Turnbull vows to end 'corrupt' payments to unions


Turnbull vows to end 'corrupt' payments to unions

A Coalition bill aimed at outlawing corrupt payments to unions will be introduced to Parliament tomorrow. It proposes the creation of a criminal offence for making or accepting payments, with jail terms of up to 10 years and fines up to $4.5m.


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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the Employment Minister, Senator Michaelia Cash, have vowed to curb the practice of big business paying bribes to unions to ensure industrial peace.

They plan to introduce the “Corrupting Benefits Bill” to Parliament tomorrow. 

Ten years in prison and a $4.5m fine

Key elements of the bill will include the creation of a criminal offence, punishable by 10 years in prison, for a union or its official, or for an employer to make or accept a payment that has a corrupting motive of encouraging a union or a union official to act improperly. Individuals will also be subject to a $900,000 fine and companies subject to $4.5m.

A further offence of making a payment to a union official for illegitimate purposes will also be created. It will carry a two-year jail term. This lesser offence will also carry a $90,000 fine for individuals and a $450,000 fine for companies.

Unions and employers will also be compelled to disclose details of any payments made to a union when an enterprise agreement is put to members for approval. 

Speaking in the House of Representatives yesterday, the Prime Minister said, “For years, as the Heydon royal commission demonstrated, Australia's big unions have been selling their members out by trading away members' entitlements in industrial agreements, and, at the same time, taking money from employers, which they did not disclose to their members and which had no bona fide basis whatsoever.” 

Heydon's findings

Barrister John Dyson Heydon QC headed the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption between 2014 and 2015. 

Commissioner Heydon found numerous examples of businesses paying and union officials taking bribes, secret commissions and other unlawful payments.

Typically, an employer or union official would offer to make, or accept, a payment to expressly or impliedly avoid threatened union behaviour (i.e. to keep the industrial peace) or to obtain a favour in connection with the union’s affairs. 

He found that this behaviour took place across many sectors, places and unions. He also found, by reviewing reports of several previous Royal Commissions, that it is in fact a long-standing problem in Australia, going back literally decades. 

Commissioner Heydon therefore recommended amending the Fair Work Act to require disclosure of loans, grants and donations over $10,000. He also recommended criminalising the providing, offering, promising giving or receiving of corrupting benefits in relation to any employee organisation or union officials. Certain “legitimate categories” of payments should be allowed.

See also:

Joint Press Conference: Prime Minister Turnbull and the Minister for Employment, Senator Michaelia Cash

“Corrupting Benefits - Chapter 4, Volume 5, Law Reform and Policy,” Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption (the Heydon Commission)

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