Sinister Bill must be rejected

John Quessy
This proposal singles out unions for tougher scrutiny and treatment than other organisation or company.

The Registered Organisations (Ensuring Integrity) Bill currently before the Federal Parliament is bad legislation and bad public policy.

It is also another example of anti-union behaviour by the Morrison government which echoes the governments of Turnbull and Abbott before it.

The purpose of the legislation has nothing to do with integrity but is to provide a litany of new ways for individuals to be disqualified from holding office in a union or for deregistering a union.

These proposed new powers target registered organisations, the majority of which are trade unions. The major employer groups with which the IEU deals (CCER, Catholic dioceses and the AIS) are not registered organisations.

It will not be hard for the conservative press to ‘sell’ the value of this legislation because they’ll claim it will stop convicted criminals from being elected or appointed to union positions.

If this were the real intention there are simpler ways to achieve that and to make sure that the restriction applied equally across all organisations. There is nothing in this legislation and no government proposal to prohibit a restaurant owner who underpays staff $8million from running a business or opening a new one.

The proposed Bill goes much further in its scope for sanctions and is far more sinister. It would allow the Registered Organisation Commission (ROC), the minister or a “person with sufficient interest” to seek to disqualify an officer, deregister a union, restrict the use of union funds or to alter the eligibility rules of a union.

It would allow a whole range of people or organisations, including the minister, to apply for an order to appoint an administrator on a variety of grounds, including if someone complained that the union discriminated against a member or a group of members.

These same people could apply to the Federal Court to disqualify a person from holding office on a range of grounds including that the person was considered “not a fit and proper person”.

Trade unions are already subject to a staggering level of regulation by the Fair Work Act and the Registered Organisations Act. The level of obligation and technical compliance is such that it is easy to make errors. This legislation could make the whole committee of management (in our case executive) guilty of an accidental error made by staff.

A number of our executive members (rank and file teachers) have written to cross bench senators requesting that they reject the Bill in its current form. They argue that it is not in the interest of union democracy to impose these controls which would discourage members from seeking office and participating in the running of their union.

When one thinks of integrity one thinks of honesty, strong moral principles and ethical behaviour. Behaviour like equal treatment under the law. This proposal singles out unions for tougher scrutiny and treatment than any other organisation or company. It is a manifestation of blind hatred of the right of workers to organise and collectivism which colours much of government opinion, policy and legislation.

For example, one government senator has singled an intention to 'crack down' on industry superannuation funds using the leverage of their share ownership to influence the behaviour and practices of listed companies.

Apparently, all other shareholders would remain free to use the influence of their share ownership as they see fit but industry funds would be prohibited from ‘voting their shares’ to ensure companies did not engage in wage theft or sweatshops.