RAY HADLEY: As I mentioned earlier, the Palmer United Party leader, Clive Palmer, has revoked his party’s ban on voting on legislation. He told them that the two of them may be abstaining. He spoke on Sky News this morning
REPORTER: Yesterday, there was a suggestion that you were going to block Government legislation because of the problems within the Government when it comes to leadership. What’s your position now, after the polling yesterday seems to have cooled things down within the Liberal Party?
CLIVE PALMER: Well, I think it was encouraging that the Cabinet didn’t throw the Prime Minister out yesterday, and there’s a party room this morning and there’s no spill motions on it, so we can assume the Prime Minister’s back in control running the thing. So, we’ll be looking at legislation on its merits in the Senate today, and, of course...
REPORTER: So you’ve revoked your total ban on votes for legislation?
CLIVE PALMER: [Indistinct] Look, major legislation such as education and the co-payment, and that, of course, we object and always have done.
CLIVE PALMER: And the Assistant Treasurer has this morning indicated that they’re not going to go ahead with the co-payment, so that’s a victory for Palmer United.
REPORTER: But just to clarify, the blanket ban on all Government legislation has been revoked?
CLIVE PALMER: It has been revoked, so we’re looking at things on their merit. And there’s a lot of bipartisan measures coming up in the Senate which we’d support, which is good for the country.
[End of excerpt].
RAY HADLEY: Well, as I’ve said before, it’s apparent to me that Mr Palmer doesn’t know his [censored] from his elbow. Because even before that was put in place, or the revocation was put in place, his two PUP senators went against the ban to vote down a Government measure yesterday. Now, I’ll check the timeline, the ban, or the notice to abstain from votes, was issued at 10.47am summer time. The legislation they had before the Senate yesterday would have established a Registered Organisations Commission, with increased penalties for misconduct, targeting the likes of Michael Williamson and Craig Thomson, who abused their union positions.
Senator Eric Abetz is the Employment Minister, and the Leader of the Government in the Senate. He joins me in our Canberra studio. Senator, good morning to you.
MINISTER ABETZ: Good morning, Ray.
RAY HADLEY: Well, you can help me with a timeline. That media release that I referred to earlier in the programme came out from the Palmer United Party at 10.47, saying they would abstain from voting. But you can confirm they did vote later in the day against the Government.
MINISTER ABETZ: Yes, regrettably, Palmer United Senators joined with Labor and the Greens to defeat the Registered Organisations Commission bill, which was designed to ensure that crook trade union leaders would no longer be given the free reign that they have been given in the past. This was legislation that was supported by a former Labor Attorney-General, two former ACTU presidents, a Fair Work Commissioner, and so the list goes on – non-controversial, in my view. We took it to the people at the last election, we introduced the legislation within the first week of the Abbott Government in the Parliament, and, regrettably, we saw this legislation defeated. Palmer United promised to abstain, they then voted against. I’m absolutely delighted that they will now consider legislation on its merits. And, as a result, we will reintroduce this legislation and give the Palmer United Party the opportunity to clean out corrupt trade union officials.
RAY HADLEY: But didn’t they vote against it yesterday? What would give you any heart that they will vote for it in the future?
MINISTER ABETZ: Well, I think there may have been misunderstanding within the Palmer United…
RAY HADLEY: [Laughs].
MINISTER ABETZ: …team.
RAY HADLEY: [Laughs] No, please, please, tell me that the two Senators had read the media release from their leader.
MINISTER ABETZ: Look, I’m not going to get into the internals of the Palmer United Party.
RAY HADLEY: [Laughs]. I think I can read between the line here – the lines here, I think, Senator. I think what you’re saying to me is that they didn’t get the media release, so they voted against it as part of their policy without really understanding the legislation anyway.
MINISTER ABETZ: Well, look, that’s your commentary. I need to work with these two gentlemen…
RAY HADLEY: [Laughs].
MINISTER ABETZ: …so I will leave the commentary to others and always give…
RAY HADLEY: Always the diplomat.
MINISTER ABETZ: …all the Senators the benefit of the doubt.
RAY HADLEY: Always the diplomat, Senator. Can you tell me how the other cross-benchers voted? Miss Kelly, rather, Miss Lambie voted against it, no doubt?
MINISTER ABETZ: Yeah, look, regrettably, Senator Lambie voted against it. I’m delighted that Senators Leyonhjelm, Day, and Xenophon saw the merit in the legislation and voted for it. And that gives me heart that common sense will prevail when we put this legislation before the Parliament again. Because, clearly, there is no moral or material difference between a company director ripping off shareholders or a trade union official ripping off trade union members. And, at the moment, if you are a company director doing that sort of thing, you face five years in jail or a $320,000 fine; if you’re a union official it’s the princely fine of $10,200. Clearly inadequate, and, indeed, a Federal Court judge has said as much in a judgement in recent times. And that is why I would invite the Senators to genuinely reconsider this legislation, dismiss all the rhetoric, and look at the actual legislation. And when you’ve got serious Senators like Xenophon, Day, and Leyonhjelm supporting the Government legislation, I think the public may get an understanding that this legislation has wide support, especially when you take into account the support of a former Labor Attorney-General, a Fair Work Commissioner and two former ACTU presidents.
RAY HADLEY: Just so our listeners get a full understanding, had the two Palmer United Party Senators abstained, as instructed to, would you have got the legislation through without their votes going with the Greens and the Opposition?
MINISTER ABETZ: Regrettably, we still wouldn’t have got the vote through.
RAY HADLEY: Okay.
MINISTER ABETZ: And that is where, Ray, Bill Shorten has absolutely failed the test of leadership on this. This was about cleaning up corrupt trade union officials, and when he had the chance he sided with the Williamsons and Thomsons of this world rather than the McClellands, the Creans, the Fergusons of this world. And that I think gives a window for the public to look through into the Labor Party leadership and see that Bill Shorten will be on the side of the Williamsons and Thomsons, rather than the former Labor leaders that see the good merit of this legislation.
RAY HADLEY: Was Senator Muir in the house yesterday?
MINISTER ABETZ: Senator Muir was in the house, and he, regrettably, voted against. And if I recall correctly, Senator Madigan was not in the house.
RAY HADLEY: Okay. All right then, thank you, Senator, we appreciate your time. When do you think you’ll take this back before the Senate?
MINISTER ABETZ: I think we’ll give it three months, and then put it back before the Senate and let them have sufficient time to consider the merits of what is very, very reasonable legislation if you want to stamp out corruption.
RAY HADLEY: Okay. Thanks for your time, as always.
MINISTER ABETZ: Thank you, Ray.
RAY HADLEY: Senator Eric Abetz, the Employment Minister and Leader of the Government in the Senate. So [laughs] I mean, you don’t have to be a Rhodes Scholar, and I’m certainly not that, to figure out what happened – 10.47 head office sent out the media release, but the forgot to tell the two Palmer United senators that they had to abstain, so they just toed the company line and Senators Wang and Lazarus voted it down, having not been told about the email issued by head office at 10.47 saying you can’t vote on anything in future, you’re going to abstain from it. Either that or they read it and disregarded it, which Clive wouldn’t be too happy about, and maybe that’s why he’s changed his mind this morning and said that we’ll vote for things on merit.