The bill has received a mixed response from submitters and witnesses. All
submitters were generally supportive of the concept of increased transparency
and accountability in registered organisations. The responsibility of officers
of registered organisations to comply with the regulatory framework imposed by
the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009 (Cth) was well
understood by all submitters and witnesses.
The bill would provide greater accountability and transparency with
respect to the governance of registered organisations. The enhanced regulation
of the sector will ensure that members of registered organisations can enjoy
the same confidence as that enjoyed by shareholders of trading corporations.
The bill would also ensure that officers of registered organisations comply
with a regulatory framework that emphasises disclosure and accountability,
ensuring the best outcome for the membership.
Employee groups strongly objected to the bill, submitting it would
impose an inappropriate regulatory burden, be too costly to implement and could
result in interference in their processes by Government. Many witnesses
expressed concern that the proposed reporting requirements would be invasive
and could be difficult for registered organisations to meet. They also
questioned the extent to which assistance would be provided by the office of
the Registered Organisations Commissioner, once established.
These key issues were discussed in submissions and in the hearing in
Melbourne on Tuesday, 26 November 2013.
Disclosure requirements, regulation and increased accountability
The committee heard extensive evidence relating to the regulatory and
reporting framework proposed by the bill and the implications for registered
organisations. The bill proposes to amend the Fair Work (Registered
Organisations) Act 2013 to restrict:
...officers from taking part in making decisions in relation to
matters in which they have a material personal interest, requires the preparation
of officer and related party disclosure statements and requires officers to
undertake approved training in relation to their financial duties.
The proposed disclosure regime includes disclosure of remuneration and
benefits paid to officers of registered organisations,
its branches and material interests acquired by officers or their relatives.
Australian Industry Group (AIG) submitted that the proposed changes
would operate unfairly with respect to officers of registered organisations, due
to the 'onerous'
disclosure regime required of officers and their relatives to the extent that the
acquired material interest relates to the affairs of the organisation.
AIG expressed concern that the bill would impede the ability of officers to
carry out administration of their organisation,
and suggested that the proposed regulation could seriously affect their mostly
volunteer membership, to the extent that it could act as a deterrent for participating
in the management of a registered organisation.
The ACTU disagreed with the intent of the bill, suggesting that
regulation of employee organisations to the standards imposed on company
directors under Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) is not appropriate,
given the different purposes of employee organisations.
The ACTU submission was generally supported by its membership.
The following organisations submitted that they generally support the
policy of increasing accountability and transparency within the management of
registered organisations for the benefit of members, notwithstanding various
technical or other amendments that they have advocated for in their
submissions. These organisations include:
Plumbers' and Mechanical Services Association of Australia;
Guild of Australia;
Public Transport Industrial Association;
Community Services Employers Association;
Automobile Chamber of Commerce;
Trade Industrial Organisation.
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) suggested that
the conduct of certain registered organisations has resulted in the need for
higher regulatory burdens and increased penalties as a deterrence for future
ACCI also submitted that it supports:
...the policy principles which underpin the measures contained
in the bill in so far as it attempts to strengthen the existing regulatory,
compliance and accountability framework.
The Fair Work Commission's (FWC) submission detailed the review conducted
by KPMG on an investigation it made into a registered organisation, noting
The KPMG process review included 38 findings relevant to the
effectiveness and efficiency of FWC inquiries and investigations including the absence
of relevant investigation standards and procedures, lack of adequate
documentation, an inadequate case management system and a dearth of
sufficiently qualified and experienced staff. The KPMG review also identified
31 opportunities for improvement to investigation processes (31
The Department of Employment (the Department) submitted that the regulatory
requirements for disclosure of officers' interests were necessary to give
effect to the Government's policy with respect to registered organisations and
contended that the regulation of registered organisations proposed was an
appropriate response, given the assets they manage and their responsibility to
properly manage member's funds.
With respect to the proposed transitional arrangements, the Department submitted
An organisation and branch can apply to the Commissioner for
alternative arrangements for disclosure in circumstances where compliance with
the obligation would be unduly onerous. An organisation or branch must provide
particulars on the special circumstances that exist, the proposed alternative
arrangement and evidence that it has achieved high standards of financial
accountability. A transitional rule has been included in the Bill that will
require the Commissioner, when considering applications for alternative
disclosure arrangements, to take into account any exemptions allowed by FWC
under section 148D of the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act, as
Given the extent of Government and community concerns with respect to
recent investigations and prosecutions for misuse of member funds and position
the proposed disclosure regime with respect to officer's interests is critical
to the accountable and transparent operation of registered organisations and to
ensure appropriate management of members' assets. The committee is also
encouraged by the FWC's awareness of the improvements in investigation
processes recommended by the KPMG process review.
The committee also accepts the evidence provided by the Department that
transitional arrangements will be provided for in the bill to assist registered
organisations meet the proposed requirements, as exists currently. The
committee accepts that regulation is required; and notes that assistance will
be provided by the Commission for registered organisations, where appropriate.
The committee is persuaded by the evidence provided by submitters that
the disclosure regime in relation to material personal interests proposed by
the bill may create unnecessary administrative burdens for officers, some of
whom are volunteers. The bill should be amended to ensure that the disclosure
regime in the bill is consistent with the requirements in the Corporations
The Committee recommends that, consistent with the Corporations
Act 2001, material personal interest disclosures should only be
required to be made to those officers whose duties relate to the financial
management of the organisation. Such disclosures should be recorded in the
minutes of the meetings of those officers and should be made available to
members on request.
The Committee recommends that a list of exclusions from the
obligations to disclose material personal interests based on section 191(2) of
the Corporations Act 2001 be inserted into the bill. This would narrow
the obligation to disclose material personal interests of an officer’s
relatives, so as to be consistent with the Corporations Act 2001.
The Committee recommends that the obligation placed on officers
to disclose every payment should be reduced with certain exclusions, including
limiting disclosures to payments made above a certain threshold.
Training of officers
ACCI provided evidence to the committee that it was important to
recognise that, with respect to officers of registered organisations that many
are volunteers or hold dual roles for the purposes of the Fair Work
Registered Organisations Act 2009.
ACCI also submitted that some of its members were still waiting on guidance
from the FWC as they implement changes to reporting requirements as enacted by
the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Act 2012.
Specifically, ACCI explained that:
There is a related issue, which we expressed in our previous
submissions to the Senate committee, in that there should be some sensitivity
to trying to assist organisations to get in place the training that is
The Timber Merchants Association (Victoria) expressed the view that they
support strong financial accounting disclosure and transparency obligations
they were concerned by the delay of the release of compliance guidelines by the
However, the Registered Organisations Commissioner will be required to 'provide
education, assistance and advice to organisations and their members to assist
Some concerns were expressed with respect to the delays experienced in gaining
approval of their compliance training program by the FWC and the current
deadline for training programs to meet the requirements imposed by the Fair
Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Act 2013.
The FWC detailed in its submission to the committee the extensive
regulation and compliance training it has undertaken with registered
organisations. The Commission noted that compliance rate of lodgement of
financial reports had increased from 93 per cent to 96 per cent between 2011-12
and that the new training modules had further increased compliance with respect
to financial reports to 99.5 per cent.
The Commission has also provided 'webinar' training to registered organisation
officers, including recently on updated reporting guidelines and right of entry
The committee notes that the Department is aware of the time constraints
and the proposed new requirements on registered organisations, submitting that:
Subject to passage of the legislation, the commission will
begin operation in early 2014 by proclamation, and the new disclosure and
reporting obligations, higher civil penalties and the new criminal sanctions
will come into effect from 1 July 2014. The timing is designed to align with
the new financial year and to allow registered organisations sufficient time to
become familiar with the new obligations.
The committee is persuaded by the evidence presented by the FWC detailing
the results of the compliance and regulation training provided to registered
organisations in the previous two financial years. The committee notes the effectiveness
of these training sessions and the high satisfaction rate of participants.
The Committee appreciates the FWC's ongoing work to develop training and
education materials to provide to registered organisations, in order to assist
their compliance with their legal obligations, and accepts the staggered
implementation proposed by the Government as appropriate. The committee also
notes that in addition to the ability of the Commissioner to extent deadlines,
it is also appropriate to provide the Commissioner with the ability to grant
exemptions, where appropriate.
The Committee recommends the bill be amended to allow the
Commissioner to grant exemptions from the training requirements if an
individual can demonstrate significant knowledge of the financial obligations
specified in the bill.
Alignment of the responsibilities of officers of registered organisations
to trading corporations under the Corporations Act 2001
Submitters generally did not support the alignment of the
responsibilities of officers of registered organisations to those of trading
corporations under the Corporations Act 2001 (Corporations Law), arguing
that corporate regulation has a different scope and purpose to that of
voluntary industrial organisations.
Specifically, AIG proffered the view that the officers of registered
organisations cannot be readily aligned with directors of listed public
companies, and that the penalties imposed on registered organisations will be
far more onerous than those in the Corporations Law provisions.
Mr Stephen Smith, Director, indicated support for the broad objectives, to make
officers accountable, but argued for a balanced approach.
The ACTU broadly agreed with AIG, submitting that although regulating
registered organisations in the same way as corporations has some superficial
this view cannot be sustained when it is considered what these organisations
are for and do in comparison to corporations.
The committee sought clarification of these issues from the Department
who indicated that it was appropriate to compare registered organisations with
corporations, due to the significant financial resources managed by registered
organisations on behalf of their membership.
The Department also indicated that there was a high community expectation that
management of financial assets by registered organisations would be undertaken
in a transparent and accountable manner, similar to the legal obligations of
accountability imposed on company directors to their shareholders.
The Department also submitted that:
[Unions] and employer organisations also collect money and
represent funds of their members. And some of them are very significant amounts
The Department provided clarification on the issue of the increased
penalties, indicating that under the current regime, no member of a registered
organisation has been subject increased penalties.
Further, Mr Jeremy O'Sullivan, Chief Counsel, submitted that the increased
penalties would be subject to judicial review in the Federal Court of
The committee heard evidence relating to the definition of a serious
contravention that was taken from the Corporations Law.
The decision to use the 'serious contravention' clause was a specific policy
Due to its origin in the Corporations Law, there exists a practical benefit of activating
the jurisprudence that already applies to the term.
Mr O'Sullivan further clarified that:
It is a tenet of statutory interpretation that when the
parliament adopts similar language when using a different piece of legislation
it is a guidance to the court to apply that jurisprudence to the new provision.
The committee believes it is appropriate that parts of the Corporations
Law are reflected in the bill. This is due to the public expectation that
registered organisations, who are often managing significant resources, do so
in an appropriate manner and that officers are accountable. It is appropriate
that consistent language and jurisprudence be applied to new legislation,
noting that judicial review will ensure a fair and balanced approach to the
application of penalties.
Engagement of the Right to Freedom of Association and Protection of the
Right to Organise
The committee received evidence relating to the bill's engagement of the
International Labour Organisation's Freedom of Association and Protection of
the Right to Organise Convention (1848) (No.87) (the Convention).
AIG suggested that the bill should be amended to the extent that it
engages with the Convention, to 'get the balance right'.
AIG also submitted that:
In accordance with the Convention, laws regulating registered
organisations must not inhibit the ability of workers and employers to join
unions and employer organisations, nor restrict their right to elect
representatives and organise the administration of their organisations.
The committee was not persuaded by the evidence provided by AIG that the
bill, to the extent that it engages the Convention, is inappropriate. The Committee
notes that the engagement of human rights is mentioned in the Statement of Compatibility
contained within the explanatory memorandum. The Statement specifically submits
with respect to the right to freedom of association:
[that] the limitations on the right are permissible
limitations as they pursue a legitimate objective, are prescribed by law and
are reasonable, necessary and appropriate.
The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights found in its inquiry
into the Fair Work
(Registered Organisations) Amendment (Towards Transparency) Bill 2012, that:
The ILO Committee on Freedom of Association has considered
the question of the permissibility of regulating the operations of unions and
external scrutiny of their finances. While expressing concern about the
possibility of government interference in the operations of trade unions, it
has also recognised the legitimacy of external scrutiny in order to prevent or
detect fraud or embezzlement.
The committee is of the view that the bill, while engaging the right to
freedom of association and freedom to organise, pursues a legitimate objective.
In this case the objective is the prevention of fraud or embezzlement through
external scrutiny and regulation provided by the independent Registered
Organisations Commission. The Committee is persuaded by the view that
engagement of those rights is appropriate, given the policy goals of the bill,
to increase accountability and transparency in the management of registered
organisations, for the benefit of members and the general public.
Registered Organisations Commissioner and the Special Account
The General Manager of the FWC currently undertakes regulatory oversight
of registered organisations under the current Acts and the bill proposes to
transfer these functions to the proposed office of the Registered Organisation
The Timber Trade Industrial Association acknowledged in their submission
the need for an independent Registered Organisations Commission, for the
purpose of monitoring and regulating registered organisations and ensuring the
compliance of those organisations with the registered organisations legislation.
The bill also provides for the establishment of the Registered
Organisations Commission Special Account.
The establishment of the Account would give effect to the Government's policy
to establish the financial independence of the Registered Organisations Commission
from FWC. This was detailed in evidence provided to the Committee that the
Registered Organisations Commissioner would be independent, and have powers to
regulate registered organisations effectively, efficiently and
transparently, for the benefit of members.
The committee supports the proposed establishment of an independent
Registered Organisations Commission as this measure would greatly assist
registered organisations meet the new reporting and compliance requirements
proposed by the bill. An independent regulator is the most effective compliance
and deterrent to ensure the appropriate behaviour of officers of registered
Financial penalties for non-compliance
Some submitters suggested that the proposed penalties for breaches of
disclosure requirements were satisfactory, as they had been tripled by the Fair
Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Act 2012.
AIG submitted that the proposed penalties for breaches contained in the bill
were inappropriately high:
For example, an $85,000 maximum penalty for failing to
respond within 28 days to a member request for a statement of membership
(s.169) is much higher than the penalty under the FW Act for breaching an FWC
stop order relating to unlawful industrial action.
The committee notes in evidence provided by Mr Jeremy O'Sullivan from
the Department of Employment, that that specific penalty amount was an example
of a maximum penalty.
He also submitted that:
A court might consider that where the failure to meet that
time commitment was motivated by a desire to fraudulently conceal a
misappropriation or a heinous act, then that penalty would be reserved for that
kind of sentence.
Mr O'Sullivan advised that penalty amounts would be at the discretion of
a Federal Court judge, who may determine that a more serious sanction is
required, depending on the particular circumstances.
The committee notes the inclusion in clause 290A of new criminal
offences relating to officers of registered organisations and their affiliate
The proposed offences are modelled on those found in section 184 of the Corporations
The committee was not persuaded by the evidence provided by AIG that the
proposed penalties were excessive, due to the seriousness of concealing
information from the Commissioner. The committee supports the proposed penalties,
as they will assist the Commissioner to ensure compliance of registered
organisations with the bill for the benefit of its membership. The committee
recognises the critical role performed by an independent judiciary and the
committee agrees with evidence provided by the department that the usual
judicial processes will be followed in relation to the imposition of penalties.
The Department provided evidence to the committee of extensive
consultations, including the publication of the Regulation Impact Statement on
the Office of Best Practice Regulation's website on Monday, 11 November 2013,
and the confidential consultation sessions with stakeholders facilitated by the
Department on Wednesday and Thursday, 30 and 31 October 2013, respectively.
While the consultation process occurred over a relatively short period,
the committee notes that the policy intent behind the bill was a commitment
contained in the Government's employment policy, Better Transparency and
Accountability of Registered Organisations, and that this document was
published in July 2013.
The committee regards improper activity undertaken by officers of
registered organisations to be a serious risk to the interests of members of
registered organisations and the general public. The committee accepts the
evidence presented that higher penalties and stronger regulation are the key
mechanism by which the membership's confidence and trust in the management of
registered organisations may be restored. The committee notes that with respect
to employee registered organisations, some of these members are among the
lowest paid workers in Australia and that the interests of all members will be
protected by strong and effective regulation.
While offering general support for the policy intent of the bill,
employee and employer groups have, in some cases, made recommendations to amend
the bill. The committee notes that many officers of registered organisations
are volunteers, and that an undue regulatory burden could provide a
disincentive for individuals considering personal involvement as an officer of
a registered organisation. The committee has made a number of recommendations
with respect to disclosure obligations and training. These recommendations seek
to address those concerns raised by submitters.
Having carefully considered the evidence provided, in submissions and at
the public hearing, the committee is supportive of the bill.
Subject to the foregoing recommendations, the committee
recommends that the bill be passed
Senator Bridget McKenzie
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