SUBJECT/S: INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS REFORM
ROSS GREENWOOD: Let’s go from there back to those issues in regards to the anti-corruption laws that have passed our Parliament. Now, do bear in mind, the big one that came out, as I said, Michaelia Cash, very strong today and, shall I say, I reckon, backed up the Prime Minister, really pushed him out there. This is about Bill Shorten technically in jail or facing a sentence if the laws have been passed. Now, do remember this all around Cleanevent, that Bill Shorten – when he was at the AWU – did a deal with. So that’s the whole point. But do bear in mind – as we’ve always told you – this is not just about the unions, but it’s also about employers who do a deal as well. Goes to both sides of this.
Let’s now go to Michaelia Cash, the Minister for Employment, who is on the line. Many thanks for your time, Michaelia.
MINISTER CASH: It’s always good to be with you, Ross, and good afternoon to your listeners.
ROSS GREENWOOD: Alright. So, does this necessarily improve Australia’s economy, what you have done by passing these anti-corruption laws?
MINISTER CASH: Absolutely. But what it also does is ensure that Australian workers are put first in dealings between employers and unions. This is a significant industrial relations reform. Corrupt payments between employers and unions that are to the detriment of workers are now banned. They are illegal. It’s over.
ROSS GREENWOOD: Okay, so from that point of view now, if, say, for example, a person acts with an intent to corrupt either a union official or, you know, an organisation, a company does something similar to that, what sort of prison sentence could they face?
MINISTER CASH: Well look, this is very, very serious and you are right, we have now outlawed corrupt payments. So if a payment is made by someone with the intent of improperly influencing the registered organisation or the other person, they can now face up to ten years in jail. For an individual, you can face up to $1 million in a fine and for a company, up to $5 million. This is very, very serious. As far as this Government’s concerned, unless the payment is a legitimate payment and is being made for the sole interest of benefitting the workers, the payment should not be made.
ROSS GREENWOOD: Okay, so let’s say, for example, a union were to put on a training course for workers or if it were to put on safety courses or if it were to put on- would it be reasonable for an employer to pay the union to have their staff trained by the union, say for example, under those circumstances?
MINISTER CASH: So what we’ve done is we’ve basically banned any form of payment between an employer and a union, except if it’s a legitimate payment, and what we’ve done in the legislation is we have clearly set out what legitimate payments can be made between employers and unions, because obviously legitimate payments can be made. So for example, in relation to what you’ve said: yes, absolutely. An employer can pay a union for goods and services supplied at market value, and supplied in the ordinary course of the organisation’s business. But the key there is: at market value. So no inflating the cost, no adding a zero, again, no giving to someone else for an improper purpose what could have been given to the workers.
ROSS GREENWOOD: I notice that the Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen today said that the Prime Minister should basically apologise to Bill Shorten for the comments suggesting that he would be facing jail if he were acting as he did at the Australian Workers’ Union today.
MINISTER CASH: Well, Ross, that’s actually true. The question put to the Prime Minister was: in the example given- so as you know, Cleanevent, the employer, paid $75,000 to the AWU in Victoria to maintain an enterprise agreement that paid the cleaning workers well below award rates, and stripped them of penalty rates. Is that now illegal under our legislation? Yes. If the employer was seeking to improperly influence the union and that could be proven, yes, absolutely. They could face- well, Bill Shorten, if it was him, would face up to 10 years’ jail. That is actually the legitimate answer to the question.
ROSS GREENWOOD: I listened to that. I thought you might have given the Prime Minister a little bit of a nudge to push him along to help him with that opinion as well, Michaelia.
MINISTER CASH: Can I tell you? The Prime Minister is been absolutely outstanding in terms of saying- as you know, the Heydon Royal Commission brought down its recommendations. What it found, in particular, in relation to the payments, you know, that were going between employers and unions designed to ensure companies got favourable treatment from unions, all to the detriment of workers. The Prime Minister has been very clear: stop the corruption, and that’s exactly what we did last night.
ROSS GREENWOOD: Okay. An important one right now, and that is Martin Ferguson, former Labor Party member, but also a former boss of the ACTU – the Australian Council of Trade Unions – is now calling on your government – in other words, this is right in your space – to enact a new round of workplace relations reform, especially in the resource industry, to push for employee rights to opt out of collective payments and all this type of thing. This is all part of the Fair Work Act and the Fair Work Commission. Would you- are you emboldened by those comments from Martin Ferguson?
MINISTER CASH: Look, I’ve got to say, Ross, it is absolutely refreshing when someone like Martin Ferguson, who has been an ACTU president, he is a former highly respected, highly respected Cabinet minister in a Labor government, and I think, you know, I’m very happy to say is a Labor luminary, and he comes out and wants to make a sensible and considered contribution to the industrial relations debate. I am more than happy to sit down and talk to him about what he puts forward. I have to say it is a far cry from the current generation of Labor and the union leaders, and perhaps some of them could actually learn from the constructive and considered contribution made by Martin Ferguson.
ROSS GREENWOOD: Always good to have you on the program. Michaelia Cash, she’s our Minister for Employment, and we appreciate your time.
MINISTER CASH: Fantastic to be with you. Talk soon. Good on you, Ross.