Gareth Parker interview - 6PR

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


SUBJECT/S: The Corrupting Benefits Bill; penalty rates

GARETH PARKER: My guest on the line is the Federal Minister for Employment, Michaelia Cash. Minister, good morning to you.

MINISTER CASH: Good morning to you, Gareth, and good morning to your listeners.

GARETH PARKER: Thanks for joining us and we’re glad the bells have stopped ringing …

MINISTER CASH: Thank you. I get my exercise in a day by running to the Chamber.

GARETH PARKER: Yes, I understand. Now listen, the Prime Minister and you held a press conference this morning. You’re having another go at unions. What is it that you’re proposing to do?

MINISTER CASH: Can I just correct you on that? We’re not having another go at unions. What we’ve announced this morning which is introducing legislation to ban secret payments between employers and unions – it holds both the employer and the union to account where a secret payment occurs. This is all about transparency in the work place. So it’s banning secret payments between employers and unions and, where a legitimate payment has been made, it needs to be disclosed to the employees so when they vote on an enterprise agreement they know exactly what they’re voting on.

GARETH PARKER: So these payments that you speak of, how often do they happen now?

MINISTER CASH: Oh well look, this is a vital reform and it deals with a problem that has basically been unearthed by successive Royal Commissions dating back since 1982. So the most recent Royal Commission, the Heydon Royal Commission, outlines secret payment after secret payment after secret payment and makes very clear findings that the laws are not there to stop these types of deals occurring and as such we will be introducing the Corrupting Benefits Bill to ban the secret payments between employers and unions.

GARETH PARKER: Okay, but what are these payments for?

MINISTER CASH: Okay. So for example, I think the one that most people know about is Bill Shorten and Cleanevent. So what occurred there, the employer, Cleanevent, paid the AWU Victoria – and it was Bill Shorten’s union at the time - $75,000 to maintain an enterprise agreement that basically stripped the employees of penalty rates, overtime and shift loadings and these payments were detailed, the Royal Commission found, in a secret letter between the AWU and Cleanevent. But what was worse, they were never, ever disclosed to the workers. So what the Royal Commission also found is that often these secret payments are made, for example, to stop industrial action, to ensure work is done on a site, to make a concrete pour actually happen. That is wrong. No one should be allowed to conduct themselves in that way and that’s why we’re banning those payments.

GARETH PARKER: So the suggestion is that, in some cases, payments are made by employers to unions and there’s a quid pro quo there?

MINISTER CASH: Absolutely. So I’ll give you another one. Unibilt, an employer, paid Bill Shorten $32,000 to fund his 2007 election campaign manager, but at the same time the company was negotiating an enterprise agreement with the AWU for which Shorten was the national secretary. Another one, Chiquita Mushrooms paid the AWU Victoria $24,000 whilst at the same time it was casualising its mushroom picking workforce. So there are payments that occur that are normally to the detriment of the employee and we say, absolutely, that is wrong.

GARETH PARKER: Okay, 92211882 is the number to call if you’d like to weigh in on this. Senator Michaelia Cash, the Employment Minister, is my guest on the show.

Senator Cash, given that you’ve just named Bill Shorten, I think, in just about every one of those examples that you’ve just given me, can I ask if this new legislation is actually trying to solve a problem that exists out there in the workforce or is it more about giving you a weapon to attack the leader of the Opposition with?

MINISTER CASH: Not at all in terms of a weapon to attack the leader of the Opposition. This was an election commitment that we made almost 12 months ago, last year. So we are now delivering on an election commitment to the Australian people. At the end of the day, this is all about transparency in the workplace. All we are doing is banning secret corrupting payments from businesses to unions and requiring disclosure of any legitimate payments. In fact, you know, when you actually raise this with people one of the things that gets said is; hold on, how come this is not the law already? Why is it that you can make a secret payment from a business to a union? So I think a lot of people are very surprised that the law has not been changed.

So what we’re doing is we’re putting the interests of hard-working honest union members first and I have to say, on that basis, I believe these are uncontroversial changes to the law and I would expect- if Bill Shorten really does want to stand up for the worker, we would expect to receive Labor’s support for this legislation.

GARETH PARKER: So in that regard do you think that they’ll get through the Senate, Senator Cash?

MINISTER CASH: Oh well certainly I’ve been talking with the crossbench in relation to their response to Heydon now for some time. I think I’m known for not divulging my discussions with the crossbench. But again, when people are saying to you; hey, hold on, what do you mean that a business can pay to a union a corrupting payment or a secret payment? How is that allowed? I think it’s pretty obvious the law is inadequate and the law needs to change.

GARETH PARKER: Okay. 92211882 is the number to call if you’d like to have your say on this issue today. My guest on the show is Senator Michaelia Cash.

What are the penalties if one of these payments is made and it’s not disclosed and what can happen to employers who actually make the payments? Because, to be frank, it takes two to tango.

MINISTER CASH: OK. Yep, it’s a very good point. And that is exactly what the Royal Commission found. So basically criminal penalties – we’re making it a criminal offence – where you actually intend to corrupt the union official or the union – so the employer is handing over the money or is stating I will give you a benefit and at the end of the day you are going to act improperly – up to 10 years in prison, up to $900,000 for an individual or $4.5 million for companies. Where other illegitimate payments are made, but there’s no intention to corrupt, two years in prison or $90,000 for an individual, $450,000 for companies.

GARETH PARKER: Alright, so big penalties.

MINISTER CASH: And I think it should send a very, very clear message to employers and to unions: this is very serious. The consequences of this action are serious and we are sending a message: we will not tolerate secret corrupting payments.

GARETH PARKER: OK. 92211882 is the number.

Senator Cash, if I can ask you just quickly about another issue in your portfolio or certainly related to employment?


GARETH PARKER: And it’s the vexed issue of penalty rates. It continues to run as an issue. Interestingly the West Australian asked people what they thought about it in a ReachTEL poll the details of which are published in the paper today. It finds that 49 per cent of people disagree with the Fair Work Commission’s decision to cut penalty rates for Sundays and public holidays for hospitality and retail workers. Is this going to be a problem for your government? We know that it’s a decision made by the independent umpire, but you’re the ones who have to, who carry the can, in a sense.

MINISTER CASH: Well this is all about small business. The Fair Work Commission, in making their decision, has analysed all of the evidence over a two year period – in excess of 5000 submissions – and what they’ve found is small businesses are competing on an uneven playing field against big businesses and big unions. So what Bill Shorten and Labor stand for are the ability of big unions and big businesses to do deals, to trade away penalty rates – and Bill Shorten has done that himself with the Cleanevent, he’s very happy for penalty rates to be reduced as long as it’s being done by big business and big unions. But when an independent commission says, based on all of the evidence; well hey, hold on, thousands and thousands of small businesses have been competing on an uneven playing field against these big union deals, we need to even up the playing field. Suddenly Bill Shorten says; well that’s not fair, that’s not fair. Well we say this is an independent commission, it’s based its decision on all of the evidence, the decision backs small business and we will back small business every step of the way …


MINISTER CASH:… against big unions and big business doing deals to basically reduce the entitlements of employees.

GARETH PARKER: The Prime Minister was also asked about the GST issue today. You’re a senator for Western Australia. Every time I talk about this issue on this program people ring up and say that our WA senators need to do more to ensure that we get a fair deal. Now, the Prime Minister today tried to turn it back on Bill Shorten, make it his problem. But I’m sure, Senator Cash, you would have witnessed the results of the state election two weekends ago with some alarm.

MINISTER CASH: Well, at the end of the day, this is the first Prime Minister to come to Western Australia and put a concrete solution on the table. The concrete solution is not going to happen overnight. I think at the time it was announced, it was 2019, 2020. But he has put a concrete solution on the table to ensure that when our share of the GST rises back up to 70 per cent, you would set a floor so that it cannot go below that. In terms of what can be done – in particular by the WA Liberal Senate team – in the interim period, we have worked closely with the former Treasurer Joe Hockey and the now-Treasurer Scott Morrison, and I hope you would acknowledge that we managed to get in two separate tranches an additional $1 billion for Western Australia for infrastructure investment to compensate us for our lack of GST.

GARETH PARKER: Yeah, so that meant we went to effectively 38 cents in the dollar rather than 30.

MINISTER CASH: I’m not about to make excuses. The day I came to this place in my maiden speech I raised the issue of the GST. We continue to raise the issue of the GST. But what I’m saying is we get unfairly criticised for not doing anything. We’ve managed to get the billion dollars in infrastructure funding, and for the first time ever, we have a Prime Minister who has put a concrete solution on the table. Bill Shorten comes to WA with weasel words and nothing more and nothing less, and I have to say, the acid is now on Mark McGowan, because it’s his Labor mates who won’t come to the table and discuss the GST formula. So Mark McGowan, if he is going to be the Premier for Western Australia that he says he’s going to be, I hope that he can speak to the other Labor state premiers and the territory premiers and get them to reconsider their positions.

GARETH PARKER: Alright, Senator Cash. Thanks for your time on the program this morning.

MINISTER CASH: Great to be with you, and thanks a lot for having me.

GARETH PARKER: Good on you. That’s Senator Michaelia Cash, Minister for Employment.

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