they make a complaint to the Commission about a registered organisation, that organisation and its officials must comply with the requirements of the investigation process or face sanctions.
“Members can also be reassured by the fact that under the new legislation, a person convicted of particular offences will not be eligible to be an officer of an organisation or to stand for election to office.”
Other measures in the Bill include:
- Higher civil penalties and a range of criminal penalties—including jail terms—for registered organisations officials who break the law, consistent with penalties facing Companies and Directors under Corporations Law; and
- Enhanced reporting and disclosure requirements to deliver greater transparency including reporting the remuneration of the top five officers in an organisation or branch of an organisation.
“The only people who have anything to fear from these changes are those who do the wrong thing. Members of registered organisations and the community have everything to gain,” Senator Abetz said.
“These changes should ensure that the shocking behaviour we have seen by certain officials of the Health Services Union will not be repeated.”
The Commission will be established within the Office of the Fair Work Ombudsman, and the Government will announce the appointment of the Commissioner in the new year.
The Registered Organisations Commission is expected to begin operating from early 2014, with the new disclosure and reporting obligations, higher civil penalties and new criminal sanctions coming into effect from 1 July 2014.