In response to the finding of 181 contraventions of the Fair Work (Registered Organisations Act) 2009, the General Manager of Fair Work Australia has instructed solicitors to initiate Federal Court proceedings for penalties and declarations.
Australia has long had a free and independent union movement which is representative of and accountable to its members. Australia’s trade unions are overwhelmingly professional, democratic and highly effective organisations.
Governments must ensure a balanced framework of workplace relations laws underpinned by an effective regulation of employer and employee organisations. Strong systems of financial accountability and corporate governance are essential to ensure the integrity of any organisation – from multinational corporations to trade unions and charities.
Union members deserve organisations that represent their interests to the full. The dysfunction in some parts of the Health Services Union has shown that the actions of a few individuals, if left unchecked, can jeopardise the effective functioning of a union in the best interests of its members. That is why the Government has already applied to the Federal Court to appoint an administrator to the HSU East Branch.
The public also needs to have confidence that any breaches of the law will be investigated quickly and thoroughly. The Government believes the HSU investigations by Fair Work Australia between 2010 and 2012 have taken far too long to conclude and we are determined to correct this, so that it never happens again.
Now that the General Manager of Fair Work Australia has finalised her deliberations, the Government can also announce it will take action to ensure any future investigations of similar size and scope can be conducted faster and in full cooperation with any corresponding criminal or regulatory investigations.
Accountability and transparency of registered organisations
The Government will legislate to improve the accountability and transparency of registered organisations and to strengthen penalties.
Minister Shorten will take to the National Workplace Relations Consultative Council (NWRCC) meeting on Friday 25 May a package of proposals to increase the financial accountability, transparency, and reporting requirements of registered organisations and the penalties for breaching the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009.
The package will include measures to:
- improve financial disclosure by officials of registered organisations, including in relation to the disclosure of remuneration and financial benefits related to their position;
- increase financial penalties for breaching the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009 including in relation to obligations of care and diligence, acting in good faith and improper use of an officials’ position or information;
- empower Fair Work Australia to conduct own motion investigations into compliance with reporting and other obligations; and
- provide an educative role for Fair Work Australia in relation to compliance with financial reporting and other obligations under the Act.
The Government will ask the NWRCC, which is chaired by the Minister for Employment & Workplace Relations and comprises the ACTU and peak employer organisations, to endorse the Government’s package to enable legislation to be introduced into the Parliament as soon as possible.
Timeliness of investigations
While the size and complexity of the investigations into the HSU Victoria No.1 Branch and the HSU National Office were unprecedented, lengthy delays in concluding investigations like these are unacceptable.
Health Services Union members deserved better than this.
These investigations were conducted under legislation introduced when Tony Abbott was Minister for Workplace Relations. That has failed its first real test. Legislation did not establish an appropriate framework for investigating large and complex matters and now that the investigations have concluded the Government is committed to fixing those problems.
Some of the difficulties we have seen during the course of the HSU investigations include how information can be better shared between Fair Work Australia, the CDPP and state police forces, clarity about what information can be provided to other agencies and to the Parliament and in what circumstances. These deficiencies in the legislation have also been identified by the General Manager in her statement today.
The Government will introduce any necessary legislation to ensure these issues do not arise again in the future.
The General Manager has also confirmed today the terms of reference for the independent review of the conduct of the Fair Work Australia investigations into the HSU. The review will be conducted by KPMG, will be concluded by no later than the end of July and the KPMG report will be made public.
The Government will also introduce legislation to give effect to the recommendations made by KPMG to improve how Fair Work Australia conducts investigations.