Interview with Patricia Karvelas, ABC RN Drive

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

SUBJECT/S: The Australian Building and Construction Commission Bill and the CFA.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: The bill that triggered the double dissolution and subsequent election in July, remember that?

The Australian Building and Construction Commission Bill, to reinstate a building industry watchdog.

Well, the Government now says it’s prepared to make amendments to get it through Parliament.

Senator Michaelia Cash is the Minister for Employment, Minister for Women, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, and I used all of your titles.

MINISTER CASH: That was very impressive, I have to say.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: It was very impressive, wasn’t it? All of your titles.

MINISTER CASH: All of them. You could’ve stopped with Senator or Michaelia, but that’s fine.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: We’ve gone there. Why are you prepared to make a deal with crossbenchers now and you weren’t before the election?

MINISTER CASH: I’ve always negotiated in good faith with the crossbench.

It is a reality and the Prime Minster has clearly articulated this: very few parliaments control - or very few governments have controlled the Senate.

Our reality is, if we want to get legislation through, we need to negotiate.

Labor and the Greens have made their position abundantly clear, for many years now, on restoring law and order to the Building and Construction Commission; they take their orders from the CFMEU, they’ve been ordered not to support the bill.

Which means if we’re going to get it through the Senate, I have to sit down with the crossbench, listen to what they have to say, and see whether or not we can come to some form of agreement. But the …

PATRICIA KARVELAS: [Interrupts] Would it have been better to have done it originally? Because it sounds like a more conciliatory tone than the one I heard before the election.

MINISTER CASH: Oh, no, not all. I was sitting down with crossbenchers in the last parliament.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: [Talks over] So what will change now? What’s more …

MINISTER CASH: [Interrupts] If you remember, a number of the crossbenchers last time they openly were union supporters, they’d taken money from unions or they’d accepted donations, the answer was no.

A number of them said, look, we actually don’t want an ABCC, we want a federal ICAC so a lot of what they put on the table clearly changed the intent and the nature of the bill.

We have a new crossbench, I’ve been very impressed with the way they have engaged with me to date.

I have obviously given a commitment, I will not be negotiating through the press, conversations we have will be kept confidential, but I have been very impressed with the way they have approached the discussions with me, their asking of questions, and the ability for me to provide them with information.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay, but given now that you’ve said this publicly that you’re willing to negotiate quite substantially, do you accept that the ABCC will be substantially different to what the Government first envisaged?

MINISTER CASH: Absolutely not and I have not said that.

I will pull you up on that, Patricia. I have not said, nor has the Prime Minister, that there’ll be substantial amendments. We have clearly stated this is a fundamental part of our economic agenda. We want to reduce the cost of public infrastructure in Australia. We want to clean up the bullying, the thuggery, and the intimidation.

Whilst I will sit down and obviously negotiate with the crossbench, we’ve made it clear, we will not accept amendments that change the nature or intent of the bill.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: [Talks over] Okay, I’ll … I’ll put just a couple to you. Are you prepared to introduce an eight-year sunset clause for the bill?

MINISTER CASH: And you’re going to hate this answer, you really are, but I have said at this stage we’re in negotiations.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Are you prepared? The question was are you prepared to at least have that on the table. I’m not saying can you please sign up to that right now.

MINISTER CASH: I have said I will sit down with anybody and have those amendments put to me.

Whether or not we ultimately accept them …

PATRICIA KARVELAS: [Talks over] So this is not … an eight-year sunset clause is not the kind of amendment you’d rule out, though?

MINISTER CASH: No, at this point in time, I am talking to the crossbench. But we are clear - we’ve taken this policy to two elections. The building and construction industry in Australia employs one in ten Australians – our third largest industry – it contributes 8 per cent to our gross domestic product.

Our agenda is all about jobs and growth. On any analysis, this is not an industry that is – unfortunately - one that complies with the rule of law. We will do everything in our power to see that this industry can be the very best it can. And we know the ABCC works because we had it before under John Howard.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay. If you’re just joining us on RN Drive my guest is the Minister for Employment Senator Michaelia Cash. If you fail in this process and you have to go to a joint sitting of the Parliament to get this through, can you accept amendments at that point because my understanding is that you can’t?

MINISTER CASH: The bill, we have the opportunity now to negotiate the bill through the Senate in the normal course.

In the event that we are unable to do that, you can then take the bill to a joint sitting.

My understanding is there would be the possibility to entertain an amendment. However, because this has never been done before, it [indistinct] …

PATRICIA KARVELAS: [Talks over] That’s what I’m saying, this is unprecedented …


PATRICIA KARVELAS: … and there is some advice that you can’t accept amendments. Is that right?

MINISTER CASH: There seems to be conflicting advice on the basis that it has never been tested but certainly we have an opportunity to see this bill go through the Parliament in the normal manner and that is in the first instance what I’m seeking to do.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: [Talks over] Okay, so if you do need to go to the joint sitting, you say you’re getting conflicting advice?

MINISTER CASH: Oh no, not conflicting advice. It’s just that it hasn’t been tested before. If …

PATRICIA KARVELAS: [Interrupts] So, what are you likely to do?

MINISTER CASH: At this point in time, my focus is on the procedure that we have in front of us. This is a key part of our economic agenda, as I said.

When the penalties are not enough to act as a deterrent, when the law is not being upheld, as policymakers, you need to do something.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: [Talks over] So, if you were in the situation of a joint sitting, you would perhaps, in the interest of trying to get it through, accept amendments and test that, test that?

MINISTER CASH: Can we just take a step back? Because, at this point of time, we are not near the joint sitting.

At the moment, the process we’re going through is sitting down with the crossbench, talking through the issues with them, and that is the process in the first instance.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: [Interrupts] You must be war gaming all of these different scenarios in your office and in the PMO, you must be?

MINISTER CASH: And I’m not going to sit her, unfortunately, and give you my complete war-game …

PATRICIA KARVELAS: [Interrupts] Why not?

MINISTER CASH: I know, I’m sorry. [Laughs]

PATRICIA KARVELAS: I’m part of this democratic process, I deserve to know what you’re doing.

MINISTER CASH: The options at the moment are we negotiate with the current Senate and we may well be successful in getting the ABCC through.

In the event that we don’t, clearly we would go to a joint sitting but in the first instance we don’t …

PATRICIA KARVELAS: [Interrupts] Where you may take amendments?

MINISTER CASH: At this point in time, let’s just work on the basis that …

PATRICIA KARVELAS: [Interrupts] You leave open the option of taking amendments in a joint sitting?

MINISTER CASH: I want to see this legislation passed full stop because it is so key to our economic agenda and that is why I am sitting down with all of the crossbench and working through the legislation with them and I’ve been very impressed to date with their engagement with me.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay, re your 25 point priority policies that the Prime Minister has outlined …

MINISTER CASH: [Interrupts] That we tabled today in the Parliament, yes.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Mr O’Connor, Brendan O’Connor who is your opposite number, effectively, in the Labor Party says there’s no mention of any policy to protect workers from exploitation. He says there’s no pro-worker element. 7-Eleven workers, obviously, I think he cites. Is that …

MINISTER CASH: I completely disagree with Brendan O’Conner but I’d expect nothing less.

We tabled a number of bills today, we have seven weeks to sit between now and Christmas.

My focus is on three bills that are absolutely pro-worker.

Let’s clean up the building and construction industry so workers in that industry can go to work without fear of being bullied, threatened, and intimidated.

Let’s introduce the Registered Organisations Commission so that hard-working union members can be assured that a Craig Thompson-like scenario can never, ever occur again.

And, in relation to our legislation to protect the Victorian Country Fire Authority, the 60,000 volunteers, that is very much a pro …

PATRICIA KARVELAS: [Interrupts] Alright, let’s go to that now. The Prime Minster today introduced an amendment bill to the Fair Work Act to stop unions influencing the work of volunteer firefighters …


PATRICIA KARVELAS: … let’s take a listen to what he had to say.


MALCOLM TURNBULL: Unfortunately for the proud volunteers of the CFA, the Victorian Government has taken sides against them.

For this reason, it is of paramount importance that the Commonwealth Parliament steps in to protect them.

This bill will ensure that enterprise agreements cannot be used in a way that permits unions to exert power over the valuable contributions of volunteers.

[End of excerpt]

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Last week you were asked by David Speers on Sky what clause you found most worrying in the enterprise agreement and you said you couldn’t identify a clause.

Can you identify a clause now?

MINISTER CASH: Absolutely. The agreement is a huge agreement. There have been various iterations of it, but what the agreement does and it’s not just …

PATRICIA KARVELAS: [Interrupts] Is there a clause?

MINISTER CASH: Absolutely.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Which one is it?

MINISTER CASH: For example the clause which states that in the majority of circumstances, paid firefighters can only report to paid firefighters.

That is a fundamental change in the way the CFA currently operates.

I’ll give you another clause, in terms of policies that the CFA may want to change that affect volunteers. They will now have to undertake not just consultation with the union, the union have to agree there must be consensus to that change.

This is no longer about the pay and conditions of the paid firefighters, because the CFA have no issue with that. This is all about a union coming in and saying we want to undermine the structure that has been around since 1945, and undermine the control that the CFA have over its volunteers.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay, but clause 7A1 says the role of volunteers in fighting bushfires and maintaining community safety is not altered by the agreement.

MINISTER CASH: That is a clause that was recently put in to the agreement; it is nothing more…

PATRICIA KARVELAS: [Interrupts] Sure, but therefore doesn’t it make your amendments …

MINISTER CASH: [Talks over] It is nothing more and nothing less …

PATRICIA KARVELAS: … unnecessary?

MINISTER CASH: … than a motherhood statement, and it is therefore …

PATRICIA KARVELAS: [Interrupts] Well, how can it be a motherhood statement? It’s a clause in the agreement, are you saying that it has no legal power?

MINISTER CASH: It is a motherhood statement and it is directly contradicted by other clauses in the agreement which have the exact opposite effect. Patricia…

PATRICIA KARVELAS: [Interrupts] Are you honestly saying that clause, you think, is powerless in the agreement?

MINISTER CASH: [Interrupts] Absolutely, it’s a motherhood statement.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: What’s your evidence that that is a clause that has no effect?

MINISTER CASH: The other parts of the agreement Patricia, which clearly do not support that clause.

But I’ll just put this to you and your listeners as well. A Minister, Jane Garrett, resigned over this issue – a Labor Minister – because she was so offended by what was occurring in relation to the takeover…..She’s on the front pages of Victorian newspapers today. A board was sacked.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: [Talks over] There’s no doubt there’s a lot of controversy over this in Victoria but that doesn’t mean that your bill is necessary.

MINISTER CASH: Our bill is absolutely necessary.

All our bill does, it’s a small amendment to the Fair Work Act, Section 12.

Section 12 sets out a list of objectionable terms and an agreement cannot be certified by the Fair Work Commission …

PATRICIA KARVELAS: [Interrupts] Sure, but federal intervention on a state issue, it is a dangerous precedent for what looks like politics.

MINISTER CASH: [Talks over] No, and that’s not what it is.

The Victorian Government are utilising the Fair Work Act for a purpose that is inconsistent with the legislation that sets up the CFA in the state.

So all we are doing is saying to the Victorian Government - it’s actually the exact opposite of what you’ve said - we want you to comply with the state legislation. That’s it.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay, I want to move to the High Court, it today ruled against you in your attempt to exempt big oil and gas companies from providing the same pay and conditions to offshore workers, to those drilling on land. Is this the end of the matter or is the government considering legislation?

MINISTER CASH: That’s obviously an issue for the Immigration Minister, and I have not been briefed on that.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: But it has implications for your portfolio as well, you haven’t been briefed yet?

MINISTER CASH: No, I haven’t been briefed on it yet. I’ve been in meetings all day and there is a briefing later on tonight for me.

But can I just say the last thing you want to do is to make it harder for international companies to come here. We are absolutely pro-Australian workers every step of the way; that is this government’s and always has been this government’s number one priority.

These people are coming in on international vessels, and they are complying with international law. As I said, I haven’t seen the decision, I will be briefed on it. But we need to work in a globally competitive environment, and the last thing you want to do is have an impact on that global competitiveness.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Just a question on Kathy Jackson.

What’s your reaction to the news that the AFP have charged the former Health Services Union boss Kathy Jackson with 70 counts of theft and deception?

MINISTER CASH: I think like anybody, at the end of the day it is disappointing.

Regardless of what Kathy’s position was in the past, this is a very unfortunate circumstance and this is why for me the broader proposition here – it’s not just Kathy Jackson – but the broader proposition of why registered organisations need to have a regulator with teeth.

We need to ensure that registered organisations, whether they are employer organisations or union organisations we do not differentiate …

PATRICIA KARVELAS: [Interrupts] But that is not the public perception, the perception is that you do, and if you look at all of the moves you’ve made that you do put scrutiny on unions that you’re not putting on companies.

MINISTER CASH: And I completely disagree with that.

Registered organisations - the change will apply to both employer and employee organisations.

It just happens though, that if you want an answer to that, the proposition you put, the bad news would be that union organisations clearly have been highlighted in particular because of the HSU scandal. I don’t think on any analysis that what happened with the Craig Thomson affair in particular, utilising members’ money, I’m not going to go through the list with you but prostitutes…

That is completely, totally, and utterly unacceptable.

Clearly there is a failure in terms of policy.

All this government wants to do is ensure that there is transparency, there is openness, and there is accountability.

And guess what? If you do not, if you don’t abuse your members’ money, you never need to worry.

It’s as simple as that.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Minister, many thanks for your time.

MINISTER CASH: Always great to be with you.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: And that is Senator Michaelia Cash. She is the Minister for Employment and she has many other hats. 

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