CHRIS KENNY: Joining us now from Canberra is the Workplace Relations Minister and the Turnbull Government’s Minister for Women’s Affairs as well. Michaelia Cash, thanks for joining us.
MINISTER CASH: Great to be with you Chris.
CHRIS KENNY: Look I want to start off on Donald Trump because it’s such an extraordinary story and of course America is our key ally, I’m tempted to invoke a word that we’ve heard a lot about in Australia over the past four or five years and ask you whether you believe Donald Trump is a misogynist?
MINISTER CASH: Well at the end of the day Chris, as a woman, as the minister for women and someone who’s been watching those statements, they were demeaning and they were wrong, full stop.
CHRIS KENNY: Yeah I don’t think anybody would disagree with that. They were crude, offensive, some people say vile, some have said horrific. The point I suppose is in the political context both in domestic politics in the US and in global affairs, are they relevant to the choice before the American people?
MINISTER CASH: There’s a lot of things that are relevant and the calibre of a person certainly is, and in that regard I suppose Donald Trump would say there are certain things about Hillary Clinton which the American people should be aware of. But you know, in terms of the comments that he made in 2005, they were demeaning and they were wrong.
In terms of the broader picture as a policy maker in Australia, what we need to remember is there will be a new President of the United States of America and in that regard the Australian American alliance, it’s bigger than any one individual and as a country we will need to work with whomever that person is.
CHRIS KENNY: These comments - I suppose one of the things that strikes me about these comments from Trump is really that they’re not out of character. They only confirm elements of his character that most of us have seen elements of over the past couple of years. They do give us an insight into what sort of a bloke Donald Trump is. Do you think that Australians at cabinet level, at prime ministerial level, at your own level, you could actually deal sensibly with a man who has actually spewed such hate around the place directed at minority groups and as we’ve seen in this tape, directed at women?
MINISTER CASH: Again ultimately it’s a decision for the American people as to who they vote for, whether it be Mr Trump or Mrs Clinton. I go back to the broader picture for Australians, the Australian American alliance. It is bigger than one individual. It has served us as countries well for decade, after decade, after decade. And regardless of who is elected as the President of the United States of America, we will need to work with them for both our countries and the global interest.
CHRIS KENNY: Well you mention all those broader issues; an alliance relationship, an economic relationship and this is where the Trump policy suite looks so troubling as well. Here is a man who is vehemently opposed to the trans-Pacific partnership, a man who threatens effectively to start a trade war with China, a man who says he could withdraw the nuclear protection from Japan and South Korea which then could trigger a nuclear arms race in North Asia. A man who’s opposed to free trade generally. I mean can Australia afford to have this man in the White House?
MINISTER CASH: Well again that is not a decision for Australians. That is a decision for the American people.
CHRIS KENNY: Sure but we have to- but Minister, but we have to live with the consequences and with that suite of policies…
MINISTER CASH: We do have to live with the consequences…
CHRIS KENNY: …would we not confront an enormous number of challenges both economically and in security terms in our own region?
MINISTER CASH: Well you know our position in relation to a number of the policies which you articulate are quite clear, and yes you are right, we would not necessarily agree with the stated stance of Mr Trump. One would hope that if he is elected to be the President of the United States, we would be able to sit down with him and put our views forward.
I go back to this being a decision for the American people. It will be interesting to watch the next debate tomorrow between Mrs Clinton and Mr Trump. But I do go back to the broader policy picture which is the American or the Australian-American alliance is bigger than one individual and we will need to work with whoever is in the White House.
CHRIS KENNY: It is going to be a fascinating debate. My advice to Hillary Clinton would be say as little as possible. Give the guy as much rope as you can. And look on that though, are you disappointed in the Republican Party? They are effectively a political sister party of the Australian Liberal Party, are you disappointed that they put a bloke in as their candidate, that they backed Trump into this position? Because really we’ve known all this about Donald Trump since before he even entered the primary race.
MINISTER CASH: It is interesting because ultimately there is a huge process that is gone through. It’s a fundamentally different process to the process that we undergo in Australia. There are months and months and months of campaigning, there’s flying all over the country, there’s candidates competing against like candidates.
Ultimately though Mr Trump received the Republican nomination, he is their candidate, they need to work with him and they have the next few weeks.
CHRIS KENNY: Look I do want to get on to domestic politics but one more question before we leave this. Are you concerned at all at any element of hypocrisy here from the Clinton camp given the sexual misdemeanours of Bill Clinton and the way that Hillary Clinton over many years both was complicit in cover ups with those misdemeanours and at times said things that sounded a lot like victim blaming?
MINISTER CASH: This is one of the issues with politics, you know, if a stone is thrown from one side, be very careful because it’s likely to be thrown back from the other side. That’s why I hope tomorrow in the second presidential debate we see the candidates not talking about themselves and each other, we see them talking about policy, because ultimately that’s what we should be voting on - the policies that we want to see our politicians implement and I think it would be great if we could all turn to a real policy debate.
CHRIS KENNY: Yeah well let’s go to policy now and domestic policy in your portfolio area which of course provided the two trigger bills for the double dissolution election in July, the one to re-constitute the Australian Building and Construction Commission…
MINISTER CASH: Yes.
CHRIS KENNY: …the other to update the Register’s Organisations bill to basically make unions more accountable. Now they’re up before Parliament, now what chance do you give of them actually getting through the Senate, do you think you can negotiate a path for those two bills through the Senate?
MINISTER CASH: Well in the first instance as you know the bills need to be presented to the Parliament in the usual way. They will be debated in the House of Representatives I understand over the next two weeks and then they will come up to the Senate. Labor and the Greens made their position very, very clear. They don’t support law and order in the Australian building and construction industry and they certainly don’t support more accountability for people in registered organisations who abuse their members’ funds.
CHRIS KENNY: So it’s all about the 11 crossbench Senators, you would have been talking to them. Are they pre-disposed to find a way through?
MINISTER CASH: I have certainly been very impressed to date in terms of the way the crossbenchers have approached their discussions with me. I’ve been impressed with the questions that they’ve asked. I’ve been able to present my case in detail to them. They’ve obviously asked for additional information which we are in the process of providing. I’ve also said though and you would have seen me say this, I’m not going to air the negotiations publicly. They are negotiations that are taking place in private. But to date I have been impressed with the way they have approached the negotiations.
Just on that point though Chris, in terms of the overwhelming evidence, I had my office do an analysis - since the election was called what the state of play particular in relation to the building and construction industry has been. We continue to see court case after court case after judgement after judgement, handed down in which the CFMEU is imposed with huge, massive fines for their failure to comply with workplace laws. In fact when you look at judgement after judgement they basically continue to say the CFMEU just see the law almost as an inconvenience, and Chris that’s all we’re trying to stop.
Workplace laws are there for a reason. You and I, we go to work every day just like every other Australian, we have to comply with the laws that are relevant to our workplace. Why is it that Labor and the Greens are prepared to stand up and say “but when it comes to the CFMEU and the building and construction industry, hey, bullying, intimidation and thuggery, who cares?” We say that’s wrong. We believe the laws of the land should apply and that’s all we’re seeking to do with the reintroduction of the ABCC.
CHRIS KENNY: Yeah it’s a good argument and I would have thought from what we’ve seen from the crossbenches saying publicly so far that your chances of getting the bills through look pretty good. There might be some give and take, a few little amendments, but it looks like you’ve got a pretty good chance of getting them through. Is that a fair assessment?
MINISTER CASH: I think we’ve got a crossbench that is far more disposed to ensuring that law and order does prevail in the building and construction industry. But you know we also have the cost of say Government funded infrastructure to the taxpayer. As you’d know it’s costing the taxpayer up to 30 per cent more for Government funded infrastructure because of the demands the CFMEU place on the building industry.
Why should Australians pay up to 30 per cent more for their public infrastructure? Imagine the number of hospitals, the kilometres of roads, the number of schools that could be built if we ensured that the rule of law applies. And again as I’ve said I’ve been very impressed to date with the way that the crossbench have been approaching their negotiations with me.
CHRIS KENNY: Well you’ve got to get it through don’t you because there’s no way knowing you’d go to a joint sitting then, if you don’t get it through the Senate you can’t use the double dissolution measure of a joint sitting because you just haven’t won enough numbers in the lower house to make it worthwhile. If you don’t get it through the Senate you wouldn’t get it through a joint sitting.
MINISTER CASH: Chris, the numbers are obviously different at a joint sitting but certainly the Government has the opportunity to negotiate these bills through the Senate and that is what I’m seeking to do at this point in time, for the good of the country because they are both good policy.
CHRIS KENNY: Just added into that mix of course it’s not a double dissolution trigger bill but of the same ilk, during the election there was this Country Fire Association issue in Victoria and you were introducing legislation to address that. It’s sort of an archaic measure I suppose, a technical amendment to the law, but effectively you’re protecting the volunteer firefighters in Victoria from being bossed around or bullied around by union deals.
MINISTER CASH: That’s exactly right. That is actually listed for the debate in the Senate tomorrow. And you know, I say to Bill Shorten, you’ve got an opportunity tomorrow Bill to stand up for the 60,000 volunteer firefighters who within weeks are going to be literally putting their lives on the line to ensure that Victoria and Victorians are kept safe throughout what is going to be a really really treacherous fire season.
Why put the interests of Peter Marshall first? Why? Why put the interests of Daniel Andrews first? Do what you said you would do. You don’t govern for the interests of the Australian people and this is a test tomorrow.
I would hope that this bill can be voted on tomorrow in the Senate, and stand up for the 60,000 men and women in Victoria who every day go out to do their best by Victorians. You know they protect Victorians, tomorrow the Australian Senate has an opportunity to protect the fantastic men and women of the Victorian CFA.
CHRIS KENNY: You’ve got to wonder whether Labor might want to cut its losses on this one because when you look at what happened in the election and how big this issue was in Victoria, Victoria went against the national trend. The Coalition actually picked up a seat in Victoria and then won the election by…
MINISTER CASH: We did, we picked up a Senate seat.
CHRIS KENNY: Yeah, and then won the election by one seat. So you…
MINISTER CASH: And of course the seat of Chisholm.
CHRIS KENNY: Yeah, so you’ve got the bolshy unions of Victoria to thank for being still in Government.
MINISTER CASH: I’ll disagree with you there, but certainly this was one issue which polarised Victorians. Why would you not stand up for 60,000 men and women in Victoria? Why would you not stand up for the Country Fire Authority which for decades and decades has ensured that Victorians are kept safe? These are men and women who like you and I, they have day jobs, but their sense of community, their sense of giving back says to them, I’m also going to be a member of the CFA. I’m going to be a volunteer firefighter.
Enterprise agreements should only deal with terms and conditions of employment. So basically the pay of the paid firefighters. The CFA , they have no issues with that at all. But when a union deliberately, because it wants to take over an organisation, puts in clauses to an enterprise agreement that have seen a minister stand aside, a CEO step down or be sacked, a board be sacked, one has to question why. And as a policy maker at a federal level who has an opportunity to bring an end to this sorry saga tomorrow, that’s exactly what we’re going to be doing.
CHRIS KENNY: Okay I want to move to something that’s outside your direct area of responsibility but it’s a very important issue for the Government and State Governments as well and that is energy security. We’ve seen the fallout from that disastrous statewide blackout in South Australia because it’s mismanaging its transition to renewable energy. Do you accept that it’s federal Government policy that’s helping to drive this headlong rush into wind energy?
MINISTER CASH: Well Chris can I just give you eight words in the first instance that really does sum up what occurred the other day in South Australia? Lights out under Labor but I think just as importantly, the takeaway for all Australians needs to be energy security and baseload power. I’m very pleased that Minister Frydenberg met with energy Ministers and they have decided that energy security, energy reliability and the cost of energy to the Australian taxpayer needs to now be the fundamental focus going forward in terms of energy policy.
CHRIS KENNY: I couldn’t agree more, I couldn’t agree more and this program has been on this for months, well ahead of the blackouts…
MINISTER CASH: You have been, yeah.
CHRIS KENNY: But the point here, my point here is that you as a Coalition have signed up to a 23.5 per cent renewable energy target and you’ve been on board with that for many, many years. It’s been bi-partisan policy. When you sign up to a target like that you’re putting renewable energy and carbon emissions targets ahead of the pack, ahead of issues like affordability and energy security.
MINISTER CASH: Okay I’m going to disagree with you there. The fundamental difference I think between the Coalition Government and Bill Shorten and an alternative Labor Government is in terms of we have a responsible renewable energy target as you’ve articulated 23.5 per cent by 2020. We also have a plan. We have also made it very clear as a Government, as Liberals, we understand energy security and base load power. Contrast that, Chris, with Bill Shorten and Labor, a grandiose plan for 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030…
CHRIS KENNY: [Interrupts] Minister I’ve written and ranted about that on this program, a…
MINISTER CASH: [Talks over] No, no, no you have…
CHRIS KENNY: [Talks over] No, no but my point is this – 50 per cent renewable target that Bill Shorten puts out there is absolute madness and economic suicide for this country but what I’m saying is 23.5 per cent is ridiculous as well, we’ve seen what it’s done to people in South Australia, we know it’s increasing power costs around the country, we know it could jeopardise security in other states such as Victoria and Queensland and we know it’s not going to do anything to change the global environment.
MINISTER CASH: I’m going to have to disagree with you…
CHRIS KENNY: Well what’s it going to do for the environment? What’s Australia’s 23.5 per cent renewable energy target going to do to the global environment?
MINISTER CASH: Well certainly it’s being part of the global community and I think we need to acknowledge in Australia…
CHRIS KENNY: [Talks over] Yeah it makes us feel good, it makes us feel good at international conferences.
MINISTER CASH: No, no, and that is – Chris – that is the fundamental difference I go back to, the fundamental difference between our plan and Labor’s plan. Labor’s plan is ideologically driven and it’s a feel-good agenda and I’d love to know what the price of electricity for every mum and dad out there is going to be if Bill Shorten was ever to be elected as Prime Minister.
We know, Chris, and you used to talk about this all the time. We know what the carbon tax did to electricity prices in Australia, the carbon tax pales into insignificance compared to Bill Shorten’s commitment to 50 per cent by 2030. Take a step back and you look at our policy and Chris I think you’d be the first to admit that when it comes to the left, they’ve criticised our policy as not being tough enough.
CHRIS KENNY: Sure no they, no that’s the general criticism.
MINISTER CASH: But what our policy is is responsible.
CHRIS KENNY: Yeah well it’s certainly a lot more responsible than 50 per cent I’ll give you that much.
MINISTER CASH: Absolutely – it is responsible and it acknowledges that base load power is fundamental. If you don’t have base load power - but more than that Chris - if as a Government you don’t have respect for what base load power is, ultimately lights out as we saw in South Australia under Labor and what does that mean for all Australians? The price that you pay every day to turn your lights on, it goes up and that’s not something that as a Coalition Government we support.
CHRIS KENNY: Yeah as much as I have sympathy for my fellow South Australians, at least they’ve given a warning shot to the rest of the nation to see what’s going on.
MINISTER CASH: To the rest of the country and that’s exactly why energy security, base load power, that’s what we all need to take away - and in particular Bill Shorten - from what occurred.
CHRIS KENNY: Just briefly while I’ve got you there, you are a Western Australian Senator; will Colin Barnett contest the election next year as Premier? He’s definitely secure in the job?
MINISTER CASH: Yes he will. Yes he will and certainly I think you saw that played out a few weeks ago now…
CHRIS KENNY: All over now?
MINISTER CASH: All over now absolutely the team are, and even as you know Mr Nalder has come out, they are 110 per cent behind Colin Barnett because they know at the end of the day the alternative is a Labor Government and that is not something that I believe Western Australians want or indeed need so Colin Barnett will be the next leader of our State.
CHRIS KENNY: Okay, Michaelia Cash, thanks so much for joining us, we covered a lot of ground, it was good to talk to it all.
MINISTER CASH: We covered a lot of ground.
CHRIS KENNY: Talk to you about it all. Thanks very much.
MINISTER CASH: Great to be with you, Chris, thanks a lot.
CHRIS KENNY: That’s Michaelia Cash, the Minister for Workplace Relations and for Women’s Affairs in the Turnbull Government having her say about Donald Trump and lots more. Watch out for the passage of these IR bills over the next few weeks, they’re going to be very, very crucial to the future of the Government and they’ll be playing out in parliament over the next month or so.