SUBJECT/S: ABCC legislation, 2016 Budget
INTERVIEWER: Senator Michaelia Cash, Federal Minister for Employment joins me in the studio. Thanks for your time.
MINISTER CASH: Great to be with you.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, what can you tell us about unemployment in the West, we had a little bit of a hit in the last unemployment figures, up 0.1 I think it was to 6 per cent. Where’s it going to go? Because I’ve got a feeling that it could get worse.
MINISTER CASH: I think the thing we need to remember about Western Australia in particular, is the country itself is going through a transition. We’re going from that mining and resources based economy to a more services based economy. Western Australians in particular feel it, because we were the mining and resources based economy. So I don’t think there’s any real surprise that there have been a number of jobs that have been lost in the mining industry. I think what we need to focus on is the transition, and the fact that there are fantastic opportunities for Western Australians now going forward in those growth sectors. Those sectors being: retail, hospitality, aged and health care etc. So I don’t so much focus on where we’re losing the jobs. What I do as a Federal politician is focus on where the opportunities are, and how we can capitalise on them.
INTERVIEWER: How can you do that, working with the State Government?
MINISTER CASH: Well very much from a Federal perspective, what’s the framework that we can put in place to ensure that, as we’re transitioning to the new economy, job opportunities arise? One of those things is Free Trade Agreements. You look at China. When China was going through that industrial development phase, we were lucky in Western Australia, because we could provide China with the raw materials it needed. China is now itself transitioning, into very much a consumerism phase, so we need to ensure that we are going out there and getting as much of that purchasing power that the middle class of China now have. How do you do that? You do it through Free Trade Agreements, and that’s why from a Federal Government perspective, it is just so important that we did sign the three Free Trade Agreements that we’ve already signed up to, and I note the Prime Minister today has said, finalising the Free Trade Agreement with India is now also a priority for us. So Federal Government what can we do policy wise, and Free Trade Agreements are an important part of the process.
INTERVIEWER: What about WA and India in terms of trade, because there was some criticism around the Premier the other day that he’s only made one visit to India, do we need to step that up?
MINISTER CASH: Well certainly, I think this is a Premier that has very much been focused on trade opportunities, and in particular within the Asian region. Is there more that we can do with India? Of course there is. And that’s why from a Federal Government’s perspective, we are so focused now on finalising the trade deal with India.
But certainly, from Colin Barnett’s perspective, I think he understands opportunities, in particular given his role under the former Court Government, I think that stands him in a really, really great space as Premier of our great state to understand the opportunities that he needs to unlock.
INTERVIEWER: Right, well obviously he’s got some pressures on at the moment. Now, around federally of course, everyone’s talking about double dissolution. Is that all you’re talking about in Cabinet at the moment – double dissolution, double dissolution, and going to the polls?
MINISTER CASH: Amazingly, I’m going to disappoint you and say that it’s not. It’s not the only thing we’re talking about, and certainly from my perspective as you know, the Senate has been recalled for three weeks to consider in detail the legislation to restore the building watchdog and to tighten up you know, governance of the registered organisations.
INTERVIEWER: You’re a betting minister, what would you suggest the odds would be on Senate given they’ve just been roughed up over changes to the Senate voting. What are the chances that they are going to go along with the ABCC?
MINISTER CASH: Well, as the Employment Minister and as the Minister responsible for the negotiations with the crossbenchers, I have openly said I will negotiate in good faith. To date, I think a number of the crossbenchers have said they are not interested in negotiating. Others have presented me with amendments that fundamentally change the nature of legislation and are clearly not acceptable. So if that’s the path we go down, we know where we’re heading. What I would say to Bill Shorten though is, you can stop a double dissolution going ahead. You can actually stand up for the construction industry, stop the bullying, stop the intimidation, stop the thuggery. Support the restoration of the watchdog. Stand up for the construction industry which as we know – do you know it employs one in ten Australians? It directly hits our hip pockets.
INTERVIEWER: And the union control a huge amount of it so…
MINISTER CASH: They do, and it is a problem because people say to me, Michaelia, why is the ABCC so important to Australians generally? Well, one in ten Australians, they have their jobs because of the construction industry. But also, when you do have a union-controlled industry that has the ability to put pressure on the tier ones and lock out the small guy from deals, what you see is an inflation of costs. What does that mean for the average taxpayer? Well it means that you as a taxpayer are paying higher costs for public infrastructure. Or alternatively if you’re not paying higher costs you’re just not getting as many buildings built. So less schools, less hospitals, and less roads. So, for me, it’s all about unlocking the stranglehold on the sector. And in particular saying to those small subcontractors you deserve a go in this industry – and the Turnbull government – we’re going to give you that go.
INTERVIEWER: Alright, you think you’ve picked the right fight thought with the ABCC legislation, trying to get that up. That’s the right one to go for?
MINISTER CASH: I do.
INTERVIEWER: It could end up as a double dissolution.
MINISTER CASH: Absolutely. Because the building and construction industry is just integral to our productivity going forward. It goes to our international reputation. We want investment from overseas, but when people look at investing in Australia and they look at the nature of our construction industry: the bullying, the thuggery, the intimidation, it’s really easy to say ‘no, we’ll go elsewhere.’
So from my perspective, we need to make sure we lower the costs of infrastructure and we open the sector up to competition. But in particular, for the tier twos – the little guys who might have one dozer, they might have one cement pourer. Why are they locked out of doing work on government-funded projects? The reason is because the CFMEU stitches up the tier one and doesn’t let anybody else in. Quite frankly I’m sick of it and I think Australians are sick of it.
INTERVIEWER: Alright, what about the Budget? We obviously know it’s going to happen earlier than planned.
MINISTER CASH: Third of May.
INTERVIEWER: We can state that now as a fact. Scott Morrison – there’s questions about what he knew, he’s the Treasurer. Surely he knew that this was going to happen.
MINISTER CASH: Look, conversations have been obviously occurring in Cabinet for some time about varying options going forward so I can assure you that Scott Morrison as the Treasurer was well aware, well aware, that the third of May was an option.
I look at the relationship between Scott and the Prime Minister. They’ve known each other for decades now. They have a very good relationship.
INTERVIEWER: Are they sick of each other they’ve known each other for so long?
MINISTER CASH: No, not at all. They have a really tough job ahead of them. Scott is doing a fantastic job in knuckling down now and getting the details of the Budget well and truly sorted out. Our Budget focus is very clear. We want to ensure lower taxes and lower spending. And it’s a clear contrast with what Bill Shorten has put on the table which is already, I think, it’s up to five taxes that he’s proposed, and higher spending. So the Prime Minister and Scott Morrison are on a unity ticket in terms of where we as a Government are going.
INTERVIEWER: What about tax cuts?
MINISTER CASH: Certainly, something that we would like to deliver but we’ve all got to wait til May the third to see whether or not that’s going to be possible. But that is something that as a Coalition Government – tax cuts are in our DNA.
INTERVIEWER: Last question then. It’s not helping though, is it, when you’ve got the former Prime Minister chipping in on the way that the Government’s heading into this election saying that it’s all on our record, his Government’s record. What do you make of it? Is Tony Abbott becoming a big problem now?
MINISTER CASH: At the end of the day, the wonderful thing about the Liberal Party and the National Party is we’re not afraid of opinion. Even if the opinion is coming from someone within their own side.
INTERVIEWER: You’re not going to tell me it’s a broad church?
MINISTER CASH: We are a broad church, well done, we’re also a broad church. But look, as a former Prime Minister, he is going to get more publicity than the average back bencher who may come out and say something. I think we’ve got broad enough shoulders to understand, you know, he’s entitled to an opinion. But he also said the other day from overseas, he will be backing the return of the Turnbull Government – we’re all on the same page there. And that’s what we’re all focused on.
INTERVIEWER: Excellent. And he said it all the way from London, well done. Thanks very much for coming in, I know we were a bit pushed for time but I do appreciate it. We’ll do it again soon.
MINISTER CASH: Looking forward to it. Thanks so much for having me.
INTERVIEWER: Federal Minister for Employment, Senator Michaelia Cash there.