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

[E&OE TRANSCRIPT]

SUBJECT/S: Secret payments between employers and unions, Sunday penalty rates, WA state election

ASHLEIGH GILLON: As you just heard outlined there, the corrupting benefit laws will crack down on unions or employers receiving or making payments that have a corrupting motive. But is this actually a widespread problem? Earlier I spoke with the Employment Minister, Michaelia Cash, and asked her if it was clear how many of these so-called secret payments are actually happening.

MINISTER CASH: The Hayden Royal Commission has basically stated for at least 30 years now, there is evidence of secret payments being made, and the Hayden Royal Commission itself outlines multiple examples of where these secret payments have been made. In fact, when you actually talk to people about what we’re proposing to do, the response I get is what do you mean this is not allowed, or this is allowed? So what we are doing is we are banning secret payments between employers and unions. We acknowledge, of course Ashleigh, that there are legitimate payments that can be made, and in relation to the legitimate payments, these will need to be disclosed to employees so that when they are voting on an enterprise agreement they have all of the information in front of them and they are able to make an informed decision.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Yeah, look, it does seem like a good move, but many workers would probably argue that the penalty rates decision is more of an urgent challenge right now that they’d like the Government to be dealing with. We know the Fair Work Commission is an independent body, it was them not the Government that made that decision and the Government seems to want to distance themselves from that decision at every move. But you do have the power to reverse it in the Parliament if you think it was a mistake. Was it the wrong call? Would you have made that call if it was up to you?

MINISTER CASH: Well, as you’ve correctly stated, this is a decision of the independent Fair Work Commission. It is a decision that was made after approximately two years of taking evidence and they saw over 5000 submissions. And based on all of that evidence, they made the decision that Sundays are not the sacrosanct day that they used to be 10, 20, 30 years ago and that small business needs to be on a level playing field with big business and big unions who actively do deals to trade away penalty rates. So the Commission has made a decision to align Sunday penalty rates slightly closer to Saturday penalty rates and give small business the break that it needs.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Sure I understand that this was the Fair Work Commission’s decision but I’m asking you do you think it was a good idea? Do you think that overall the economy will be better off? Do you think it’s a fair decision? Is it one that you would have made as Employment Minister, if it was your call?

MINISTER CASH: Well certainly, when you look at the reasoning in the Commission’s decision, the Commission acknowledges the positive employment benefits that the decision will bring. I’ve been speaking to a number of small businesses over the last few weeks, in particular in the retail sector, who have said they look forward now to either opening on a Sunday if they’re not already open on a Sunday due to the prohibitive costs or alternatively, employing more people on a Sunday. So certainly I acknowledge the very positive employment benefits that the decision will bring and I’m very supportive of that.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: What do you make of the proposal by Nick Xenophon to quarantine workers who are already getting penalty rates from that decision?

MINISTER CASH: Well basically what the Commission itself has asked for is now submissions to be given to it and these submissions are due in by 24 March in relation to what is the transition. The Commission itself acknowledges in its decision that there will be some hardship felt by employees who are currently working Sundays. On that basis, the Commission has said it wants to hear from all interested parties whether they’re unions, whether they’re employees, whether they’re employers about the appropriate transitional provisions to put in.

So, for example, COSBOA, the Council of Small Business, they’ve said they’d like the change to commence on 1 July 2017 and basically for – similar to Nick Xenophon – current employers to be grandfathered. On the other hand, a lot of the big businesses have said that they would prefer to see a two year phase in of the penalty rates decision. And of course then there’s the Productivity Commission which said 12 months. So the Commission now will analyse all of that evidence and then they will make a decision as to what is the most appropriate transition to mitigate any hardship that may be felt.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: I understand that that is the view of those various bodies that you just described there but what is the Government’s view on this? What is your view on this? What will you be including in your submission on those issues?

MINISTER CASH: Well very much the Government would normally provide a factual submission in relation to what the Fair Work Commission requests. So we will look at whether or not take-home pay orders are available. That’s exactly what the Commission has asked us to do. And we’ll also look at the other options that are available in terms of a transitional period and we will put forward arguments in relation to them. But normally governments provide factual submissions because at the end of the day, this is a decision for the independent Fair Work Commission but it also needs to be a decision made on the basis of all of the evidence that is presented to the Commission.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Okay but you’re ruling out legislating to tinker around the edges of any Fair Work Commission decision on this?

MINISTER CASH: Oh absolutely, Ashleigh, and Bill Shorten – what an absolute political stunt. Nothing more and nothing less. This – as you know – Bill Shorten quite frankly has to acknowledge this is …

ASHLEIGH GILLON: [Interrupts] Okay but no, the fact of what you’re doing, though, Minister the fact of what you’re doing if your submission is effectively ignored by the Fair Work Commission on those various issues that you just went through then, are you saying that you will not look at legislating in the Parliament at all, even if you think that the Fair Work Commission gets it wrong?

MINISTER CASH: Well hold on, the Fair Work Commission will ultimately make a decision in relation to whatever the transitional process is. That’s the whole point of the next phase of this decision is now they’re asking for submissions. They will then analyse those submissions and they will come up with the most appropriate form of transitional provision. So there will be a transition put into place. It’s just what that transition will be. In relation to your question, though, as to legislation, no. The Government will not be legislating. This is an independent decision from an independent body and you do not want your politicians meddling in those decisions. And the question for Bill Shorten needs to be this – if you don’t like a decision coming out of the Reserve Bank, are you going to legislate so that the Reserve Bank can’t lower or higher interest rates?

There is a reason you have independent commissions looking at these decisions and what Bill Shorten’s done today is nothing more and nothing less than a political stunt. Bill Shorten needs to explain to the Australian people why he is happy to support big unions and big businesses doing deals to trade away penalty rates, in particular on a Sunday but he won’t support the decision of an independent commission that says we need to level the playing field for small business. I mean Ashleigh, is it fair that small business …

ASHLEIGH GILLON: [Talks over] Just looking at what else Labor has said, Minister, Labor is also arguing that around 700,000 workers are going to be affected by this decision and it seems to have been some confusion about how many …

MINISTER CASH: [Talks over] And we’ve already shown, Ashleigh, that the department’s analysis – sorry the department’s analysis of those figures shows that Labor is wrong on their figures. They continue to bandy around the figure of around 700,000 when they know that is a gross overestimation.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: So what’s your estimate of how many workers would actually be affected?

MINISTER CASH: Well the estimate is around 250,000 to 450,000 but you’ve also got to understand that some of those people will only work on a Sunday on the very odd occasion, like a student. So in terms of Labor bandying around the figure of 700,000, they know that is a gross overestimation. But I think the bigger picture is this – the Commission acknowledges the positive employment benefits of this decision and why is it that Labor again supports big businesses and big unions being able to do these deals but when the Commission tries to level the playing field for small business, who does not have the capacity to do these types of deals, apparently that’s wrong. You know, as the Prime Minister’s said and I’ve said we will stand up for small business every day of the week.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Now, you were overseas last week when the whole nation was focussing on the wash-up of the WA election in your home state. It’s being reported that you,
along with Mathias Cormann, struck that preferencing deal with One Nation. In hindsight was that a bad move? Did it hinder instead of help the WA Liberal Party?

MINISTER CASH: Well I am amused by the reporting because the reporting is wrong. Preferences are an issue for the WA Liberal Party, for our head office endorsed by our state executive, and that is exactly what ensued.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Okay. So the report suggesting that you met with One Nation to get this deal over the line are incorrect? You had nothing to do with that?

MINISTER CASH: They are incorrect, yes.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Okay. So my broader question though, was it a bad move for the WA Liberal Party to go down that road in terms of doing this preference deal with One Nation?

MINISTER CASH: You know, at the end of the day, after eight and a half years in government, it was always going to be a difficult task for the WA Liberal Party to get over the line. We recognised that, and the result, unfortunately, reflects the fact that many people in Western Australia did decide it was time for a change and that is the way they voted, and I respect the decision of the Western Australian public. I may not like the decision, but I certainly respect the decision that they have made.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Sure, but back to my question, was the One Nation preference deal a bad idea?

MINISTER CASH: No, not at all.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: And why not? Do you think it did actually help the Liberal Party in any way there in WA?

MINISTER CASH: Well again, you’ll need to have a look at the wash-up in terms of the what, when, where, why and how. But certainly, it was always going to be a tough ask for the Liberals after eight and a half years in government to get over the line. We recognised that probably a good 12 months ago now that it was going to be a tough gig. But certainly, from the One Nation perspective, from my dealings with One Nation, they have worked very well with me in relation to restoring law and order in the building and construction industry. They have worked well with me in establishing the Registered Organisations Commission and ensuring that registered organisations have the same standards as company directors. They supported our efforts to stand up for the tens of thousands of volunteer firefighters in Victoria who were being subjected to a Daniel Andrews-style hostile takeover by the United Firefighters Union. So I have a very good working relationship with One Nation and I will continue to have that working relationship.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: That deal though was a huge distraction for Colin Barnett throughout the campaign, especially in the final week of the campaign. Do you believe that it should be kept open to strike a similar deal at a federal level, despite the WA experience?

MINISTER CASH: Well you should never rule anything out, because politics changes very rapidly. You should never rule anything out; I think that would be quite naïve to respond to left wing political pressure to rule something out.

[End of excerpt]

ASHLEIGH GILLON: I did continue to ask the Minister for her thoughts on other aspects of the WA election. If you, like me as a West Australian, are interested in the wash-up of that result and where to now on some key issues – like the GST and the Perth Freight Link funding – this evening you will be able to watch more of that interview, canvassing some of those topics, on the Sky News website.

[ENDS]

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