Senate committee backs Corrupting Benefits Bill

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Senate committee backs Corrupting Benefits Bill

A Senate committee has thrown its support behind the Fair Work Amendment (Corrupting Benefits) Bill 2017.

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A raft of potential workplace and trade-union criminal offences should be passed into law, a Senate committee has recommended.
 
The committee (three LNP Senators (two Nationals, one Liberal), two Australian Labor Party members and one Greens senator) recommended the Senate pass the Fair Work Amendment (Corrupting Benefits) Bill 2017.
 
The bill was created in response to the findings of the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption.

Majority support


The committee’s majority report noted that the Royal Commission highlighted multiple examples of payments being made with the aim of influencing unions or their officers. The majority called for government support for the bill.
 
“The committee supports calls for serious misconduct to attract serious penalties under the [Fair Work Act]. Union officials, by virtue of their role, have a higher moral duty towards the people whose interests they represent, and all necessary steps must be taken to protect against improper conduct. In protecting workers, the committee also supports an end to practices which see employers in effect paying for industrial peace, and is of the view that introducing strong penalties for corrupt conduct will be a positive step towards this goal. To this end, the committee supports the bill,” the majority report reads.
 
If enacted, the bill would criminalise: 
  • giving a “corrupting benefit” to a registered organisation or any associated person
  • receiving or soliciting a corrupting benefit
  • an employer covered by the Fair Work Act providing, offering or promising any cash or in kind payments other than certain legitimate payments to an employee organisation
  • soliciting, receiving, obtaining or agreeing to receive/obtain any prohibited payments.
It would also require enterprise bargaining representatives to disclose financial benefits that the bargaining representative would or could reasonably be expected to derive because of the agreement.
 
The phrase “corrupting benefit” is not specifically defined. The bill, as currently drafted (but which could be subject to change), states that a person commits an offence if there is a “benefit” offered, agreed to, requested, received, sought, provided or promised to/from that person. He or she must also intend that the benefit will influence a registered organisations officer/employee (a union employee/officer typically) to do his or her job improperly. Where the corrupting benefit is sought (i.e. a person seeks a bribe) then the seeker of the corrupting benefit must intend that the potential briber would believe that the benefit would tend to influence the registered organisations officer/employee.
 
The penalty for an individual for so doing is 10 years' prison or 5000 penalty units or both. The penalty for a body corporate is 25,000 penalty units. 

Labor 'broadly' agrees


In its minority report, the Labor senators wrote that they “broadly agree” with the objectives of the bill.
 
“Serious misconduct should attract appropriate penalties, and Labor senators agree that, as their members' representatives, officials of registered organisations should be held to a high moral standard. Corrupt behaviour – where it exists – should not be tolerated, and the introduction of strong penalties will be a positive step in eliminating it,” they wrote.

However, they added that parts of the bill lacked “definitional clarity’ and could give rise to unintended consequences.
 
The Fair Work Amendment (Corrupting Benefits) Bill 2017 was introduced into the House of Representatives on March 22 this year and was referred to a Senate committee the following day. If enacted, the bill will amend the Fair Work Act.
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