President's Report to AGM 2019

Tuesday 17 Dec 2019

The president’s report is a useful stimulus to reflect on how far we’ve come as a union and on our priorities for the future. This year there is much to consider from the past and even more to contemplate for the future.

It’s been a landmark year for us as we farewelled our Secretary Dan Hill when he retired in July 2019 after serving us well for 40 years, 26 years of those years as Secretary. We’ll hear more of Dan at the end of the meeting. Dan’s retirement posed a challenge for the Committee of Management and particularly for the sub-committee charged with selecting a replacement. We felt the responsibility keenly.

We were fortunate to attract a quality pool of applicants and Naomi McCrae was the unanimous choice, with the appointment endorsed (also unanimously) by the Committee of Management. We are very pleased to have Naomi on board with us and we are confident that members will be well served by her leadership. This has been a big change for our staff in the union and they have responded with their usual dedication and focus on member issues and they are working effectively as a team.

Change brings with it opportunities, as a new set of eyes and a different range of experience is brought to our operations. This was reflected in the November planning day held with the Committee of Management members and some delegates. We are working with David Ashton from Corporate Supremacy who has also held workshops with staff to articulate our priorities and to shape our direction. You will hear more of this as the details settle.

The usual challenges are before us – increasing work pressures lead to increases in the level of need for union representation and advocacy. The health, aged care and disability sectors are big growth areas in the society and economy but that growth is not always easy for those who provide direct care and supportive administrative and clinical services, as change is the constant.

Our focus, as always, is to ensure the health and care workforce has quality, safe, secure, well-paid work and there is balance with personal and family time. We want to see our hospitals, health, aged care and disability services succeed for our community and we know that works best when we all work together.

Our members work as a collaborative and put our dollars where our values are to achieve more as a group than we are able to as individuals. This is the essence of what it means to be a member in a union. Unions are a positive force in society and have won us rights that are all too often taken for granted. They were rights won by struggle and they have to be preserved by struggle – we need to remind the non-members working around us of the history.

I was very pleased to see that the so-called ‘ensuring integrity’ bill did not get through Parliament this time, but I also note that there are plans to reintroduce it next year. The bill perverts language by couching it as a measure to ensure integrity. There is a reason it was often described in the media as a union-busting bill as that was the intention.

I wonder if it would have succeeded had the comparison not been so stark in the week it was being debated. Westpac became the disgraced face of corporate Australia with allegations of 23 – 29 million breaches of anti-money laundering legislation, many thousands of which it seems were used to facilitate child exploitation. The chief executive was eventually pressured to resign and left with a $2.7 million payout.

The contrast with the way in which the Government seeks to over-regulate and ‘bust’ unions could not have been greater. Expect to see this pernicious bill return when the Coalition Government considers the dust has settled.

The CFMMEU is often singled out for criticism and justification for the introduction of the bill, but that is both wrong and a distraction. This is not a bill that will harm one union, it will harm all. I see PM Morrison is already using the emotive language of ‘union thugs’ as justification for legislation that will hobble the good and the great as well as the less photogenic unions working at the pointy end, representing workers who are far too frequently killed and maimed whilst at work. Don’t fall for that divide and conquer tactic.

Even minor breaches in meeting paperwork submission timelines can cumulate to reach the point where they become justifications for disproportionate and punitive responses.

The HSU at state and national level has had to dedicate resources that could have been better deployed on ensuring compliance with the already onerous reporting requirements – far in excess of that required of companies. Nationally the HSU is now fully staffed and doing valuable policy and advocacy work.

On your behalf I’d like to thank Naomi McCrae, Chris Panizza, the industrial and organising teams and the essential administrative staff for their work for us over the last year. The Committee of Management members have done their usual sterling role in providing oversight and governance for members. It is a pleasure to work with others dedicated to our common cause – you the members.

All the best to you and your families for Christmas and 2020.

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