SUBJECT/S: Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal abolition, TWU, ABCC, Queensland Nickel, Clive Palmer.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The Government will move to immediately abolish the independent tribunal that sets minimum pay rates for the trucking industry when Parliament resumes next week for a special sitting.
The announcement comes three days after the Coalition revealed it would seek a mandate from voters to abolish the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal after the election.
The move sets the scene for a busy return to Parliament next week as the Government also looks to push its Australian Building and Construction Commission bill through the Senate again.
For more on this, I'm joined live in our Perth studio by the Employment Minister, Michaelia Cash.
Senator Cash, good morning.
MINISTER CASH: Good morning Michael.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: So just three days ago we were being told the Coalition would be seeking a mandate from voters to abolish the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal.
Now you're seeking to abolish it as soon as possible, what's changed?
MINISTER CASH: We are Michael. Our position has always been that we want to see this tribunal abolished given in particular the devastating impact this order is now having on the mum and dad truck drivers of Australia.
We have now been overwhelmed. Thousands upon thousands of calls and emails are coming through to our electorate offices all over Australia with the mum and dad truck drivers begging us to save their businesses.
Michael, I was in Sydney last week with the Prime Minister. We met with a number of truck drivers. One family had been in business for 70 years, they are now looking at closing. I met with another truck driver. He had his very young son, on the back of his t-shirt, co-driver. The bad news for that young son was the very next day the father was making his final drop off because he has no work.
This is now a test of leadership for Bill Shorten. You can stand with the TWU (Transport Workers' Union) and honour the dirty deal you did back under the Gillard government or do the right thing by the mums and dads of Australia.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Okay. We've heard this argument before. The TWU, of course, says it's about it's a safety issue as much as anything else.
MINISTER CASH: And the TWU know that is not true. You've seen Michael Wong, yet another whistleblower from the TWU come out and openly say with the Australian people, it was all about bolstering the finance and the numbers of the TWU. It had nothing to do with safety and the TWU does not stand for owner drivers.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: So why is it...?
MINISTER CASH: Because as you know, owner drivers are not members of the union. They are people who are actively saying no to membership of the union. They're just mum and dads. Mum and dads who've mortgaged their home to buy that big one truck and that is now been taken from them.
And Michael, we're not going to stand for that.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Okay, you also said you didn't have the votes in the Senate to introduce the bill.
MINISTER CASH: Michael, we still don't have the votes.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Do you have the votes now?
MINISTER CASH: We still don't have the votes in the Senate for abolition. We do have the votes for delay and that is why we'll be bringing both pieces of legislation forward but this is now a test of leadership for Bill Shorten. He knows now he did the wrong thing in setting up this tribunal.
Look at the calls that come through to talkback radio. As I said, we have got thousands of people across the country now begging us to save their businesses, to save their livelihoods. We have trucks being repossessed. We have mortgages that may now go unpaid.
We are at crisis point and the Government is going to bring the legislation into the Parliament. And I can tell you when those green bells and those red bells ring, all Australians should be watching exactly which side of the chamber people vote on. Let's abolish this tribunal.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Okay, well let's see, let's see where that goes. You're also trying to push through the Australian Building and Construction Commission legislation through the Senate for a second time. It's going to be pretty busy next week, isn't it?
MINISTER CASH: First off we'll deal with the Australian Building and Construction Commission legislation. Then obviously if that was successful we'd move to registered organisations. If it is not then obviously we don't proceed with registered organisations and then we'll go straight into dealing with the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal.
So yes, it will be a busy week but in saying that, these are fundamentally important pieces of legislation. The ABCC, let's restore law and order to the building and construction industry within Australia, registered organisations, no more dodgy deals between employers and unions. And in relation to the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, let's stand up for the mum and dads of Australia who are now being put out of business because of this deal that Bill Shorten did. It's time now for Bill Shorten to stand up for the mums and dads of Australia and vote with the Coalition to save their jobs.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Okay, on the ABCC bill, has the equation changed? Do you still expect it to be defeated?
MINISTER CASH: At this point in time, I'm still in negotiations with the crossbench but as you know in politics Michael, absolutely anything can happen.
I am meeting with one of the crossbench today. I continue my discussions but certainly from a number of public statements that have been made by some crossbenchers, there at least three at the moment who do not appear to be supporting the legislation. I will continue to work with them though. I've always said I want to see this legislation pass because it is good policy.
A day is a long time in politics and we have a good week, two weeks, three weeks to go before we take a vote on this so I will continue to negotiate with the crossbench in good faith because this is good policy. It is good legislation and we need to clean up the building and construction sector in Australia.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Okay, you also clearly still want to use it as a double dissolution trigger if you can. How hard have you actually been working at getting it through? Because some of the crossbenchers say they haven't heard from you.
MINISTER CASH: I have either left messages for or corresponded by email with all of the crossbenchers. I speak with Senator Day regularly. There are some crossbenches, one in particular who has not spoken to me, that is Jacqui Lambie. I have left a message for her. I have texted her. I met with Jacqui though several weeks ago and I went through in detail the legislation with her the last time the Parliament was sitting. She is very much of the belief that we need a federal ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption). That is her position. We obviously do not agree with that position. This is not a federal ICAC. This is a building regulator.
But certainly, I have done everything in my power to correspond with the crossbench. If they or a particular crossbencher chooses not to negotiate with me, that is fine. That is their decision at the end of the day.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Okay.
MINISTER CASH: If the legislation goes through, that's a good thing but you're right, if it doesn't go through despite our best efforts, then we go to a double dissolution election on July 2.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Alright, now elsewhere in your portfolio you've also received the creditors report into Queensland Nickel, Clive Palmer's company.
Will the Government be paying out these workers under what's known as the fair entitlements guarantee? And how much can they expect?
MINISTER CASH: You are right. We have now received the creditors report. Obviously, this is very distressing for the employees of Queensland Nickel. We are now looking at the creditors report. It is the first comprehensive report the Government has now received. We are looking at it comprehensively because as you know, there is a process that needs to be gone through by Government before we can release the fair entitlements guarantee funds. We are carefully considering that position at the moment and an announcement will be made in due course.
But again, the Australian people...
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Soon? Well obviously a lot of these people are struggling with some financial difficulty.
MINISTER CASH: No, they are. But the Australian people need to remember, you know, this is Clive Palmer's problem. Clive is responsible for this. Clive is morally obliged, quite frankly to pay over the entitlements to these workers. I think it is a disgrace that Clive Palmer may well get off the hook. If the Government does exercise its discretion and release the funds, currently the outstanding entitlements are estimated to be approximately $73 million. Seventy-three million dollars of tax payers' money will be potentially released. As I said, there is a process; we're now in that process. We have the first comprehensive report. We are considering it in detail but we will be making an announcement in due course.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Okay Michaelia Cash, we'll leave it there. Thanks very much for joining us.
MINISTER CASH: Great to be with you. Thanks for having me on the show.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: And that is the Employment Minister, Senator Michaelia Cash.