Unions join amid super scandal

by Chris Griffith
Published 8 November 1992 in The Sun-Herald


my face


In union circles, it is the marriage of the year.

The joining together of Queensland's two white-collar unions, the Professional Officers Association (QPOA) and the State Services Union (QSSU), seems assured following a three-week amalgamation ballot that enjoyed no organised opposition.

The result, expected to be announced Tuesday, should see the 12,000- strong QPOA and the 16,000-strong QSSU join a new federal super union called the State Public Services Federation, Queensland.

The membership, which includes accountants, chemists, geologists, foresters, engineers, librarians, and social workers, will be part of Australia's national corporate union structure, a concept totally removed from the historical role of unions as small grass-roots bargaining units.

However, not all is well with one marriage partner.

On Friday at 8.30 am, the day the amalgamation ballot closed, the QPOA president Sean Curley released to a small band of contributors some disturbing facts following an independent investigation into the association's internal superannuation fund.

It was indeed unfortunate this information was not available to voters before the amalgamation vote.

Nevertheless Mr Curley, elected in March on a reform ticket, instructed consultants Towers Perrin to investigate some lingering and embarrassing accusations, including claims some contributors received a larger-than-expected employer entitlement when they left the scheme.

The fund, subscribed to by QPOA staff and employees of the Queensland Professional Credit Union (QPCU) is winding down; less than a handful of contributors remain.

The implications, however, are serious enough for Democrat Senator Cheryl Kernot to alert the Senate Select Committee on Superannuation to the fund's operation. She expects to provide the committee with a submission this week.

Further, sources say they have approached the Australian Insurance and Superannuation Commission on the issue. The Commission says its secrecy provisions prevent it commenting.

Of possible relevance, too, is the fact some former union officials have risen to senior positions in the Goss Government, and some former contributors in building society circles. The investigation's impact may be felt well beyond the QPOA.

Superannuation is not the only problem that has dogged the QPOA and its credit union.

There was in late February 1990 the questionable shredding of documents, collectively called the Heiner Report, which detailed allegations against former John Oxley Youth Centre acting manager Peter Coyne, documents to which Coyne believed he was entitled.

Coyne eventually received $27,190 in addition to the normal retrenchment entitlements after negotiations between the QPOA and the Department of Family Services and Aboriginal and Islander Affairs.

The CJC is now investigating for a second time the claim some of this was spent to hide a government blunder. The CJC has already indicated it was Cabinet which decided to seek permission to destroy the documents.

Another QPOA/QPCU incident was an allegation of ballot rigging at the 1989 credit union election and the subsequent dismissal of Kevin Lindeberg, a QPOA organiser who took the complaint to police.

This was the subject of public hearings held in May 1991 by the Cooke Inquiry into Queensland unions, a commission initiated by the former National Party government in 1989.

Labor saw the inquiry as an ideological vendetta against the union movement, an ill-conceived election campaign diversion by a besieged government. Upon its election, Labor moved quickly to impose time constraints, limit resources, and eventually to close the inquiry down.

It is known Cooke had to endure public works' officials measuring his office for new tenants and partitions while writing his report.

Nevertheless the inquiry served an invaluable role in addressing unacceptable behaviour by some senior union officials; for this it earned the respect of many rank-and-file unionists.

In the QPOA's case, Cooke was forced to make no finding for or again Association members because of this time constraint. The Association also took out a Supreme Court injunction against the Commission making any adverse finding arguing Cooke's time constraint would undermine its fairness.

Despite this, Cooke did recommend all evidence and exhibits be handed to the Criminal Justice Commission (CJC).

Sources say the superannuation issue was among evidence they provided Cooke. Last week, Cooke confirmed his staff had looked at the question; again time had prevented a fuller examination.

Since then, the Goss Government has rejected Cooke's recommendation that it hand evidence and exhibits to the CJC.

The QPOA was among organisations that encouraged such a rejection in a letter to Industrial Relations minister Nev Warburton dated 25 July 1991.

The Association argued: "Should the Commissioner's recommendation be accepted then every employer, whether a Union, a Company or a private individual, will be subject to review by the Criminal Justice Commission. Such a course simply flies in the face of common sense, fairness, justice and practicality".

It therefore has fallen back on the Association and its new president, Sean Curley, to sort out the mess with this report.

As for the other marriage partner, QSSU secretary Laurie Gillespie says the QPOA's past superannuation fund is its business alone unless the new combined union is left with a liability.

"We will be negotiating with the staffs of the two organisations a new superannuation scheme to which they will have the option of contributing if they so desire and as far as the dealings with regard to the previous superannuation fund is concerned, I haven't had an interest," he said.

The QPOA must now move to put this era behind it. In March 1994 the membership elects the office bearers for the combined union.

In the meantime many members await the resolution of these outstanding issues.