Royal commission report: Build support for real reform of whole union system

HR Nicholls Society President Adam Bisits writing in the Australian Financial Review:

It is not enough to sense that industrial relations in Australia should change. You need the facts to warrant change. We now have from last week’s report by the Trade Union (Heydon) Royal Commission (TURC) the facts warranting change in one segment of IR, namely the financial and administrative organisation of unions. Recommendations include that oversight be moved from the Fair Work Commission to a more independent and better resourced body, for freedom of choice of superannuation fund, for the building industry regulator to be continued and augmented with compulsory investigatory powers and – incredibly for this traditional right of union officials – that they be trained in “right of entry”.

The need for facts before you act in IR was demonstrated by the Gyles royal commission of 1990 and the Cole royal commission of 2001 into building industry thuggery, both of which led to more serious enforcement of industrial relations in construction, including in 2005 by the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

The folly of not ascertaining the facts is demonstrated by both the Work Choices and Fair Work regimes, neither of which was preceded by any analysis of existing defects or of costs and benefits of regimes proposed, which would have brought public opinion on side. In fact in January 2005 a letter organised by the HR Nicholls Society urged then prime minister John Howard to hold a wide-ranging inquiry into the labour market and the reforms required. The government’s response was that it knew what it was doing!

Former prime minister Tony Abbott correctly acted on the need for facts as to trade union governance and corruption and this has resulted in the TURC report, which his successor has said will be studied and implemented.

However the report on the rest of the IR system, Workplace Relations Framework Final Report, by the Productivity Commission (PC), (released on December 21) has received only limited government support.

Will the report bring public opinion on side? It seems doubtful. At 1173 pages, eight times the length of TURC’s, the PC’s report is impossibly long, certainly for workers and employers. Read more