Doorstop—Mural Hall, Parliament House Canberra

  • Leader of the Government in the Senate
  • Minister for Employment
  • Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service
  • Liberal Senator for Tasmania

Check against delivery

Subjects: Michael Williamson sentencing, Royal Commission, APS wage bargaining

MINISTER ABETZ: The sentencing of Michael Williamson, a former National President of the Australian Labor Party and HSU boss clearly highlights the urgent need for the Coalition’s Registered Organisations Commission legislation to be passed by Green–Labor Senators. The go-slow by Green–Labor Senators simply means that we still do not have a sufficiently robust mechanism to ensure that the sort of corruption that was revealed by this case can be properly looked at and dug out before it becomes systemic as it did in this case.

Can I also pay a tribute to the whistle-blowers, but for whom, these matters would never have been exposed and been brought to court. I think the Labor Party and the trade union movement need to look at themselves and ask themselves a very fundamental question as to whether this sort of behaviour is acceptable, and why did they shun and ostracise the whistle-blowers in the way they did? Clearly they never wanted these matters to come to light and they then dealt in a very shameful way with the whistle-blowers. They continue in the Senate by blocking the legislation which would help to uncover these sorts of activities by a more robust regulatory regime.

JOURNALIST: Doesn’t the fact that this has been dealt with through the courts mean that the Royal Commission isn’t necessary? Haven’t we got law enforcement bodies to do this work?

MINISTER ABETZ: Well two things there. The Registered Organisations Commission which I spoke about is a legislative body that we would seek to have implemented with extra powers, with extra penalties, so that these sorts of nefarious practices can actually be uncovered by a proper regulatory authority without the need for whistle-blowers.

In relation to the Royal Commission, let me say that regrettably this sort of behaviour that has been uncovered in the HSU is systemic, and it’s sophisticated. We don’t only have it in the Health Services Union. We had the code of silence in relation to the Australian Workers Union scandal in the 1990s. Just today we had another revelation by a CFMEU whistle-blower of kick-backs. We have the drug and alcohol rehabilitation fund that the CFMEU set up having money milked out of it. There is case after case and as a result we believe the Royal Commission is appropriate because the allegations of corruption are now indicative of something terribly wrong within sections of the trade union movement indicating sophistication and it being of a systemic nature.

JOURNALIST: Senator, will you consider putting unions into administration, if in the course of the Royal Commission damning and convincing evidence comes out about maladministration, malfeasance and what have you?

MINISTER ABETZ: My view is that these matters should be dealt with step by step and if such allegations are made, and matters found by the Royal Commission we will make a determination on the basis of that evidence, but I’m not going to be dealing in hypothetical situations today.

JOURNALIST: I guess what I am saying is, will you wait, if this evidence comes out, and we are seeing mounting, growing amount evidence come out about maladministration, malfeasance particularly in the CFMEU, would you wait, if that evidence came out in June or July, and the Commission finished December, before doing something? Or is the option open for you do to something sooner?

MINISTER ABETZ: What is decided will be determined on what is the right thing to do in all the circumstances at the time. I don’t want to deal in hypotheticals or indicate that we might do something if, that is clearly treading into hypotheticals. When and if evidence comes forward I will seek the appropriate advice as to the appropriate way forward. I don’t want to say any more than that. It is important that we do take these matters step by step.

JOURNALIST: It’s in your power as a Minister isn’t it?

MINISTER ABETZ: I understand there are potential powers of a Minister and a Government to take certain actions, but I’m not going to countenance taking that potential action in relation to a situation that has still not been proven.

JOURNALISTS: (Multiple questions)…

MINISTER ABETZ: One last one, one last one.

JOURNALIST: Nigel Hadgkiss has written a report flagging the possibility of the CFMEU being put into administration. Given that he now works for the Federal Government is that a report you have seen, is that a report that you take seriously?

MINISTER ABETZ: I have not seen the report that is mentioned in today’s papers. It is a very serious report. I don’t know what the evidence is in support of it. My view is, as a Minister in such a delicate area, it is vital to take it step by step without seeking to pre-empt anything.

JOURNALIST: The ACTU is calling for a rise to the minimum wage. Will you back that push?

MINISTER ABETZ: We believe that wage settings should be made by the Fair Work Commission, they are the independent umpire. Ultimately it is up to the independent umpire to make a determination. We will be filing, with the Fair Work Commission later on today, a submission. With due respect to the Fair Work Commission it is appropriate that they find out what our submission is first, before it’s been publically announced. I understand it will be on the Fair Work Commission website very shortly after we lodge it.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it’s a fair claim to say that we are going to end up with a class of working poor?

MINISTER ABETZ: I don’t want to provide a running commentary in relation to the submissions over which the Fair Work Commission will need to consider what a fair and reasonable outcome is. We as a Government are very concerned to ensure that the burden on low income earners is eased. That is why of course we have as one of our major policy initiatives the removal of the carbon tax which will see the burden of energy prices reduced for the average home by $550 per annum. I would simply encourage Labor and the Greens to join with us on removing that burden on Australian families by supporting the repeal of the carbon tax.

JOURNALIST: Last year the Commission basically landed on a figure of about $16 per week that was half-way between what business groups were asking for and what the ACTU were asking for. Would you be comfortable with an outcome like that this year?

MINISTER ABETZ: I’m not going to provide a running commentary on what the independent umpire should do. At the end of the day it is for them to make a determination after hearing all the evidence and at this stage not all the submissions have been filed.

JOURNALIST: On the legislation that you want passed, would that also encompass corporate fraud?

MINISTER ABETZ: The Registered Organisations Commission would encompass all registered organisations, and that is both from the employee, mainly unions, and the employer side. It would be a commission that would deal equally with employer and employee organisations.

JOURNALIST: Labor is really campaigning hard on penalty rates in WA. You’re going to try and scrap those penalty rates?

MINISTER ABETZ: Absolutely not. What we have said time and time again, and the ALP know this, and it’s this; penalty rates and wage rates are not determined by Government, they are determined by the Fair Work Commission and we have no intention of changing that. Thank you. [Ends]


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