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Regulations and bureaucracy or cutting red tape

Senator Cash has been all over the media saying that, if Labor want to side with rogue unions, the Coalition will fight the election on protecting workers.

This is the same woman who is pretending that the government is not going to get rid of penalty rates. Just like they don’t have a policy to raise the GST. And none of them have ever suggested that we should abolish the minimum wage.

This is the same government that, instead of delivering their election promise to pay parental leave at replacement wages for 6 months plus superannuation, has now decided to cut any government payment at all if you happen to have a workplace entitlement to PPL.

Ms Cash is calling for legislation regarding the regulation of registered organisations but this is the government who had a Bill to abolish charity watchdog, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC). This was put on the backburner when Kevin Andrews was replaced by Scott Morrison, the excuse being it was low priority and he wanted to focus on his families package.

Moves to axe the regulator – which Fairfax Media reported was prompted by lobbying from Cardinal George Pell’s office – had been widely criticised by the charities sector, who said the body improved transparency, by providing oversight of a sector that contributes about $43 billion to Australia’s gross domestic product.

In September, Morrison said he did not want the ACNC to continue to be a regulatory body.

“We will continue to look at that issue closely in the weeks ahead and what I will intend to focus on in the short term is that we get the focus of the ACNC where I believe it wants it and of course the Government wants it, and that its rather than regulation the ACNC should be about championing charities, working with them to become more effective and improve their governance arrangements,” he said.

We don’t want another bureaucracy any more than the ACNC does, and we don’t want more red tape for our volunteering and our Not-for-Profit sector. We need to strike the right balance between public accountability and cutting red tape maintaining public confidence through transparency and consistency of reporting and having a proportionate compliance framework across state and territory charity legislation.”

At the moment the ACNC still has regulatory power and announced on December 16 that 182 former charities joined more than 9,000 other organisations that have had been deregistered by the ACNC since it was established in 2012.

ACNC Commissioner, Susan Pascoe AM, said the revocation was part of an ongoing process to ensure only active and compliant charities kept their registration.

“We conduct regular reviews of the charities registered with the ACNC to ensure only those that meet their obligations maintain their registration status and are able to access Commonwealth charity tax concessions,” Pascoe said. “This group of charities have failed to complete their 2013 and 2014 Annual Information Statements, despite multiple reminders.”

Not only is the ACNC acting as a regulator, but it is also responsible for:

  • providing education and support to the sector
  • implementing a ‘report-once, use-often’ general reporting framework for charities
  • implementing a public information portal.

Rather than a similar body which would help unions with their reporting obligations, the Coalition want to reintroduce the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).

When it was established previously in 2005 it was given powers that greatly exceeded those given to any police officer in the nation.

“The ABCC can force people to answer questions in secret and to reveal documents that relate to any of its investigations. This negates a person’s right to silence. It also removes their privilege against self-incrimination, a protection that has been described by the High Court as a ”cardinal principle of our system of justice” and a ”bulwark of liberty.”

There are no limits on the type of information that can be sought by the ABCC. A person can be compelled to hand over personal phone and email records, reveal memberships of a union or political party, and report on private meetings.

This can be applied to anyone. Workers can be brought in, not because they are suspected of wrongdoing, but to report on the activities of their co-workers. Family members, including young children, can be told to reveal information about a parent in the building industry.

In case there was any doubt about the scope of these powers, the law says that the ABCC can override the protections that innocent people have under privacy law. The law may well be unique in also allowing the commission to ignore the confidentiality of cabinet documents and to demand secret national security information held by agencies such as ASIO.

The problem is not just one of extraordinary power, but also that the expected safeguards have been stripped away. Unlike other bodies that question people, the ABCC does not need a warrant from a judicial officer or other independent person. The normal grounds of reviewing its decisions have also been excluded, meaning federal law cannot be used to argue that the ABCC has breached the rules of natural justice or made a decision in bad faith.”

“The ABCC constitutes a frontal attack on basic legal and democratic rights. It can demand that a worker submit to interrogation on pain of prosecution. Its inspectors can enter building sites, interview anyone without a lawyer present, demand documents and force people to provide information relating to industrial action or internal union business. The watchdog also has the power to initiate prosecutions with fines of up to $110,000 against unions or $22,000 against individuals for taking unlawful industrial action. Disclosing the contents of an ABCC interrogation can lead to six months’ imprisonment, as can refusing to attend a hearing or answer questions.”

In August 2008, Noel Washington, a CFMEU official, was summonsed to appear before Geelong Magistrates Court for refusing to comply with summons issued by the ABCC which alleged that Washington had distributed a flyer that made “derogatory” remarks about a Bovis Lend Lease site manager. (Where was Tim Wilson when we needed him.). Six days before his trial, the DPP dropped the charges.

In December, the Fairfax press reported on the case of a Melbourne academic which it was prevented under the ABCC’s legislation from even naming - who witnessed a scuffle while walking past a building site and found himself under interrogation by the ABCC and under threat of imprisonment if he revealed his interrogation to anyone.

In its 2008 submission to the Department of Employment, Education and Workplace Relations, a consortium of four unions, estimated that since 2003 more than a quarter of a billion dollars had been spent on the Cole Royal Commission and the establishment and operations of the ABCC.

Adelaide worker Ark Tribe was the first union member to be charged with failing to attend a hearing of the ABCC in 2008. Mr Tribe had been summoned to appear at the ABCC after he walked off a construction site at Flinders University over safety concerns and if convicted, faced a maximum penalty of six months in prison.

Mr Tribe was found not guilty of the charge in November 2010 and, in 2012, the legal saga finally concluded when Commonwealth prosecutors agreed to pay $105,000 for his legal fees.

The ABCC was abolished in 2012 and replaced by the Fair Work Building Industry Inspectorate

Surely help, co-operation and regulation like that provided by the ACNC would be preferable to the draconian powers of interrogation and punishment by a body like the ABCC.


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  1. Matters Not

    As Peter Dutton (an Abbott Minister and now a Turnbull Minister) pointed out a little while ago, letting properly constituted courts which operate on the principle of innocent until proven guilty is fraught with difficulty. The reason being that ‘courts’ could find people ‘innocent’. (I kid you not).

    It’s the ‘copper’ mentality which works on the principle that the accused is always guilty until by some strange reason he/she can prove otherwise.

    Those who follow politics will remember that Joh had no understanding of the ‘separation of powers’ under the Westminster System, so it is with Dutton who is in the same category.

    Can’t understand why the current crop of conservatives have no belief in judicial process. (Actually, I can.)

    I should add that some in the union movement have sh@t in their own nest and must be removed but I prefer it be done ‘properly’. Is that too much to ask?

  2. Roswell

    Damn you, Matter Not, you’ve reminded me of that interview where Joh got tied in knots when trying to explain the separation of powers. Damn you because now I’m going to spend the next four hours looking for it.

    It’s a gem. Worth finding.

  3. Carol Taylor

    Matters Not, it’s probably because the courts and the High Court in particular tend to over-rule the whims of government by referring them back to a not inconsequential document known at the Constitution.

    Kaye Lee, it sounds as if Cash is channelling her inner John Howard..the best friend workers ever had.

  4. Michael Taylor

    That Joh interview was one for the ages.

  5. John Fraser


    The big lie continues.

    No not the 'adults are in charge".

    Not the "coalition manages the economy better".

    Certainly not "coal is good for humanity".

    Not the Gonski lie, not the cuts to the ABC lie, not the cuts to health lie …. oh god …………. etc etc etc

    The very latest big lie is the one put forth by Turnbull and Cash that the coalition are going to protect workers.

    Either from Refugees or the death cults is yet unclear.

    But removing penalty rates and raising GST should …… apparently ……. do it.

  6. John Fraser


    And now we move into the 21st century :

    The more things (conservative) change the more they stay the same.

  7. Kaye Lee

    It’s like groundhog day. We had the in Gyles RC in 1990-92, and then the Cole RC in 2001-03 and now the Heydon RC. They make recommendations which are implemented, they set up the “tough cop on the beat”, they refer people for prosecution and then the case gets dropped because the evidence does not meet judicial standards. or there was no case to answer in the first place.

    We have already seen that this time with the aborted prosecution of John Lomax in the ACT.

    Instead of going to war with the unions, why not do as the unions have requested and take 6 months or so to work with them to improve governance? Why not use the information that came out of the RC for something positive? You will achieve much more if you negotiate and help than if you rush into dubious legal action stemming from heavy handed practices that impinge on people’s legal rights.

    But oh no, Michaelia wants to get this ball rolling – it’s her time to shine.

  8. Kaye Lee

    I have seen many comments saying the unions have too much control over the Labor Party and that there are too many Labor MPs who come from a union background but I disagree with that. That suggests that unions are bad and it also ignores the fact that the unions formed the Labor Party to give ordinary people a voice in parliament. Union delegates are trained in negotiation with employers and statuatory bodies. Their whole purpose is to find solutions that are in the best interests of their employees and that are acceptable to the employer.

    Rather than rushing this Bill through to maximise political gain from the RC, they should work with the unions to find a solution – they know what the problems are and are best placed to suggest ways to fix them.

  9. Miriam English

    Give a child a hammer and everything looks like a nail.
    Let a politician have powers to crush people and they’ll see everywhere people who need to be crushed.

    Politicians (especially right-wing ones) love to be seen to do something — it almost doesn’t matter what, because it can always be spin-doctored. The scariest thing for a (right-wing) politician is to blend in and get along. They need a beat-up, a cause, a crusade, and two great ways for them to measure the worth of the cause are how many people it hurts, or how many dollars are involved. For some reason they like big, expensive things that are as useless as possible, such as statues, warships, fighter planes, submarines, new SS-style organisations.

    For some strange reason people fall for the rhetoric over and over again. One day humanity will grow up and realise these crusades serve only to aggrandise the politicians involved while centralising power further in the hands of those least accountable and hurting the weaker members of society.

    Education is the only real answer.

  10. Matthew Oborne

    Adelaide Supreme court case upheld that a vehicle was essentially considered the same as land in that invading it is illegal. Plenty V Dillon showed our rights to land that came from the Magna Carta still exist.

    The high court and our supreme courts have overthrown decisions that would have made Australia a far more draconian hell hole.
    We dont have a bill of rights but we do have our common law heritage that protects us from the excesses of government despotism.

    Tony Abbott proposed a legal system like americas where judges are partisan.

    One way of weakening the unions is to have them spend vast amounts of money protecting their members.

    The Liberal Party have not demanded an investigation into their countless abuses of power and rorting yet announce this.

    This attacks workers, our rights and Labor.

    If being in government now means attempting to destroy opposition political parties by abusing power then those parties deserve de registration.

    Will anyone revive the political dictionary this year?

    Abbott of all jokes – a right winger on the tea bagger end of politics.

    Turnbully – a rich man attacking the poor.

    Saint Bernardi – (use your imagination)

  11. Neil of Sydney

    when trying to explain the separation of powers.

    In the Westminister system we do not have the separation of powers. The Americans do however.The executive (The President) is separate from the Legislative branch (Congress).

    In the Westminister system the executive and legislative branch is fused. So Justice Moore is wrong. Cabinet (Executive) is chosen from the legislature. The courts however are separate.

  12. Miriam English

    Neil, while you are correct to some degree, fortunately you are also wrong to some degree.

    We still have three separate branches, but the executive and legislative branches are not completely separate. There is apparently quite a bit of contention about this, with some tug-o’-war going on, both to bring them closer and to separate them further. In this respect our constitution was pretty clearly influenced by the system in USA where those are supposed to be well separated (though that’s going to hell over there lately), but our connections with England mean that the separation between executive and legislative branches tends to be incomplete.

    While the executive and legislative branches have an uncomfortable amount of overlap, there is a provision in the constitution that prevents people applying for membership of Parliament if they’re already employed by the Parliament (“an office of profit under the crown”) or having some contractual arrangements with it. It isn’t ideal, but it does limit the connection between the two somewhat.

    Justice Moore was correct. Separation of powers is still supposed to be a cornerstone of Australian government. It isn’t as fully separated as the USA system, but is better separated than the English system.

    NOTE: I’m no authority on this stuff. If anybody has better info, please do amend or refute what I have said here.

  13. silkworm

    Although the charity sector may employ about 10% of the workforce, most of the workers are unpaid or underpaid, i.e., they are being ripped off. This is not surprising, as many people who volunteer are naive, and make easy targets for exploitation. There are billions of dollars flowing through this sector, rich pickings for unscrupulous charity managers and employers. No wonder the Liberals, with their reputation for corruption, want to reduce accountability in this area.

  14. Sen Nearly Ile

    Labor cannot seem to reveal the individual weaknesses of their liberal national colleagues. It is laughable that Michaelia is a ‘protector of workers’ from anyone/thing, but who can laugh?
    Dyson’s dice makes ‘cash’ for frydenberg’s aces.
    The guilty till proven innocent has been in centrelink since howard, albeit 30 years too late, first took aim at the blond surfie dole bludgers.
    My daughter. in 2003, under estimated her income whilst pregnant and got 3 months to pay back $600. On one of her subsequent visits she got a sympathetic officer who suggested my daughter should ask the officer about child allowance and she discovered that, over the last two years, centrelink had underpaid her by $2000.
    If you do not know or ask the right questions that is your bad luck.
    Education is the answer to what question, Miriam?
    The pollies of all persuasions are educated at the best private schools and universities in Australia.
    The libs use this education to inform the people of Australia 6 am to 9 am on weekdays and 7-9 on weekends.
    All workers watch these homilies to the rabbott or turnball and receive their education untrammelled by labor’s words or ideas.
    On Sunday, insiders invariably had a rabbott apologist and, at best, ie after the most outrageous crap from bolt, ackerman, henderson or savva, a mild support for labor and never a gillard supporter.
    It would be nice if labor dropped hints to the ratings hungry media that stirred the sharks. Maybe when little billy retires after the 2019 trouncing labor may try campaigning on the catchy theme, ‘is it time, yet?/

  15. win jeavons

    Ms Cash looking after workers’ interests? And Dracula is security officer for the blood bank, Ned Kelly is a bank publicity officer perhaps? Or Hitler was anti-racist, like the KKK ?

  16. Kaye Lee

    “We will fight for the worker. That is what we have always said we would do. That is what our laws are intended to do, and yes, we will make this an election issue,” she said.

    “The Prime Minister and I announced yesterday that when the Parliament resumes in February we will seek to immediately reintroduce the legislation to re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission,” she said.

    “We already have, if you are talking about a double dissolution trigger, we already have a trigger in relation to the establishment of the Registered Organisations Commission. The Labor Party has for two years now fought against the establishment of an independent regulator for trade unions and for employer associations. We already have a trigger.”

    Prime Minister Malcolm Turnubll also signaled industrial relations as a major election issue for 2016 stating, “We are willing to fight an election on this. If we cannot get the passage of this legislation through the Senate, then in one form or another it will be a major issue at the next election.”

    ‘We will fight for the worker’ – Michaelia Cash threatens double dissolution: @Qldaah #ausvotes #qldpol #auspol

    Boy they are leaving themselves wide open here.

  17. silkworm

    Kaye Lee, excellent point. What a farce it would be for the Libs to call an early election on workers’ rights!

  18. jim

    I hope the Libs do it ’cause this spin is sure to turn into a huge twister for them,do they really think the public is that naive.?

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