New watchdog will oversee union

A NEW watchdog to oversee Australia's unions will be set up, after laws to create the Registered Organisations Commission were introduced in parliament today.

The new commission will be given investigative powers similar to the Australian Securities Investment Commission, and be able to pursue legal action against unions.

Employment Minister Eric Abetz said the watchdog would help maintain higher standards for unions, to prevent scandals like the one that surrounds the Health Services Union.

"The bill also ensures there are appropriate sanctions against efforts to hinder or mislead investigations," Senator Abetz said.

"This will give all members confidence that should they make a complaint to the Commission about a registered organisation, that organisation and its officials must comply with the requirements of the investigation process or face sanctions.

Other changes in the bill included bigger civil penalties, including jail terms, for union officials who break the law, and higher reporting standards for registered organisations.

Senator Abetz said "the only people who have anything to fear from these changes are those who do the wrong thing".
The new commission will be part of the Fair Work Ombudsman, and is expected to start work early next year.