Interview with Neil Mitchell, Radio 3AW

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


SUBJECTS: Passage of Laws to protect CFA volunteers, same sex marriage plebiscite.

NEIL MITCHELL: Well the Federal Government got through its promised laws after negotiating through the Senate; got them through last night. An amendment to the Fair Work Amendment Bill it’s called, which is designed to stop state governments and unions doing deals to undermine the volunteers. But where do we go now? On the line is the Employment Minister, Michaelia Cash. Good morning.

MINISTER CASH:  Good morning, Neil. Good morning to your listeners.

NEIL MITCHELL: Okay, does this stop the deal?

MINISTER CASH:  What it does is it means either the CFA leadership will have to renegotiate its enterprise agreement to get rid of any terms that limit or restrict the ability of the CFA to engage, support, deploy, et cetera its volunteers, or they can take the current proposed agreement to the Fair Work Commission and the Commission will then have to determine what terms are unlawful.

NEIL MITCHELL: Okay. And those terms that you’re referring to are obviously the so-called power of veto?

MINISTER CASH:  Correct. One of the big concerns of the volunteers was that there are clauses throughout the agreement that basically mean that, for the CFA to do anything, they need to consult or reach agreement with the union and this fundamentally, obviously changes the way the CFA functions.

Can I also just say, Neil, thank you for your support and thank you, in particular, for the support of your listeners over many months now. This has been a grassroots campaign from day one.

This has always been about standing up for communities, standing up for the tens of thousands of Victorian volunteers who selflessly, every day, put their lives potentially on the line to ensure that our communities are safe. And last night the Turnbull Government, along with 10 out of the

11 crossbenchers, ensured that we took steps to protect the volunteers.

NEIL MITCHELL: Okay, but is it going to work? Because, from day one, the opponents of this have said, “No, it’s unconstitutional. It will end up in the High Court.”

MINISTER CASH: We are very confident about the constitutionality of the bill. The Australian Government Solicitor has provided comprehensive advice on the bill, including the issues raised over the course of deliberations in the Parliament and has confirmed that the legislation is constitutional.

This is just, yet again, the Victorian Government making excuses. They have stood against the volunteers every step of the way. And I have to say, when you look at Labor last night in the Senate, Bill Shorten and his priorities were laid bare. He made it very, very clear that he will always put the interests of militant union bosses ahead of the public interest.

NEIL MITCHELL: Okay, okay. Let’s take the politics out of it. We’re heading into the fire season.


NEIL MITCHELL: And we’re in a state of confusion at best, and we’ve got a toxic environment at worst. Can this be sorted out before the fire season starts?

MINISTER CASH: The situation that the Victorian CFA volunteers are currently in is, as you would know—they have proceedings in the Victorian Supreme Court at the moment in relation to the enterprise agreement. That case is yet to run its course. Once that is concluded - and I would assume that would be over the next few weeks - the Fair Work Commission can then consider whether the enterprise agreement between the CFA and the UFU is lawful.

Of course, though, Daniel Andrews and the Victorian Government have the option of basically saying; “Enough is enough. We made a mistake. We respect the fact that the Australian Senate has passed laws. Let’s sit down and go back to the drawing board.”

NEIL MITCHELL: There’s also a possibility here, as the State Government insists, that this doesn’t impact on volunteers. The Fair Work Commission is an independent organisation, it could in fact look at your legislation, look at the deal and say, no, it’s fine.

MINISTER CASH: I found that comment very interesting, because, if that is true, then why was Peter Marshall, the head of the United Firefighters Union, trawling the halls of the Senate yesterday. Why has the United Firefighters Union …

NEIL MITCHELL: What do you mean ‘trawling in the halls’? What was he doing?

MINISTER CASH: Well, he was here visiting crossbenchers yesterday.

NEIL MITCHELL: Oh, was he lobbying the crossbench, was he?

MINISTER CASH: Absolutely. Yesterday, he was …

NEIL MITCHELL: Well, you’ve got to ask Derryn what he asked him.

MINISTER CASH: Why have the Victorian Government been so worried about this bill passing? Why has Bill Shorten been so worried about this bill passing? If, as the Victorian Government is now alleging, the bill changes nothing and it was unnecessary, then they should be able to present it, quite literally, off to the Fair Work Commission and have the Fair Work Commission make a determination.

The issue of course is that’s not that case. There are clauses that clearly offend their own state act, and that’s what we’ve taken action in relation to.

NEIL MITCHELL: And you’re confident of the independence of the Fair Work Commission, because there’ve been some issues raised there?

MINISTER CASH: The Fair Work Commission is an independent body. Yes, I’m confident in the independence of the Fair Work Commission.

NEIL MITCHELL: What about a truce in the meantime? What if we said, “Okay, let’s put everything off until after the fire season?”

MINISTER CASH: Look, that’s a decision for the Victorian Government. This has been a long-running saga now, as you know. It’s seen a minister resign, it’s seen a board been sacked, it’s seen a CO being sacked as well. So, really, now the ball is squarely in the Victorian Government court. The Turnbull Government has delivered on its commitment to the volunteers. We’ve said we’re going to back you every step of the way.

I agree with you. One of the big worries that came out of the recent Senate Committee was the fact that the despondency that is now being felt by volunteers, in particular on the Victorian–New South Wales border, and this was in evidence given by the New South Wales firies, is that some of them are now putting their hands up and saying we want to go over to New South Wales, we don’t want to fight fires in Victoria. Neil, that worries me personally. That’s why the Turnbull Government took the action it did to stand up for the volunteers.

NEIL MITCHELL: Have you read the EBA yet?


NEIL MITCHELL: 400 pages of it.

MINISTER CASH: It’s a very, very long EBA, yes.

NEIL MITCHELL: I don’t think I’ve seen one like it. The other issue—the CFA is getting advice on how to stop volunteers wearing uniforms while they’re raising money to finance their court deal.

MINISTER CASH: Look, I saw that today. Yet again, this is just an attack by the Andrews Government on tens of thousands of people who, over decades and decades and decades, now have ensured that the Victorian community is being protected. And, as you know, it’s not just in relation to fire seasons. If there is an accident that occurs, it’s often the CFA that are going to go out and ensure that people are actually assisted. Why the Andrews Government, why Bill Shorten, are choosing to put a wedge between paid firefighters and volunteers, I have to say, beggars belief, and is not good for the morale of the volunteers.

NEIL MITCHELL: Just on another issue, there’s some movement on the plebiscite today, possibly with the party room. Where do you stand on same-sex marriage?

MINISTER CASH: I’m on the record as saying I don’t support same-sex marriage; however, I am obviously supportive of the plebiscite. I believe it is the appropriate way to go. Let’s give Australians their choice. I have also said if and when the plebiscite is upheld by the Australian people, I will support the plebiscite through the Parliament.

It’s all in Bill Shorten’s hands now. If he wants to see same-sex marriage legalised, he can come out today—we can put the legislation through the Parliament and we can have a plebiscite on February 11th as the Australian people voted for when they returned us to office.

NEIL MITCHELL: I know you need to get away. I appreciate your time; thank you. That was the Minster for Employment, in Canberra, Michaelia Cash.

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