Joint Press Conference: Prime Minister and Minister for Employment

Joint Transcript
  • Prime Minister
  • Minister for Employment
  • Minister for Women
  • Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service
  • Senator for Western Australia

Joint Press Conference with the Minister for Employment, Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash

Parliament House, Canberra

E&OE…

PRIME MINISTER:

Good afternoon. I’m here with the Employment Minister, Senator Cash in the wake of the great success for over two million members of trade unions and employer organisations, registered organisations right across Australia. The Coalition Government is standing up for those members who ensure that the officials of registered organisations, trade unions and employer organisations, have to act in the best interest of their members and will be accountable for their members in the same way as company directors are required by law to be accountable to their shareholders.

This is a vitally important economic reform. It’s standing up for hardworking Australians. The Coalition is standing up for the members of unions, while Bill Shorten and the Labor Party stand up for the officials, just as they did with the transport industry – recall how we abolished the RSRT, that Tribunal Bill Shorten established to drive owner drivers out of the trucking industry at the behest of the Transport Workers Union.

We stood up for the owner drivers and their families. Bill Shorten and Labor stood up for the unions.

And again, when we stood up for the 60,000 volunteer firefighters in Victoria who were at the threat of being taken over by the United Firefighters Union - again, who stood up for the volunteer firefighters?

We did. Who stood up for the Union? Bill Shorten did.

Again, he talks about a class war, there is a class war. Bill Shorten stands up for the class of union bosses.

His class. That’s the class he’s in. Union bosses who feel they can use members’ funds to suit themselves. You would think in the wake of Kathy Jackson and Craig Thomson, in the wake of the arrests over the last few days – you would think with all of the disclosures, the Heydon Royal Commission that the Labor Party would say, ‘now is the time to clean up the act’. Now is the time to ensure that unions and employer organisations face those same obligations that company directors do. But no, Labor stands up for the union bosses, it is the Coalition that is standing up for millions of members of trade unions and employer organisations right across our nation.

Can I just ask Michaelia to say a few words.

MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT:

Ladies and gentlemen, last night the Turnbull Government delivered on a key election commitment to the Australian people and that was of course to improve transparency and accountability within registered organisations.

Can I thank the Senate crossbench for working constructively with myself and the Government to ensure that this vital piece of legislation passed the Senate.

All we are doing with this legislation is ensuring that members who hand ever their hard-earned funds to their registered organisation, whether that be an employer organisation or a union organisation, they know that their funds are being spent in their best interests.

Following on from what we saw with the Health Services Union scandal it has become apparent day in and day out that there are many officials in unions who believe that the members' money can be used as their own personal piggy bank. From the Health Services Union scandal through to the examples flowing from the Heydon Royal Commission. We saw officials using members' money for prostitutes, for sex toys, for holidays, for jewellery, for KISS concert tickets. That is unacceptable and last night the Senate voted to support the two million Australians who are members of registered organisations to ensure that there is a greater standard of accountability and transparency in terms of how their funds are spent.

In terms of why we have done this, registered organisations, they handle annual revenue of approximately $1.5 billion. They have net assets of approximately $2.5 billion. They have a special tax exempt status.

With those figures and that status comes responsibility and we have ensured with our legislation that passed through the Senate last night that this responsibility will now be upheld. This was a win for the men and women of Australia last night.

Again, I thank the crossbench and I am just disappointed that Bill Shorten and Labor couldn't put politics aside, could not put politics aside. Despite everything they say, despite all of their rhetoric - we will stand up for the workers - they failed to stand up for the workers last night and they continue to condone the using of members' funds in registered organisations by some union officials for their own personal piggy bank.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, how many jobs and how much economic growth will come from the passing of this legislation?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, there is no question that this reform will certainly add to economic growth. Any legislation which improves accountability, transparency, which reduces the potential for corruption and malfeasance, is a strong benefit for the economy.

I want to thank Michaelia again for her leadership and that of my Senate colleagues in the Senate but also acknowledge the very constructive role played by the crossbench. This was a great example of the Parliament working. We have said we are leading, we are governing and we are delivering and last night this was a case of delivery. Very constructive cooperation.

JOURNALIST:

Is there a clear cost-benefit here?

PRIME MINISTER:

It is perfectly clear that if you reduce the potential for corruption and abuse and malfeasance - that is a benefit to the economy. One of the great agendas, in fact, of trade reform and economic integration around the world is to reduce corruption.

What you have seen here is legislation passed that will make it much harder for union officials to abuse the rights of their members by misusing their money, by misappropriating their funds. It will make it much harder for them to do it. It will make it much harder for them to get away with it. If they do do it and the consequences, the penalties, if they do will be much, much greater.

So this is a big win. If you believe that transparency and honesty and integrity in governance is important - and I don't think anyone doubts that - this is a very big step forward, a very significant economic reform.

JOURNALIST:

Malcolm Fraser 30 years ago –

PRIME MINISTER:

Do you mind if we stick to this, Katharine?

JOURNALIST:

For that reason should anyone thinking about joining a union today feel more confident about their decision? Do you think union membership might rise as a consequence of this reform?

PRIME MINISTER:

We have always said that this is pro-union. You know the Labor Party says this is union busting. The only thing this is busting is people that are ripping off union members.

JOURNALIST:

So your legacy might be an increase in union membership as a result of this reform?

PRIME MINISTER:

Let me say to you, if you want to improve - it is a fair point you are making - but if you want to improve confidence in the corporate sector, then you improve regulation so that investors feel more confident about putting their money into companies, large and small. It is exactly the same with unions. That is why the Labor Party should have been right behind these changes. They should have seen those examples of corruption and misuse and fraud and said: ‘Right, here is an opportunity to clean up our act’, but instead they stood in the way.

JOURNALIST:

Minister Cash, just on Senator Cameron’s comments last night about ‘hand-holding’ - did you think they were sexist comments? Do you have any response to him about, especially given what Bill Shorten said about he was willing to call out sexism whenever he saw it, wherever it was?

MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT:

Someone asked me last night was I offended and I said the only thing that offended me last night was the fact that the Labor Party consistently failed to stand up for the 2 million members of registered organisations. What offended me was the fact that earlier this year they failed to stand up for the tens of thousands of owner drivers that the TWU wanted to destroy. What offended me was the fact that they were prepared to do a deal with the United Firefighters Union at the expense of 60,000 volunteer firefighters. So what offends me is a failure to stand up for hard-working Australians and if Bill Shorten and Doug Cameron want to prove me wrong, well then come on board and support the restoration of the Australian Building and Construction Commission and let's restore law and order to the building industry in Australia.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, on the ABCC, can I just ask, when do you anticipate the legislation will go to a vote? How confident are you that it will pass? And, secondly, on Lebanese Muslim migration, Trent Zimmerman told the party room he had concerned about the mixed messaging we have heard in the last few days.

Do you agree with Mr Zimmerman or do you agree with Michael Sukkar who told the Party room today that Peter Dutton's commentary was spot on?

PRIME MINISTER:

Can I just say that Peter Dutton is doing an outstanding job as Immigration Minister. Let's look at the facts. Let’s look at the facts. Peter Dutton, building on the work of Scott Morrison, has stopped the people smuggling business. The people smugglers have been stopped. People are not drowning at sea.

He's closed 17 detention centres in Australia and there are no children in detention. When Labor lost the election in 2013 and the Coalition came into government, there were 2,000 children in detention.

They had put 8,000 in over their time. I mean, the massive failure on immigration policy of the Labor Party in very recent times is something we all are still living with the consequences of. Of course, Peter has been outstanding in his work, in our work together as a Government in reaching agreement for resettlement with third countries. So, he's doing an outstanding job as Immigration Minister.

If you want to look at a failure in immigration policy, you don't have to look very far back. You just have to look at the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years and that tragic, that absolute tragic abdication of sovereign responsibility that we saw so tragic in it consequences for the people, especially those who drowned.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, Donald Trump has released a Facebook message. He says his first executive order, day one, will be to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Could we get your response to that? And how do you see that strategically for the United States, given that was part of the Obama Administration's pivot to Asia?

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you. Well, as you can imagine, this issue was the abiding topic of conversation at Lima over the weekend. We believe, as do the other, as the other of the 11 nations who are parties to the TPP, we believe that it is an important strategic commitment by the United States but of course the new administration and the new congress have got to make their own assessment. Time will tell whether and to what extent the new administration and the new congress engages with the TPP or a evolved version of that agreement. Having said that, I have to say there is very strong support among the other 11 parties to the TPP to ratify it and to seek to bring it into force. So, indeed, there is very, quite unanimous commitment on that account. So Mr Trump and his new congress will have to make their own decisions in America's interest. That is their judgement to make, but can I say to you that it is very clear that from Australia's point of view, getting access, greater access for Australian exports, whether it is goods or services to those big markets is manifestly in our interest. It is manifestly delivering more jobs, better jobs and stronger economic growth in Australia.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, what was the guiding principle behind the decision of all Senate Nationals, including three ministers, to not support Government policy on the Adler shotgun?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I'd make two points. In our parties, backbenchers are able to cross the floor and indeed, you know, have done so and we respect their right - unlike the Labor Party, we don't expel people from the Coalition parties if they cross the floor. And it was the vote - perhaps you could explain what a ‘Mickey’ was in the Senate?

MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT:

It was a ‘Mickey’ division last night where both the Liberal Party and the Labor Party, or the Government and the Labor Party voted together and overwhelmingly defeated the motion.

JOURNALIST:

But three ministers did not support it. It's disingenuous to say they simply happened to be somewhere else at the time.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, as I understand it, the practice in the Senate is that when you've got a ‘Mickey’ division of this kind - this is what the term is - the attendants, ministers and frontbenchers don't invariably have to attend. Is that right?

MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT:

Absolutely. As I said the numbers were there to overwhelmingly defeat the motion.

PRIME MINISTER:

This is special Senate business, so I can't -

JOURNALIST:

Notwithstanding the fact that Peter Dutton is doing a good job as Immigration Minister -

PRIME MINISTER:

Can I thank The Guardian for that comment, actually, from Peter Dutton.

JOURNALIST:

I'm quoting you.

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, no. No - I thought it was your commendation?

JOURNALIST:

I'll still ask the question.

PRIME MINISTER:

Right, okay. Fair enough.

JOURNALIST:

30 years ago, or in the 1970s, should Malcolm Fraser have let Lebanese Muslims into Australia on the basis that a handful of their descendants might commit crimes?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think, Katharine, the important thing to focus on is continually improving our settlement services. And we, look, we have an immigration system that is genuinely - and this is not, you know, a Prime Minister talking about the virtues of his own country and his own government - but this is a fact, you know, we are really admired around the world for the success of our immigration program. It is, and has been for some time, as you know, very much skills-based. And that's so that, through the regular migration program, people come here for the most part on the basis that they have a job to go to. And that's been very, very important. In terms of our humanitarian program, one of the largest in the world, particularly by reference to our own population, we have very well-developed settlement services. So we do a much more thorough job on settling immigrants, particularly humanitarian immigrants, into Australia.

Peter has done and is doing an outstanding job as Immigration Minister. But he's also presiding over a very effective and much admired immigration system and it has been based on lessons learned from the past. There are many lessons to learn from past experience and we are constantly seeking to improve it.

JOURNALIST:

Can I ask you about a matter of financial transparency? Last night Peta Credlin said that your Chief of Staff is paid double what an ordinary Chief of Staff is paid and that's obviously taxpayer money. Is that correct and if so, why?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think this has been a matter of public knowledge. Drew Clarke, who is my outstanding Chief of Staff came from his position as Secretary of the Department Of Communications. He's one of the most experienced public servants in this city and that's obviously been reflected in his ongoing remuneration.

JOURNALIST:

Do you support your Minister's comments about Lebanese Muslim immigration in the '70s?

PRIME MINISTER:

There is no question that there are lessons to be learned from previous immigration policies and the Minister was reflecting on policies many years ago. He's entitled to do that. But the critical thing is – and I'm not making any comment on his remarks other than to say that it's fair for all of us to reflect on past policies and how effective they were or not and seek to improve, in the light of that, to improve what we're doing now.

I have to say that if you talk to people, you know, who have very long experience in this area, you'll understand that the move to a more skills-based migration program was based on the conclusion that previous policies had not been as effective as they could be.

But, if we're going to talk about immigration policy history, and there is much to learn and there's libraries full of books about it and different views and they're all, people are entitled to them. The one thing we know for sure, and without any hesitation or doubt is that the greatest failure in immigration and border policy occurred very recently under the Labor Government when they abandoned John Howard's border protection policies and they outsourced our immigration policy to the people smugglers with the consequences of 50,000 unauthorised arrivals and over 1,200 deaths at sea.

Peter Dutton is a thoughtful and committed and compassionate Immigration Minister. He is keeping our borders secure. He's seeking to ensure there are viable, durable resettlement options for people that Labor sent to Manus and Nauru. As I said we’ve closed 17 detention centres. There are no kids in detention in Australia. Whereas there were 2,000 under the Labor Party. The Labor Party is constantly envious of Dutton's record as an Immigration Minister, because every day, by his effectiveness he demonstrates what failures they were when they were responsible for our nation's borders.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think that the return electorally of the One Nation Party warrants a review of the 2008 deal between the Liberal Party and National Party in Queensland? Or should the LNP merger stand?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the LNP is working very effectively and whenever I'm in Queensland I'm reminded of what an effective political force it is. Now, you asked about ABCC?

JOURNALIST:

Just want to get some clarification on the timing.

PRIME MINISTER:

Michaelia, do you want to address that?

MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT:

Second-reading debate will commence in the Senate today and I will continue to liaise with the crossbench as I did in relation to the Registered Organisations Commission. As I've always said I don't comment on crossbench negotiation but I have been very impressed with the way the crossbench have approached both the legislation that passed through the Senate last night and the legislation to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

JOURNALIST:

Do you expect the vote this week or next week?

MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT:

That will be something that the Senate will ultimately determine.

JOURNALIST:

Nick Xenophon is seeking assurances on water and he’s just said if he finds South Australia will be sold down the river there will be consequences -

JOURNALIST:

Pardon the pun.

JOURNALIST:

He likes the pun. But potentially on the ABCC and other votes, are you confident you can keep him in the tent over these proposed changes?

PRIME MINISTER:

I would say to you that the Government is committed to the implementation of the Basin Plan.

Obviously it is important to get the balance right, as we have to. As you know, I had some involvement in this matter in years passed. In fact I was the Water Minister at the time of the Murray Darling Basin Plan was established in the first instance under the Howard Government.

I have to say - and now I'll be a commentator on history - but I have to say that the great disappointment was the failure of the Labor Government that succeeded us to understand the purpose and intent of the Murray Darling Plan that John Howard established in 2007.

A key element in the plan was to restore water to the environment but to do so, by investing in infrastructure both off-farm and on-farm that enabled us to produce the same amount, if not more, food and fibre with less water. Because so much water is wasted and that's through leaking channels, through channels that flood, through evaporation, through all of the many ways in which water can be used, as water is used less efficiently.

So that was the purpose, that was the whole purpose of the Howard plan in 2007. And the money that was allocated to buy back water was designed to be used very strategically to support irrigation upgrades in particular areas.

Now, what happened was that the Labor Party came into Government, as we recall. Penny Wong became the Minister and she embarked on water buybacks without any strategy at all - just buying water back here, there and everywhere on the market. And that is what caused many of the structural problems in irrigation communities.

So what we're doing is we're committed to - since we came back into Government in 2013, we are committed to the Basin Plan. We're committed to ensuring that we do the right thing by the environment, the right thing by irrigation communities. We make every drop count and that we recover water overwhelmingly by investment in that water-saving infrastructure. Which, you know, that was the big idea. That was the big idea in 2007 and for whatever reasons, laziness, failure to understand it – you have to ask the Labor Party - they abandoned that and spent a lot of money buying water back in a very, very non-strategic way that did disadvantage many irrigation communities.

So thank you very much for your attention here and it's good to be back from Lima. Thank you.

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Media line: (02) 6240 8667, media@employment.gov.au