Trade union finance: lacunae in regulation

There is a pressing case for reform in the public regulation of union finances given the scale of such finances in the post-merger environment, unions' imprecise goals, the absence of effective competition and the survival of pressure to join in some areas. The case is strengthened by deficiencies in current regulation. This limits members' information rights, contains loopholes enabling malfeasance and fails to enforce reporting requirements. In 2001, union finance is a public policy issue as it was in the late 1970s. An evaluation of reforms advocated by the Howard Liberal-National government in 2000 shows retention of the bias in the regulation to inform third parties rather than union members and a failure to address lacunae concerning financial aspects of union mergers, union de-registration and the cessation of business. There is also no apparent commitment to increase resources for the all important compliance function and no mandating of 'plain English' explanations. The proposed raising of the income threshold for exemption from a stringent regulatory regime is a positive feature but the reform agenda is further weakened by the failure to extend the exemption criteria to include evidence of rank and file participation and control.

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