Release type: Transcript


Interview with Fran Kelly, Radio National


Senator the Hon Eric Abetz
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Minister for Employment
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service
Liberal Senator for Tasmania

Subjects: Royal Commission into Trade Union Corruption, Dyson Heydon, Fair Work Ombudsman.


FRAN KELLY: Senator Abetz thank you very much for joining us on Breakfast.

MINISTER ABETZ: Good Morning Fran.

FRAN KELLY: Minister, Labor is confident that it will have enough support from the cross-bench to pass the motion to have the Governor-General ask the Royal Commissioner to step down. Have you spoken to any of the cross-benchers asking them to vote against it? Do you have a sense of how this vote will go?

MINISTER ABETZ: Well what a disgraceful position Labor have got themselves into. Here they are wanting motions, calling on the Governor-General to sack people. I thought it was an article of faith of the Labor Party that the Governor-General should only act on the advice of his or her Minister’s.

Here we have a completely unprincipled Labor Party wanting to put through a motion in the Senate in circumstances when they know that if they’ve got a problem with Mr Heydon’s decision they have the right to go to the courts to appeal that decision. The fact that they’re going down that track and seeking to use the Senate as a stunt. Keeping in mind the clerk of the Senate has already acknowledged and indicated that any such motion if carried would be of no legal consequence, one really has to ask what is the would be first law officer of the country, Mark Dreyfus actually doing here? All he is doing is seeking to besmirch the best legal mind of his generation, Dyson Heydon with his commentary that you’ve just played and in the attacks in the Parliament. It is disgraceful, it is beyond belief that the Labor Party has become so unprincipled in their defence of corrupt union activity that they would go down this track and I trust that the independent senators will not fall for the stunt by Labor.

FRAN KELLY: So can I just ask you a little more about that notion that it is of no legal consequence. If the Australian Parliament does ask the Governor-General to intervene, that is of no consequence?

MINISTER ABETZ: Not the Parliament, not the Parliament.

FRAN KELLY: The Senate, sorry, just the Senate.

MINISTER ABETZ: Just the Senate. Yes and it is of no legal consequence because as everybody knows in the Westminster system other than with the reserve power the Governor-General acts on the advice of his or her minister’s and the Labor Party know that.
It has been an article of faith of the Labor Party now for over a generation, yet they are now claiming that somehow a motion in the Senate should require the Governor-General to dismiss the advice of his Ministers and move to dismiss the Royal Commissioner a disgraceful approach to the rule of law in this country. The Shadow-Attorney General knows that if there is a dispute about Mr Heydon’s impartiality, and might I say, his reasoning was about as robust as you could get, so robust in fact that no ACTU or union lawyer dared to show their face when he gave his reasoning’s yesterday. So if they want to, the proper course of action is to go to the courts, to argue the case, and the fact that they’re willing to subvert the Senate and its forms to do a stunt, I think that indicates that there is no real genuine reason and that the ACTU, the CFMEU and other submissions were without foundation.

FRAN KELLY: Most Australians won’t read Dyson Heydon’s 67-page judgement; the Unions say that the commission is terminally tainted, it doesn’t pass the pub test. We heard the Shadow-Attorney General there saying that Australians have entirely lost confidence in the Royal Commission. Do you concede that might be the case even if Dyson Heydon is on solid legal ground in dismissing the application to remove him, that generally the public may have made up their mind?

MINISTER ABETZ: Fran, I think the public have made up their mind, that the Royal Commission has discovered lack of governance and corruption in the trade union movement. They have seen Bill Shorten have to scurry to disclose a $75,000 lump of donations that he kept secret from the Australian people for eight years. They see their trade unions, to which they give generously out of their pay, using money for slush funds to help Bill Shorten in an internal battle in the Labor Party against Anthony Albanese.

If I were a trade union member, one of the few about 18% left in the trade union movement, I’d be scratching my head this morning saying, what on earth am I doing paying my union fees to fund highly payed lawyers to argue an unarguable case that got dismissed out of hand yesterday? What is this all about? It is the unions and corrupt Unions trying to look after themselves and regrettably the Labor Party is on the gravy train because they are the beneficiaries of some of these ill-gotten gains and funny money deals.

FRAN KELLY: The argument cuts the other way though in Labor’s book. I mean Labor says the tax-payer should be saying, “what on earth is my money being used by the Government”, $60 or $80 million, I’m not clear on the figure, to pay for this Royal Commission which is calling not just Unionists and employers. It called one former Labor Prime Minister for instance, a current Labor Leader in the case of Julia Gillard for events that occurred 20 years ago.

MINISTER ABETZ: Fran, these were calls made by Rob McClelland a former Labor Attorney-General, Ian Cambridge a former secretary of the AWU now Fair Work Commissioner wanted such a judicial inquiry. Steve Purvinas wanted such an inquiry and indeed your very own journalists from the ABC and Fairfax, dare I say, had an investigative undertaking which revealed so much corruption that we were of the view that rather than just simply having a judicial inquiry as we promised before the election, we decided upon a Royal Commission.

Let’s see what the Royal Commissioner has flushed out. Four people have already been arrested, the Upper-House Whip in Victoria forced to resign his position, Mr Shorten being forced to disclose $75,000 worth of donations for his own personal campaign that he kept hidden from the Australian people in circumstances where $40,000 worth of that was miss-described I’ll put it politely, miss-described as a research officer for a company, when in fact it was a campaign manager for Mr Shorten. No wonder the Labor Party is screaming and throwing mud hoping some of it will stick, because they know that they are defending the indefensible. They think that the best form of defence is attack, but when you’re dealing with somebody like Mr Heydon who is beyond reproach they will come off second best, because the Australian people and especially the long-suffering remaining trade union members in this country want a clean trade union movement, as was expressed by a former ACTU President, Martin Ferguson just the other night saying that this Royal Commission was not a political plaything, that it is needed to reform the union movement. That’s what we say and we agree with Martin Ferguson. 

FRAN KELLY: It’s 16 to eight and our guest is the federal Employment Minister, Eric Abetz. Minister can I ask you about another story within your portfolio? Last night’s Four Corners program exposed the systematic and illegal mass-underpayment of workers at 7/11 convenience stores across the country.
How could your industrial umpire, the Fair Work Ombudsman allow this to happen?

MINISTER ABETZ: Well first of all, let’s be reminded that this has all happened under Labor’s Fair Work Act and the Labor Party’s regime.

FRAN KELLY: It goes on now though. I’m wondering what your response to it is?

MINISTER ABETZ: Yes, but let’s set the scene. What we have had is in recent times, when I say recent times about 12 months or more back, the Fair Work Ombudsman has been undertaking raids on 7/11 stores, getting information together, recognising the vulnerability of a lot of these workers, that they need protection. Reports were made to the Fair Work Ombudsman. As a result these systematic raids were undertaken and many, many of the 7/11 stores were exposed as underpaying workers. Nobody condones that.

FRAN KELLY: But not head office. I’m wondering if you directed the Ombudsman in any way in relation to this matter and would you expect the Ombudsman to look at head office?

MINISTER ABETZ: Fran, the Fair Work Ombudsman is an independent statutory authority, I don’t go around directing the Ombudsman how to undertake her task. She does it professionally and as the Fair Work Ombudsman has indicated in a very detailed release they have undertaken raids and pursued this matter for well over 12 months. So the story last night, whilst it was very interesting it highlighted those matters which the Fair Work Ombudsman has dealt with or is dealing with as we speak.

FRAN KELLY: Including head office for 7/11?

MINISTER ABETZ: Well look that’s a very interesting proposition and the Fair Work Ombudsman is in discussions with head office, but when you’ve got a franchise arrangement ultimately it would seem that the franchisee may be responsible, but, if there is a franchise or acquiescence in this then of course every Australian would condemn it, because we believe that every Australian ought to be paid according to law, a just day’s work deserves a just days’ pay. I just don’t support any underpayment and that which has been revealed is being pursued vigorously by the Fair Work Ombudsman and her staff.

FRAN KELLY: Minister can I just ask you finally reports earlier this week that the Prime Minister was being urged to go to a double-dissolution election in March, retiring Fairfax Chairman Roger Corbett has publically backed the idea of a double-dissolution election to break the impasse in Parliament. Is it worth considering?

MINISTER ABETZ: Look a lot of people are going to spend a lot of their time and a lot of print in newspapers discussing these matters. We as a Government are getting on with the job, signing up Free-Trade Agreements that will see 9,000 new jobs per year for the next I don’t know how many years until the year 2035. We have seen the creation of 335,000 new jobs since coming to Government, four times the job creation rate then under the last year of the Labor Government. We are getting on with our plan for the agricultural sector, for the development of Northern Australia, rolling out of infrastructure. People can talk on the sidelines about early elections, double dissolutions, all manner of things. We are getting on with the business that the Australian people elected us to do and that is to fix the economy, grow the job opportunities for our fellow Australians and secure our national future.

FRAN KELLY: Senator Abetz thank you for joining us.

MINISTER ABETZ: Fran thank you.