Criminalising secret payments between employers and unions

Trump-like Twitter storm Malcolm Turnbull

The new laws will criminalise payments or other benefits passed between employers and unions that could have a corrupting influence.

He turned Labor's scaremongering over the Fair Work Commission's proposed modest reduction in Sunday penalty rates back on Bill Shorten, attacking the hypocrisy of unions happy to trade away weekend penalty rates in deals with big employers like fast food chains. Cash said it should be "relatively uncontroversial"; it was a test for Shorten and Labor.

Mr Turnbull had a good political week after taking hold of the national energy crisis at The Australian Financial Review Business Summit on March 9, and coming up with a surprise plan based on Snowy Hydro.

The Australian Workers' Union under Shorten received secret employer payments, stories about which were widely aired at the Heydon royal commission into trade unions.

Malcolm Turnbull claimed Bill Shorten is controlled by "cashed-up unions" as he announced tough new laws to jail officials who make secret payments.

Moreover, other "illegitimate payments" will result in a two-year jail term or a $90,000 fine for an individual, rising to $450,000 for a company.

He said Turnbull should focus on the needs of everyday Australians instead of blaming Labor.

Penalties will apply equally to employers and unions.

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"Employees should be aware and should have full knowledge of any payments that are made between their employer and a union", she said.

Cash said transparency was vital. The party that makes the offer of the payment will be penalised in the same way as the party that solicits or receives the payment.

If money changes hands between an employer and a union, both parties have an obligation to honestly disclose these payments to their employees and members.

Cash rejected the suggestion that corruption was already covered under the existing law.

Senator Cash said there was no consistency across Australia's bribery laws and the offence was often hard to prove. "And that is exactly what we have done, so you have consistency across the board in the industrial regime".

Cash also acknowledged that certain legitimate payments will continue to be allowed, such as payments for genuine services that are provided by a union or genuine payment of membership fees.

Michelle Grattan is a professorial fellow at the University of Canberra.

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