Sky News Live - Richo: Senate reform, ABCC, penalty rates

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

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: On to tonight’s business, and tonight’s business concerns the Minister for Employment, Michaelia Cash – I think one of the coming stars of the Liberal Party. There’s no doubt about this woman, she’s good. I spoke to her just a little while ago. Have a look at this.


GRAHAM RICHARDSON: I wrote a column this week which you may or may not have read, but in it I said that Malcolm Turnbull, unless he’s stupid, by bringing in this changes to the Senate voting system in legislation he’s alienated the crossbench completely, even blokes like David Leyonhjelm who will normally vote with the Liberals, and so whatever you put up in the Senate, most of it, almost all of it’s going to go under over the next couple of months. Why do that unless you’re having a 2 July election? Obviously that’s what you’re lining up for.

MINISTER CASH: I’m going to disagree with you there. But what I will say is this: as you know, post the last Senate election the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, they undertook an investigation into the Senate voting system. They made a number of unanimous recommendations – so both Liberal and Labor came together and agreed. We’ve been considering those recommendations for some time. We have now come to a position, the Australian Greens have agreed with that position, and we’re now proceeding with the legislation.

But Graham, this is all about giving power back to the voter so that the voter is able to determine where their preference goes, because as you know at the moment, put a one in the box above the line and you really don’t know where your vote is going to end up. But under the system that I hope is going to be implemented, the voter is in charge and the voter dictates where their vote is going to go.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Yeah, the practical result of that is, of course, because you come out in most states – and let’s separate South Australia because it is different in many respects – you come out with 2.7 quotas, the Greens come out with 0.7-0.8 of a quota. The reality is you can’t get past when you’ve got the system that you’re introducing. When it’s optional preferential you can’t get past- you know, you must stay in front, you must win, therefore you guaranteed yourself three in every state. If I were you I’d be saying it’s a pretty good thing too.

MINISTER CASH:  Do you know Graham, given you’ve been to this place obviously, you spent a lot of time here as a Member, you would know there are no guarantees in politics, so I’m going to disagree with you there. At the end of the day, if we perform well, if we take good policies to the election, I hope that the Australian people won’t just give us an overwhelming mandate in the House of Representatives as they did last time, they will ensure that we also get a workable Senate. But again, the whole point of this reform is to give the power back to the voter. They determine where their preference is going to go, I can’t see how that’s a bad thing.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: No look, I’m not even sure- I think it does advantage the Greens and it does advantage the Liberal Party, it disadvantages Labor in that sense. As an old Labor guy I don’t like it, but at least one thing’s for sure, you won’t get any people getting elected on 500 votes, and that’s a start. But the other part of what I was saying in the column, of course, was that you’d be right up front in a double dissolution election, because no doubt the real trigger – I know you’ve already got one, but it’s a meaningless one – the real trigger would be on industrial relations, and that would put you right up front.

Now, I wanted to ask you about industrial relations. First off, if indeed the CFMEU are as bad as you think they are – Bob Hawke, when he saw the BLF, went after them – why don’t you go after the CFMEU?

MINISTER CASH:  Because it’s very much not all of the CFMEU, it’s the construction division of the CFMEU, and as you know that is just a part of the CFMEU. I’m also going to disagree with you in terms of if the CFEMU are as bad as you say, Graham, my opinion is formed on the basis of the evidence, the evidence from the Heydon Royal Commission …

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Yeah, okay, hang on. Wait a minute, I’m with you. I’ve written and said, I don’t know how many times, there are too many thugs, too many criminal underclass. I put it in the column this week, so I’m not arguing with you, right? Let’s just assume they are bad news. What I’m saying is why don’t you as a government do something about it?

MINISTER CASH: And we are, and that is restoring the Building and Construction Commission, a regulator that actually has some teeth. Because I think it’s very obvious to all Australians that once the ABCC was abolished by the former Labor Government- and whilst the ABCC was in operation, let’s face it, the temperature in the industry, it went right down. It was literally business as usual – that’s a good thing. The minute the ABCC was abolished, what we saw was days lost due to industrial disputes. They actually jumped from two times the all industries average to four times the all industries average. If you look at the number of CFMEU officials that are currently before the courts, I think there’s around 81 of them; you look at the imposition of fines from the courts from the CFMEU for breaching industrial law.

So you don’t just go after one person, you go after the system that is allowing this type of behaviour to occur, and in this case the regulator that is currently there just does not have the teeth and is not capable of ensuring that the laws are upheld. So all we’re doing is saying we need a regulator, a few stronger powers, increased penalties, and we need to restore law and order. So we’re not just going after the CFMEU because that was never what this was about. This was about restoring law and order to the number three employer of Australians within Australia, and making this sector as productive as possible.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Well I think it was about a bit more than that. Well you and I might disagree, I think it was definitely when it began an attempt to get at Julia Gillard, an attempt to get at Bill Shorten, I think they were big parts of what you were doing. But nonetheless that’s all past now, I mean the findings are out and we’re all stuck with them…


GRAHAM RICHARDSON: But I wanted to ask you though, when it comes to a campaign if you don’t go after them yourselves, if you’re not after it, why not then have a look at them even getting stronger? Now you’ve got an amalgamation with the MUA, a very tough union. I mean you’re going- they’re trying to make themselves impregnable, what are you going to do about that?

MINISTER CASH:  They are and I think that is- quite frankly that proposed merger – and I’ve put this on the record, should worry all Australians. Because instead of actively, you know, condoning- sorry, instead of actively condemning the findings of the Heydon Royal Commission, instead of actively condemning the fact that they have 81 CFMEU officials currently before the courts, instead of actively condemning the actions of the MUA in holding say the MV Portland hostage for weeks and weeks and weeks, the two unions have decided we’re not powerful enough, we’ll actually just supersize. I think that should send fear down Australians’ spines in particular given these are the two most militant unions in Australia. And if they do merge they may well have the possibility to lock Australia up, and Graham, when you’re talking about long-term visions for job creation, for growth, for productivity, to think that Australians may have to pay a very, very high price for what is termed industrial peace, that’s just not on.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: No look I can understand your feelings on it but if all that’s true, again, why not do something about it? It just seems to me that you’re barracking from the sidelines and you’re using any- you’re probably going to use it very well, but that doesn’t change anything. How do you bring about change?

MINISTER CASH:  No it doesn’t. Okay, so in the first instance Australian Building and Construction Commission, we are committed to the restoration of the ABCC, let’s clean up the building and construction industry which you and I agree is in need of cleaning up. Then we look at the outcome of the Heydon Royal Commission in relation to union corruption and transparency within registered organisations. We have seriously considered all of the recommendations flowing on from the Heydon Royal Commission. As you know we already had a bill to implement a stand alone regulator, the Registered Organisations Commission, knocked back by the Senate three times. Following on from Heydon though it has become patently obvious I think to anybody who’s had a look at the Heydon Royal Commission document, what we had originally proposed was not strong enough, so we will be bringing forward a package of legislation to increase transparency within registered organisations. And Graham I need to be clear here, we’re not just going after unions, we are going after the system that allows unions and some employers to get together and do deals that are to the detriment of the employee. That is not on, and we will clean that up. But Graham we can only clean it up if we can get it through the Senate and to date, haven’t been able to do that.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Okay look, I- briefly because we haven’t got long to go, but I need to cover this. John Howard brought in WorkChoices, he made a big mistake which I heard him acknowledge this morning on Alan Jones’ radio show when he abolished the no-disadvantage test, and even though he tried to bring in some legislation to fix that later as he said, the game was lost when he did that – that was a mistake.

Ever since, it seems to me the Liberal Party have run away from industrial law reform. Now I’m not one of those who believes in the abolition, the total abolition of penalty rates, I don’t believe it. I do think that people who are working longer hours and working on weekends et cetera are entitled to some extras. But it’s the amount of extras that should be being discussed not whether or not there should be some extras. Now, just to use the example of my local bakery that I go to and buy the bread and everything for the family, the woman who runs that, she and her partner have to do the work on Sundays. Now they have to come in Sundays on their own, they can’t make a profit if they have to bring in staff. Now I know that it’s dead, buried and cremated and all the rest of it as Tony Abbott was want to say, but do you say to a woman like that?

MINISTER CASH:  I say this Government wants you to be as productive as you can be. We commissioned from the Productivity Commission a review of Australia’s workplace relation system. As you know I received the outcome of that review late last year, I released it to the Australian public. I have been conducting stakeholder consultations and we will be taking a policy to the election. But Graham the prism in which I am going to approach any changes based on the Productivity Commission recommendations is this. How does it remove a disincentive to employment? How does what we may or may not do ensure that Australia is able to grow and be more productive? And how does it ultimately contribute to job creation? Because I think when you look at changes like that, whilst at all times ensuring we have a strong safety net, I think that’s when you can make some very positive changes.

Can I just say on penalty rates because every time I mention penalty rates Brendan O’Connor issues a press release saying; the Liberal Party are going to abolish penalty rates. I’m going to make it again very, very clear. The Productivity recommendation was to the Fair Work Commission. Why? Because the Australian Government has no role to play in the setting of the minimum wage or penalty rates and we are not going to change it. What people do forget is this though. The Fair Work Commission is currently undertaking a review of penalty rates. Guess who instructed the Fair Work Commission to undertake that review? That was Bill Shorten himself when he was the Industrial Relations Minister. The Fair Work Commission have already made a small change or a change to Sunday penalty rates – 175 per cent down to 150 per cent. Again, directly as a result of Bill Shorten’s intervention. So if anybody has a history in relation to penalty rates, it’s Bill Shorten and I don’t have to tell you about the Cleanevent example. But I just want to make it clear. You know people say penalty rates and government, this Government is not going to touch penalty rates. It is for the Fair Work Commission to look at penalty rates and they are doing it at the moment and they will bring down a decision later on this year as to whether or not there should be one penalty rate for weekends…

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Look, I have to leave it there but…

MINISTER CASH:  …in certain industries. In certain industries.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Okay, I have to leave it there, but I might say people would be disappointed to somewhat in that last part of the answer because I don’t think they want to wait for the Fair Work Commission to make up [indistinct] things. You’re elected to run the show. You’re the Government. I think people would like to see the Government and understand what their views on this are. I’d love to know what submission you’re going to make. By the way the other thing is it sounded to me like when it comes to this all options are on the table and that is a phrase I don’t think the Government’s done too well with over the last four or five months.

Michaelia Cash, thank you very much for your time.

MINISTER CASH:  Great to be with you. Thanks for having me on the show.

[Excerpt ends]

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: You’ve got to say Malcolm Turnbull did make a couple of very good decisions when he first got the job, his reshuffle. Remember who occupied that position before her? Eric Abetz. Can you imagine Eric Abetz doing that interview? Can you imagine Eric Abetz being asked to do that interview? No way, just hopeless. This woman though, she’s worth powder and shot.

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