Date: May 17 2012
A new panel set up by the ACTU and led by a retired Federal Court judge will help unions avoid serious governance scandals such as those engulfing the Health Services Union.
Despite the HSU having been suspended last month from the ACTU, the continuing controversy yesterday again overshadowed the union movement's triennial congress, which finishes today in Sydney.
The HSU has been mired in allegations, including that MP Craig Thomson - its former head - used union funds to pay for prostitutes. It has already led both the federal government and opposition to float tougher new oversights and penalties on unions that misbehaved.
Newly elected ACTU secretary Dave Oliver yesterday launched an attack on the HSU, saying what had gone on inside the organisation had no place in any Australian union.
''I do not believe there is any place in our movement for $360,000 being paid to any union official,'' he said.
There had to be standards on which unions were seen to operate, he said, because the HSU scandal had hurt the reputation of all. To help set these standards, ACTU members unanimously voted to create a panel that will report on ''best practice'' governance for the union movement.
The panel will look at the regulatory environment for unions, and compare it with standards in the not-for-profit sector and corporate Australia.
Federal Court judge Rod Madgwick will chair the panel, and Melbourne University management academic Professor Danny Samson, barrister Judith Bornstein and First Super chief executive Graeme Russell will be on it. They will also look at incomes, membership systems, procurement and auditing.
Several union leaders struck out yesterday, before hundreds of delegates gathered at the ACTU Congress, against the failings of the HSU.
They implored the public not to think the HSU saga was typical and widespread among unions.
''If this happens again, it will be our fault,'' Australian Workers' Union national secretary Paul Howes said.
He said most national unions were going through governance reviews as a result of the HSU events, and that more transparency was a good thing.
''I am happy to publish what I earn, and what every official of our union earns. Every other union in this country should do the same,'' Mr Howes, who is on a salary of $146,000, said. Australia's national union secretary salaries range from about $90,000 to $160,000, but the HSU East's executive president, Kathy Jackson, says she is paid $270,000 - which she has described as obscene - while its general secretary, Michael Williamson, is believed to be paid $330,000.
Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union national secretary Michael O'Connor warned it was important that not only unions fell under the governance spotlight. It must be shone on ''the big end of town'' too, he said.
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