Sky News, PVO NewsDay
- Minister for Employment
- Minister for Women
- Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service
- Senator for Western Australia
SUBJECT/S: Corrupting Benefits Bill, penalty rates
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Welcome back to the program, thanks for your company. Joining me now live out of Canberra is the Employment Minister, Senator Michaelia Cash. Thanks for your company.
MINISTER CASH: Great to be with you Peter, long time no hello, too.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: I know. I’m sure you’ve been avoiding me, it’s deeply personal.
MINISTER CASH: No, I would never avoid you.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Alright, let’s move into what you were talking with the Prime Minister about this morning. I saw that media conference here on Sky News, some of our viewers may not have. Take us through the details of this announcement.
MINISTER CASH: Okay, so this is all about we’re introducing legislation to ban secret payments between employers and unions. Successive royal commissions now, dating back over 30 years, have acknowledged a practice of employers giving over a benefit to a union in response for something. So what we are saying is that is completely, totally, and utterly unacceptable. The Heydon Royal Commission found that the laws in this regard were not sufficient and the recommendation was to ban the secret payments, and that is what we are now doing.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Surely this is something that you would expect to get through the Senate at least via negotiation even if Labor blocked it? It sounds like a no-brainer to me.
MINISTER CASH: It’s a really interesting point that you make, because I totally agree with you. What the legislation seeks to do is ban a secret payment, so an employer- a secret payment to a union with the intent to corrupt the union. That is something that I think most people would say why is that not already banned? Why does the law actually allow it? And in relation to legitimate payments – because, Peter, we acknowledge legitimate payments between an employer and a union can be made – in relation to the legitimate payments, all we are saying is in the course of negotiating an enterprise agreement these legitimate payments must be disclosed to the relevant employees, so that when they are voting on the enterprise agreement they have full knowledge of what has been paid over by the employer to the union. It’s as simple as that.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: What is the counter-argument to that? Why has that not been the case to date? I mean, all it is about is transparency. We have that kind of transparency around other things, why not in relation to these deals being done during EBAs?
MINISTER CASH: Look, I completely agree with you. As I said, Commissioner Heydon found that there was a gap in the law; he’s made recommendations to fill that gap. Many people are surprised by the gap. We made an election commitment last year that we would accept the recommendations flowing from the Heydon Royal Commission, and on Wednesday the Prime Minister will introduce into the House of Representatives the bill to ban secret payments and to require disclosure of legitimate payments. I mean, I would hope that Bill Shorten, if he truly wants to stand by his statements that he believes in the worker, he would just wave this through and say this is in the national interest, it is in the interests of fairness, honesty and transparency. And basically, we could hoik this past, I would hope, next week, but that’s up to Labor. They need to make that call.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Can we assume now, looking at the Government on this issue, coupled with the stories splashed across the front page of the Daily Telegraph in relation to, as the headline says, “PM Exposes Hypocrisy of Dodgy Union Wage Deals”, can we assume that the Government is now going to really muscle up on this penalty rates debate? There have been criticisms that you’ve been trying to leave it to the Fair Work Commission and its independent decision-making. Can we assume that this is going to be something that the Government’s getting in behind a bit harder perhaps than it has to date?
MINISTER CASH: Well Peter, I think in the first instance it is a decision of the independent Fair Work Commission and so anybody who says the decision of the Government – and Bill Shorten is very good at saying that; he likes to mislead the Australian people – it’s not a decision of the Government, it is a decision of the independent Fair Work Commission. But what the decision acknowledges is this: big businesses and big unions – backed by Bill Shorten – they are allowed to do deals which trade away penalty rates. That’s okay for them, but when it comes to small businesses – the majority of businesses in Australia, the backbone of our economy – they’re not able to do those deals.
It is an un-level playing field for small business versus big business and big unions, and as the Prime Minister has articulated, we will back small business every step of the way. And the question I have for Bill Shorten is why is it okay for big business and big unions to trade away penalty rates, that’s alright, but when an independent commission, based on years of evidence, thousands of submissions, finds that there is an un-even playing field and says we’ve got to give small business a break to create more employment opportunities, Bill Shorten throws a tantrum and says I don’t support that decision? That is hypocrisy absolutely at its greatest.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Do you want to see, though, the Fair Work Commission decision on penalty rates come in over time, or is the Government planning to make this submission that it is now in a position to …
MINISTER CASH: Yeah, no we are. So basically …
PETER VAN ONSELEN: And when you do, what’s the aim here? What is the aim?
MINISTER CASH: So in chapter 11 of the Fair Work Commission’s decision they talk about the transitional arrangements, and this is something that the Prime Minister and I have been
speaking about. So in terms of the next phase of the decision, the Commission itself has acknowledged that the affected workers – the number is obviously a lot less than what Labor would have you believe, and some of them only work one Sunday – but they will feel some hardship.
So the Commission has asked for submissions across the board – employer organisations, employee organisations, et cetera, small business – as to how you would now phase in the penalty rates decision to mitigate hardship. The Commission has also specifically requested that the Government provide a submission in relation to whether or not a take-home pay order – so that’s basically freezing someone’s pay where it is – is available. So we are going to provide a submission in relation to that request, and we will also look at the other transitional arrangements that are available. But ultimately, again it’s for the Commission, based on all of the evidence that it gets, to implement the most appropriate transitional arrangement to mitigate hardship.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Can I ask you about - out of South Australia, you would’ve seen these reports. They were back in 2015, but there was like a nine month negotiation between the shoppies and Business South Australia about, I think, halving Sunday penalty rates – abolishing them even; I think it might have been on Saturday – and they weren’t taken up by small business. What is that all about? Why not? Because we do hear a lot – it’s in today’s Telegraph piece – about small businesses in terms of fast food businesses complaining about the ability of bigger businesses to trade away penalty rates, but in this South Australian example at least Business South Australia didn’t want to do it after nine months of negotiation. What’s the reason behind that?
MINISTER CASH: Well you’d need to ask Business South Australia what the reason was. But Peter, in terms of small business, small businesses often don’t have the time or the resources to actually fight for these things. They don’t have that opportunity to enter into an enterprise agreement. That’s what big business and big unions do. Small businesses, most of the time they’re mum and dads who are working their backsides off to pay the bills, to be good taxpaying citizens, and to employ more Australians. And that’s why when you look at the decision of the independent Fair Work Commission it very much does acknowledge that small business needs a break.
Small business needs to be able to compete on a level playing field with big business and big unions, and that’s why, as the Prime Minister has said, we’re going to back small business every step of the way. If Bill Shorten wants to continue to stand up for big unions and big business, as he has done consistently whilst we’ve been in government- look at the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, he stood with the TWU and big business against mum and dad truck drivers. The CFA, he stood with Peter Marshall and the UFU against tens of thousands of Victorian volunteers. In relation to the Building and Construction Commission, he stood for the CFMEU and big business and he failed to stand up for the small and medium players. They don’t have the opportunity to do these deals.
So we’re going to back small business every step of the way, and in doing so level out that playing field so they also can have a fair go, because isn’t that what we Australians ultimately believe in, a fair go? Well, let’s give small business a fair go. Let’s give them the opportunity to employ more Australians, because they are the biggest employer in our country and we should back the biggest employer in our country.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: One final question, Minister, before I let you go. It’s a niche issue from the Rear Window column of Joe Aston, but you are the Employment Minister, industrial relations and the rest of it. You must’ve seen this thing about this Alex Malley fellow, who is the CEO of CPA Australia. You see his billboards in almost every airport that you go into; he’s got a book, The Naked CEO or something like that …
MINISTER CASH: Yeah, I’ve heard of the book, yes.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: … he’s got a television show, I think, on Channel 9. Now, all of this is paid for, as I understand it, by CPA Australia. He’s on remuneration which is very large, according to the Joe Aston Rear Window story. They’re holding their AGM over in Singapore; apparently there’s some internal disquiet about all of this. What do you think about this? Is that appropriate conduct do you think for the head of an organisation representing accountants and so forth?
MINISTER CASH: Look at the stance that we’ve taken consistently in relation to, for example, registered organisations. Registered organisations, whether they’re employer organisations or employee organisations, companies and company directors, you must always act in the best interests of your members, and if you don’t you deserve to face the full force of the law. Again, that’s why …
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Can I jump in though? Because my question really is do you think, is it your opinion, that him or CPA Australia paying for him to do this interview program – which is great for him, I guess – do you think that’s in the best interests of the members of CPA Australia?
MINISTER CASH: Well again, look, I’m not aware of the exact details so I’m not going to comment on it, this specific case. But in terms of the broader principle, whether you’re an employee organisation, an employer organisation, you should always act in the best interest of your members. That is what you are there to do: honesty, fairness and transparency. And the changes to the law that we are introducing on Wednesday in relation to, for example, secret payments, they are to demand transparency in the workplace. Honesty and fairness – that is the basic principle and we should all abide by that basic principle.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Michaelia Cash, appreciate your time. Thanks for joining me on NewsDay.
MINISTER CASH: Great to be with you. Thanks for having me.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Cheers.