Coalition decries union 'whitewash'

Unions say they have been vindicated by a report into union governance commissioned after the Health Services Union scandals.

The report to the ACTU executive on Wednesday made 13 recommendations to improve how unions operate, including the use of credit cards, financial transparency and disclosure of senior officials' pay.

But none of the recommendations are mandatory and it is up to individual unions how, or if, they implement them. While the report said the general picture of Australian unions was that they are ''honestly run'', the report did not investigate that issue itself.

Opposition workplace relations spokesman Eric Abetz described the report as a whitewash.

ACTU secretary Dave Oliver said unions should ''feel proud'' of the report, commissioned by the ACTU last year. Its panel of experts was headed by former Federal Court judge Rod Madgwick.

He said the positive response to the report from union leaders on Wednesday meant that he expected them to make changes, where needed.

Mr Oliver said the review was never meant to investigate corruption itself, but he was confident the problems had been limited to a ''couple of individuals in one union''.

He said the report found many unions were ''well advanced in modern governance and management practices'' and that present laws around union rules were ''some of the most rigorous in the world''.

The Coalition has been pushing for tougher rules to force greater disclosure. It also wants unions regulated in the same way as corporations.

Senator Abetz said unions had not taken the issue seriously.

''When you have a handpicked reviewer making voluntary recommendations, you have got to wonder if it was something prepared in anticipation of the Melbourne Comedy Festival.''

Senator Abetz said problems were not isolated to the HSU. The opposition has also highlighted allegations that Electrical Trades Union officials from NSW pocketed $1.8 million in directors fees that under union rules should have gone back to the ETU. And last december Fairfax Media also revealed the existence of a union ''slush fund'', Industry 2020.

Cesar Melhem, Victorian secretary of the Australian Workers Union, was the sole shareholder of Industry 2020, which has raised about $500,000 since 2008 used to support the political activities of his Right faction sub-group within the ALP.

Mr Oliver said its recommendations would relate only to unions themselves, not separate funds created by officials.

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