De­mer­its to bust rogue union chiefs

The Weekend Australian - - FRONT PAGE - EWIN HANNAN

Union of­fi­cials who breach work­place laws would be banned from hold­ing of­fice un­der a new de­merit-points sys­tem the gov­ern­ment will adopt in a bid to get its union-bust­ing En­sur­ing In­tegrity Bill through par­lia­ment as early as next week.

The new sys­tem would in­volve a 180-penalty-unit thresh­old for law-break­ing trade union­ists, and could lead to Con­struc­tion Forestry Mar­itime Min­ing and En­ergy Union of­fi­cials be­ing banned for just one breach of civil laws, while other of­fi­cials would be ex­posed to ban ap­pli­ca­tions for mul­ti­ple, mi­nor breaches.

At­tor­ney-Gen­eral Chris­tian Porter told The Week­end Aus­tralian that pro­posed amend­ments, re­sult­ing from ne­go­ti­a­tions with Cen­tre Al­liance, meant penalty units would ac­cu­mu­late for breaches across three sep­a­rate pieces of work­place leg­is­la­tion.

Cen­tre Al­liance sen­a­tor Rex Pa­trick said on Fri­day he was “close to an agree­ment” on the bill, which sig­nif­i­cantly ex­pands the grounds for ban­ning union of­fi­cials and dereg­is­ter­ing unions.

The gov­ern­ment said on Fri­day the bill could be brought on for a Se­nate vote as early as next Wed­nes­day. One Na­tion is due to meet Mr Porter on Tues­day. A spokesman for sen­a­tor Mal­colm Roberts in­di­cated on Fri­day that One Na­tion sup­ported the de­merit-points sys­tem in prin­ci­ple but had ques­tions about how it would work in de­tail.

Sen­a­tor Jac­qui Lam­bie de­clined to com­ment but her of­fice main­tained she in­tended to vote for the bill if CFMEU Vic­to­rian leader John Setka con­tin­ued to refuse to re­sign.

Sen­a­tor Pa­trick con­firmed the 180-penalty-unit thresh­old for union of­fi­cials un­der the deal with the Coali­tion. He said of­fi­cials could be sub­ject to a ban ap­pli­ca­tion for “mul­ti­ple, mi­nor breaches”. He said the pro­posed trigger for a dereg­is­tra­tion ap­pli­ca­tion for a union was 900 penalty units but that fig­ure was “ball­park” and yet to be agreed.

Un­der laws ap­ply­ing across the build­ing and con­struc­tion in­dus­try, con­duct in­clud­ing co­er­cion and un­law­ful in­dus­trial ac­tion and other of­fences at­tract 200 penalty units, mean­ing a CFMEU of­fi­cial would be ex­posed to a Fed­eral Court ban ap­pli­ca­tion if found guilty of one civil breach.

“Many of the se­ri­ous breaches that we see by mem­bers of the CFMEU — and which have prompted Fed­eral Court judges to de­scribe the union as one of the most re­cidi­vist of­fend­ers in Aus­tralia’s in­dus­trial land­scape — can now at­tract 200 penalty units per con­tra­ven­tion and so, un­der the pro­posed ap­proach would, if the CFMEU of­fi­cials con­tinue to re­of­fend, give rise to potential dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion ac­tion,” Mr Porter said.

The points sys­tem would ap­ply to breaches un­der the Fair Work

Act, the Fair Work (Reg­is­tered Or­gan­i­sa­tions) Act and the Build­ing and Con­struc­tion In­dus­try (Im­prov­ing Pro­duc­tiv­ity) Act. The three pieces of leg­is­la­tion have mul­ti­ple tiers of breaches that im­pose a range of penalty units ac­cord­ing to the se­ri­ous­ness of the of­fence.

Un­der the Fair Work Act, se­ri­ous con­tra­ven­tions at­tract 600 penalty units for an in­di­vid­ual and 3000 for a reg­is­tered or­gan­i­sa­tion while 60 penalty units for of­fi­cials and 300 units for unions ap­ply for of­fences in­clud­ing right of en­try breaches, co­er­cion and un­law­ful in­dus­trial ac­tion.

ACTU pres­i­dent Michele O’Neil said the points sys­tem would re­sult in union of­fi­cers be­ing dis­qual­i­fied and unions shut down for mi­nor pa­per­work breaches. “A union where an ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fi­cer made a sim­ple mis­take in up­dat­ing de­tails of fi­nan­cial mem­bers of a union could see the union shut down,” she said. “Con­trast this with cor­po­rate Aus­tralia where com­pa­nies who file records late with ASIC face an $80 fine. Unions for the same mis­take un­der ex­ist­ing laws face $63,000 fines and if this bill is passed could see lead­ers sacked and the union shut down. The Mor­ri­son gov­ern­ment is try­ing to scam the Se­nate cross­bench into be­liev­ing they have im­proved this bill. In re­al­ity they are sim­ply giv­ing it a coat of paint.”

Mr Porter ac­cused the ACTU of “com­plete” mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion. “There is ab­so­lutely noth­ing in the cur­rent bill or the pro­pos­als rec­om­mended by the Cen­tre Al­liance re­port … which would lead to a union — or any reg­is­tered or­gan­i­sa­tion which in­cludes em­ployer as­so­ci­a­tions — be­ing shut down for a sim­ple mis­take made by an ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fi­cer,’’ he said. “This is just not true and dents the cred­i­bil­ity of their en­tire po­si­tion on the bill. The fact the ACTU ap­pear un­will­ing to recog­nise the im­por­tance of the role played by the courts un­der the bill is in­cred­i­bly con­cern­ing — though it per­haps goes some way to ex­plain­ing why they and some of their mem­bers have failed to re­spect its find­ings for so many years.”

Mr Porter said the gov­ern­ment was pre­pared to back the de­merit-points sys­tem and the ex­ist­ing penalty unit regime in the Fair Work Act pro­vided a “sound ba­sis for this type of ap­proach”. He said he was pre­pared to re­lin­quish the abil­ity of the minister to make ap­pli­ca­tions to the Fed­eral Court against reg­is­tered or­gan­i­sa­tions and their of­fi­cials.

But the gov­ern­ment is push­ing back against Sen­a­tor Pa­trick’s call not to sub­ject union merg­ers to a pub­lic in­ter­est test.

Mr Porter said the gov­ern­ment was also pre­pared to “re­fine” the test but main­tained it was im­por­tant to pre­vent “eco­nomic harm by spread­ing toxic, law-break­ing cul­tures among reg­is­tered or­gan­i­sa­tions via amal­ga­ma­tions”.

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