I'm a big believer in the rule of law and in the notion that we all must be equal before it.
Yet we should never forget that when it comes to accountability and integrity there has been, until now, one set of rules for Labor and the union movement, and another set for businesses and the conservative side of politics. Some union leaders have a head-in-the-sand attitude to union corruption and misuse of members' funds. They seem to think they can spot alleged corruption in businesses at 100 paces, but they refuse to acknowledge when it is rife in the union movement.
It was like this under Mr Shorten when he refused to act to expel Mr Setka of the CFMMEU from the Labor Party for his criminal harassment of women and his denigration of the work of Australian of the Year Ms Batty. It was like this under Ms Gillard, who refused to act on Mr Thomson as he faced charges of misappropriation of union funds to attend brothels when he headed the Health Services Union of New South Wales. Sadly, it seems set to continue under our new Leader of the Opposition, Mr Albanese, who has declared today that Labor will not be backing the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2019.
We know that there are some unions who are doing what they can to represent their members and provide them with useful services like professional registration or insurance, but the more militant and outlying unions, like the CFMMEU, thumb their noses at the law. Over recent years, that very union has been fined more than $16 million for not 20, not 200, but 2,000 contraventions of the laws of this country. And that's perfectly fine with the current head of the ACTU, Ms McManus, who is on the record as saying:
I believe in the rule of law where the law is fair and the law is right, but when it's unjust I don't think there's a problem with breaking it.
With the backing of the ACTU, it's no wonder the CFMMEU has 79 of its representatives before the courts in 37 separate cases brought about by the Australian Building and Construction Commission for 800 separate alleged contraventions of workplace law.
To paraphrase the Attorney-General, Labor changes its leader, but nothing changes with Labor. If the senators opposite won't hold the labour movement to account, we will. The ensuring integrity bill is designed to ensure that all registered organisations act within the law—it shouldn't be crazy, right?—and, when they don't, they are penalised. Very importantly, the bill applies equally to unions and employer organisations, and it reflects the recommendations of the trade unions royal commission. It finally brings unions into line with provisions for misappropriation, fraud, misuse of union funds, and other so-called white-collar crimes that are listed in the Corporations Act. Why should unions, often with their significant managerial structures and their extensive commercial interests and profit margins, be treated differently from the corporations of this country?
Schedule 1 of the act will amend the Fair Work Act 2009 to ensure that officials who demonstrate disregard for the law won't be able to hold office in a registered organisation. Again, this is simply applying standards similar to those we already expect from those people who would wish to lead a corporation. If you want to be a company director, you can't break the law. It's not an unreasonable standard. Under the framework of the bill, a person convicted of an offence carrying a penalty of five years imprisonment or more will be automatically ineligible to hold office or be disqualified if they already do so. The court will be given more appropriate powers to disqualify officials of registered organisations that breach their duties, have a history of breaking the law or are regarded unfit to hold their office because of it. Where an organisation or its officials have failed to live up to the standards of the law, acted in individual self-interest or failed to comply with court orders, the registration of an organisation
may be cancelled or privileges removed. Again, we would expect no less of any other law-abiding corporation. Of course, registered organisations that contribute positively to the industrial relations framework, as they are meant to do, and abide by the law won't be impacted by this bill. It is simply designed to crack down on those who engage in blatant illegal behaviour.
Why the Labor Party won't support it, I don't understand. That's a matter for them. I would think that the more sensible and law-abiding unions would be simply begging for the opposition to, please, please, disassociate themselves from people like Mr Setka and Mr Thomson. But Labor's failure to endorse this bill, a bill that is solely directed at cleaning up union corruption, illegal behaviour and thuggery, is what can only be described as an endorsement of ongoing illegal behaviour. So we have to ask: is Ms McManus still pulling the strings? Ultimately, it is the Australian taxpayer who bears the brunt, the real cost of Labor's decision here, because union thuggery hampers the delivery of goods and increases the costs of roads, schools and hospitals. Mr Setka is far from being the only Labor thug. He's just one of the most reprehensible examples of union bullying we can refer to. But this rot runs deep.
I want to know how Labor cannot support this bill. It is in their reputational interest to distance themselves as much as they can from people like Mr Setka and the CFMMEU. But the fact is that they're not serious about taking on these hardcore nasty elements in the union movement. Well, if they're not, we are. We will always put Australian people and progress first. So I commend the ensuring integrity bill.