On 9 May 2016, the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2014 [No. 3] (“RO Bill”), one of a range of proposed laws tabled by the Coalition government in Federal Parliament in the wake of the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption, lapsed with the double dissolution. The RO Bill was born out of former High Court Justice Dyson Haydon’s specific findings that penalties for union officials pale in comparison to those penalties imposed on director’s of companies, and in essence sought to:
- Increase the penalties payable by union officials for criminal contraventions of the Fair Work Act 2009 and the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009 (Cth); and
- Preventing unions from paying or reimbursing union officials for monetary penalties imposed on union officials.
While the lapse of the RO Bill might be viewed as a loss of momentum in the Coalition’s plans for industrial relations reform, the Coalition, in what has come as a surprise to many, has recently proposed an increase in the maximum penalties payable by directors in breach of the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) commensurate with the increases for union officials. Whatever the motivations for the increase in director penalties may be, what remains clear is that with the Coalition only narrowly securing a majority in the House of Representatives, and with the ascension of minor parties in the Senate (who’s stance on industrial reform is unclear), it is uncertain whether those proposed reforms will see the light of day in this Parliament. Nevertheless, directors and unions alike need to remain vigilant and keep a close eye on this space.