The past year has seen the completion of the Future Directions change initiatives. Many of these initiatives respond to the shift in the work of the tribunal towards individual matters, with a greater number of employees and employers who are unfamiliar with the tribunal's jurisdiction and processes. Their need for information and assistance is often different and greater than parties who are more familiar with the tribunal.
We have continued over the last year to find ways to better meet these diverse needs, including from our new website, improved information and tools, and by providing consistent, targeted information – whether enquiries are made online, through telephone calls or visits to our offices, or through our administrative processes, including conciliation. Whilst we cannot provide legal advice, we equip our frontline staff so they can provide consistent and useful information to help parties navigate through the process they have either commenced or are responding to. By investing in new technology, such as our new website and the recent introduction of a new capacity to lodge electronically, staff are freed up to provide more valuable assistance.
The new financial year begins with some uncertainty, with the prospect of legislative reform affecting the functions regulating federally registered unions and employer organisations. It may be that current functions are transferred to a new entity – the proposed Registered Organisations Commission. Whether the Commission maintains these regulatory functions or they are taken on by a new agency, I am confident that the work that has been undertaken to transform the regulation of organisations provides a very sound foundation to build upon.
It has been four years since the investigation involving the Health Services Union and Mr Thomson concluded. Only one investigation, in 1998, had ever been undertaken prior to that. I have previously acknowledged that, in my view, that investigation took too long and that we were not as effective a regulator as we could have been.
We have come a long way since 2012. Managing largely with the same resources, we have adopted a risk-based approach to compliance and have commenced and completed 29 formal inquiries and investigations. We have commenced several proceedings in the Federal Court of Australia, and been successful on each occasion with significant penalties and compensation imposed. We have worked to build our internal capability, provided better tools and information to make compliance easier, and worked with organisations and auditors to improve compliance. These reforms have all borne significant fruit with greatly improved compliance levels. Of course, there always remains more to be done.
In the past year we also received the bulk of the referrals relating to civil matters from the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption (Trade Union Royal Commission). This work is being dealt with as efficiently as possible within the Commission's existing budgetary resources.
In financial terms, the year ahead is likely to be particularly challenging. The Commission's funding and average staffing levels have been reduced as a result of the abolition of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. At the same time, other work, such as that associated with the referrals from the Trade Union Royal Commission, has required additional staffing resources. To manage the impact of these factors in the year ahead, a number of staff accepted voluntary redundancies at the end of the year. Consequently, in 2015–16 the Commission ran a funded loss of $211,000, or less than 0.3 per cent of our revenue from government.
The work of the Commission touches the lives of most Australian employees and employers. I am very proud of the work of our staff across the tribunal – from dealing with enquiries, conciliating applications, supporting the four yearly review of modern awards, the annual wage review and other matters before the Commission, performing regulatory functions, supporting Commission Members, processing and case managing applications, maintaining systems, support services and our offices, and coordinating our engagement with the community. Commission staff are committed to improving the services the Commission delivers to the Australian community, and I sincerely thank them for their hard work and commitment throughout the year.