SUBJECT/S: GST, the Australian Building and Construction Commission, GST, Trade Union Royal Commission Report, Registered Organisations Bill.
JULIE DOYLE: Michaelia Cash, thanks for coming in.
MINISTER CASH: Absolute pleasure.
JULIE DOYLE: I want to talk about the Building and Construction Commission, but firstly, just your thoughts briefly on the New South Wales proposal on the GST that has come out today to support an increase to 15 per cent and for the Commonwealth to keep the around $30 billion that New South Wales says that would raise to compensate households and provide other forms of tax relief, as well as boost funding for health and education. What’s your reaction to that?
MINISTER CASH: My reaction to the details are: I’ll leave that to the Treasurer. But in relation to the broader picture of, isn’t it fantastic that we have State Premiers, whether they are Liberal Premiers or Labor Premiers, who are prepared to have a conversation about the make up of the taxation system in Australia going forward. A fundamentally different approach to the approach we are seeing by Bill Shorten and the Labor Party. We want to have, and we are having, a conversation with the Australian people about how the taxation system, going forward, is going to enable growth. The Australian people have made it clear. They want a taxation system that’s going to back them going forward, not a taxation system like the one that we currently have that’s holding them back. And as part of that, we’ve said everything’s on the table because it’s an holistic approach to taxation, not just one part.
JULIE DOYLE: None of these ideas that Mike Baird rates would be considered?
MINISTER CASH: Oh well again, I haven’t seen the detail of what Mike Baird’s raised, but certainly, I congratulate all of the State Premiers who are in good faith discussions with the Government, regarding how we can ensure that the taxation system going forward is one that drives growth, and incentivises the Australian people and doesn’t hold them back.
JULIE DOYLE: Looking at the Newspoll that’s come out today that asked people about the GST, and it showed around 54 per cent were opposed to an increase, but 37 per cent say they would support it. Does that show that there’s still a fair bit of work to do to convince the community to come on board if that’s the decision that you take.
MINISTER CASH: Look we have a lot of work to do in relation to our taxation policy. We are talking about wide-ranging reform going forward. We need to explain it clearly and carefully to the Australian people. But the point I would make is this—it’s not just about a rise in the GST. The Treasurer and the Prime Minister have made it very, very clear, the entire premise of our tax policy going forward is to ensure that it’s one that enables growth. If, and I say if, because no decisions have been made in relation to whether or not there will or won’t be a rise in the GST, but if there was one, that would only be part of the ultimate picture. You would then see cuts to individual taxes; something that Australians have been crying out for for a long time. Cuts to company tax, but you can’t just give those tax cuts if you’re not getting revenue from somewhere else. So again, this is about an holistic policy going forward and that’s the conversation we’re having.
JULIE DOYLE: Well let’s talk about your area and the Government’s plan to bring back the legislation to reinstate the Australian Building and Construction Commission. You’re going to make it one of the first items of business tomorrow when Parliament resumes. It’s already been defeated in the Senate once. What makes you think this time will be different?
MINISTER CASH: Well to be fair, a number of the crossbenchers who did not support the legislation last year, had said they were awaiting the outcome of the Heydon Royal Commission. We now have that outcome and the volumes are there for the people to see. The outcome of the Royal Commission endorses the Government’s position in relation to the Australian Building and Construction Commission. This is a unique industry in Australia. The Cole Royal Commission found that; the Heydon Royal Commission has confirmed the findings of the Cole Royal Commission. This is an industry that is unique in its terms of not complying with the law - industrial unlawfulness. The CFMEU not obeying workplace laws. So all the ABCC is, is legislation that is going to ensure that both unions and employers, in the building and construction industry, comply with workplace laws.
JULIE DOYLE: And have you have indications from the Senate cross benchers who voted against it last time, that they will change their position?
MINISTER CASH: I am presently in discussions with them.
JULIE DOYLE: How are those discussions progressing?
MINISTER CASH: They’re progressing well, as all discussions I hope do. But certainly many of them as, or some of them as I’ve said, were waiting to see the outcome of the Royal Commission Report. They also want access to the confidential volumes, which we have granted them under very strict confidentiality provisions, and I am now facilitating access to those reports. Because they’ve made it clear that they would like access to the reports to inform them in relation to whether or not they do or they don’t support our legislation. But at the end of the day, we have an overwhelming mandate given to us at the 2013 election, by the Australian people, in relation to the ABCC. This is too important a sector to the Australian economy; it is the third largest employer in Australia; for us to let this state of unlawfulness continue.
As Justice Jessup last year, a judge of the Federal Court said in relation to the CFMEU: have we ever seen a greater recidivist in terms of their failure to comply with workplace laws in the court’s history?
There is a problem with this industry. The solution is clear. We need to implement the solution.
JULIE DOYLE: What other concessions are you prepared to make to win over the votes that you need in the Senate? You’ve mentioned you’ve already agree to grant access to the confidential volume of the Dyson Heydon report. What else are you prepared to offer?
MINISTER CASH: Well again I’m in discussions with the senators but I am looking at increased protections for whistleblowers. There already are a number of protections but I‘m always prepared to discuss how we can further protect someone who comes forward with an allegation or a complaint.
Senator Leyonhjelm has put on the table an eight year sunset clause. Again I am prepared to have a look at that.
But if we go back to the basic principles of the legislation; this is an industry which for years and years throughout court proceeding after court proceeding after court proceeding, in relation to the construction division of the CFMEU has shown that it is not willing to comply with workplace laws.
Julie you and I go to work every day- we have to comply with the laws that are relevant to us. Why is it that one particular industry in Australia is quite frankly able to get away with blue murder? We say enough is enough; restore the ABCC and let’s bring back law and order to the construction industry in Australia.
JULIE DOYLE: Well you want this legislation passed pretty quickly, it’s been reported you want it passed by 3 March, is that the timetable that you’re looking at?
MINISTER CASH: Well I would like to see the legislation passed sooner rather later because obviously then I’m also going to be bringing back to the Australian Parliament a strengthened package of legislation in relation to the regulation of registered organisations.
The Government’s made it very clear. We are committed to the restoration of the Australian building and construction industry for obvious reasons. We want to see lawful behaviour within the construction industry in Australia and we are also committed to strengthening the regulation for registered organisations, whether you are an employer registered organisation or an employee registered organisation.
JULIE DOYLE: And how far are you prepared to push this? You’ve already got one double dissolution trigger with the previous version of the Registered Organisations Bill but if the ABCC fails again, will you use it and go to an election on this?
MINISTER CASH: We already have a double dissolution trigger, you are right, in relation to the Registered Organisations Commission Bill that we brought forward in response the Health Services Union scandal. That has been rejected by the Senate and in relation to the ABCC it has been rejected by the Senate once. The Prime Minister and I have made it very clear the Government is committed to these policies. They are good policy.
JULIE DOYLE: So how far would you go? Would you go to a double dissolution?
MINISTER CASH: That is something that the Prime Minister would obviously need to authorise himself but certainly we have said we will take both of these policies to the next election whether that be sooner or later. We are prepared to go back to the Australian people as we did in 2013 and we were given an overwhelming mandate and again ask them for a mandate in relation to what we say is very good policy. It’s all about accountability and transparency in workplaces and quite frankly the Australian people deserve nothing less.
JULIE DOYLE: Now just finally, Labor’s announced this morning its policy to crack down on bosses who exploit workers. They’re talking about some of the examples where people are being underpaid or not paid the right penalty rates or where temporary overseas workers are being exploited. What do you think of that approach? Labor says that that is protecting workers, doing something tangible to help them.
MINISTER CASH: Denial, deflection and distraction. This is yet again an 11th hour attempt by the Labor Party, Bill Shorten and Brendan O’Connor in particular, to distract from the fact that tomorrow the Turnbull Government is reintroducing the legislation to restore the ABCC.
JULIE DOYLE: But what about the practical measures to help workers?
MINISTER CASH: This government for the over two years that we have been in power has continually enhanced the law in relation to vulnerable workers, in particular in relation to migrants. You’d be aware that when I was the Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, we set up Taskforce Cadena, a taskforce with specific powers in relation to, a specific ambit in relation to vulnerable visa holders. Last year we passed legislation through the Parliament to make it a criminal offence to pay for a migration outcome. We changed the laws in relation to working holiday visas so that you can only get a second working holiday visa if you provide a payslip—proof that you were paid in accordance with your entitlements.
The fundamental flaw in what Bill Shorten and Brendan O’Connor —and I have not seen the details of this yet, this policy, it hasn’t been formally announced, I’ve only read in the press what they say the policy’s going to be: it’s one thing to target employers and I’ve made it very clear this is a government that will also target employers. Just look at what we’re proposing in relation to registered organisations.
But what about those unions who trade away the entitlements of the workers for example in the case of the Clean Event and the AWU scandal - the paltry sum of $25,000 - saving the company up to $2 million in wages, and penalty rates, so they could get the membership list for the AWU?
This is total hypocrisy by Mr O’Connor and Mr Shorten. If they were prepared tomorrow to put their hands up and say we will support increase in penalties for employers and unions under the ABCC legislation because remember they slashed penalties by two-thirds when they were in Parliament in relation to the building and construction sector. If they were prepared to support our strengthened legislation that targets both employer organisations and employee organisations, I might listen to what they have to say. But again an 11th hour, last minute attempt to distract, to deflect from what this government is going to do tomorrow and that is reintroduce the legislation for the Australian Building and Construction Commission.
JULIE DOYLE: Minister we’ll leave it there thank you very much.
MINISTER CASH: Great to be with you.