SUBJECT: ABCC legislation.
LAURA JAYES: Employment Minister, as promised, Michaelia Cash joins us now. A big win for you this week and it’s been a long time coming. Is it a bit bitter sweet for you because you have had to make a fair few concessions?
MINISTER CASH: In the first instance, Laura, it was, you are right, a great win for the Government but more importantly it was a win for the Australian people. This is policy that was inherently in the national interest. This is policy that says to the one million people employed in the building and construction industry, our third-biggest employer, we believe in you, we want your industry to be the very best it can and that is what we delivered today for the Australian people.
LAURA JAYES: Now, the whole point of the ABCC, I thought, was to have coercive powers and now you don’t have them. Is that a bit of a Claytons victory in that sense?
MINISTER CASH: No, no, no. We do. We absolutely do. So, basically there were a number of amendments that we accepted that have no material real change on the bill …
LAURA JAYES: Okay.
MINISTER CASH: … but the change I think that is probably going to have the most impact is in relation to security of payments for subcontractors. This is a fundamental change and what is says, to your head contractors, is you’ve got to pay your subbies on time. And if you don’t, if you don’t comply with the relevant security of payment legislation, you can now be in breach of the code and if you’re in breach of the code, you can actually be subjected to … I’ve got to go. I do apologise.
LAURA JAYES: I think you do have to go. The bells are ringing.
MINISTER CASH: I’m doing a Scott Morrison on you.
LAURA JAYES: [Laughs] You are.
MINISTER CASH: I do apologise.
LAURA JAYES: Minister, thank you. I believe they are the Senate bells. I’ll just get clarification but I will leave that there for you. This is how the Parliament works in this 45th Parliament. Michaelia Cash, thank you for your time.
MINISTER CASH: It’s not me. It’s not me.
LAURA JAYES: Right. Stand down. [Laughs] Michaelia Cash, the beauty of live television …
MINISTER CASH: It’s a quorum. It’s a quorum.
LAURA JAYES: … which is glorious. It is a quorum. Let me put our mic back on you.
MINISTER CASH: Put the mic back on. We don’t mind if it’s showing.
LAURA JAYES: Now, we have talked about sausages a lot this week and this is the sausage of live television and how you make it.
MINISTER CASH: [Laughs]
LAURA JAYES: Let’s go back- let’s go back … let’s go back to the ABCC legislation now. [inaudible] will deal with that mic cable, but that’s the least of our worries at this point. Let’s talk about- okay, so you’re talking about the … I was asking you about coercive powers. Can you explain to me what is actually different to now? Because I know there’s the Building Code …
MINISTER CASH: Yeah, so basically what happened …
LAURA JAYES: … but that’s not until 2018.
MINISTER CASH: No, no. no. No, no. The Building Code commences the day of royal assent. I’m hoping that we can get royal assent tomorrow. So, all enterprise agreements going forward must comply with the Building Code as of day one. However, we did accept an amendment from Senator Hinch that for those companies that have a current enterprise agreement that’s non-compliant with the Building Code, there’d be a transitional period of two years in which they can tender and be awarded government work. However, what I’d say to those companies is: you’ve negotiated these non-compliant agreements; I’ve seen the agreements; you’ve put in clauses that clearly state that in the event that this legislation passes you will renegotiate with the union the clauses that now need to be taken out; and I would say to them, in good faith with the Australian people and the clear signal the Government has sent to your industry, start the renegotiations now.
LAURA JAYES: Okay. Just quickly, why no joint sitting?
MINISTER CASH: The Australian Government, the Turnbull Government has been able to deliver to the Australian people in the last two weeks on both of our double dissolution triggers. The first one, as you know, went through last Monday. We accepted amendments from Senator Xenophon and Senator Hinch. They were very good amendments in relation to whistleblower protections. In fact, they were recommendations from the Heydon Royal Commission. So, there was no need to go to a joint sitting because we got the bill through and I would say with some very, very good amendments.
In relation to the ABCC, the Government recognises it does not have the numbers in the Senate, but we also recognise that we need to work with the Senate and I think what we’ve proven, in particular with, Laura: abolishing the Road Safety Transport Remuneration Tribunal and saving tens of thousands of owner drivers; in standing up for the 60,000 volunteer firefighters in Victoria; in getting through the Registered Organisation Commission legislation last week; and today in delivering on our commitment to the Australian people to restore law and order to the Building and Construction Commission. What this shows is we’re practical, we know we can deliver, and we’ll work with the crossbenchers in the Senate to deliver policy that’s in the national interest.
LAURA JAYES: There’s a bit of the old adage of the Howard Government era of 80 per cent of something is better than 100 per cent of nothing.
MINISTER CASH: When you don’t have the numbers, you need to be a realist.
LAURA JAYES: But in … the result of the last election, everyone was looking at Nick Xenophon and Pauline Hanson and worried about the more protectionist stance they’re making. Has the Government had to move more towards that protectionist stance? I’m thinking of the local procurement provisions you’ve put in place.
MINISTER CASH: No, not at all. So, for example, in relation to security of payment, everybody I think if we did a straw poll in the street now and said should you paying your subbies on time, everybody would say yes. That is a fantastic amendment.
LAURA JAYES: Yeah, but what about when it comes to Australian products …
MINISTER CASH: In relation to procurement, we have always, always been a Government that believes that where you can source Australian products first, you should.
LAURA JAYES: Well, what has Nick Xenophon actually got then? Have you given him a raw deal?
MINISTER CASH: No, no, no. This is a good enhancement to the Building Code that says when you do tender, you now do need to satisfy the Government that you’ve taken into consideration certain things, and some of that is where are you sourcing your materials. So, it’s a really good signal from the Government- and, I mean, let’s face it, even Labor said these were good amendments that Mathias Cormann came up with. So, even Labor admitted this is a significant step forward in relation to our procurement - and, look, I have to say, good on Mathias because he did a lot of work with Nick Xenophon in that regard.
LAURA JAYES: And, look, just on my last question as well, you’ve been instrumental in negotiating with the crossbench, as has Mathias, to great success on other past bills. Is horse-trading now how this game works? I mean, how are you [indistinct] this?
MINISTER CASH: [Talks over] So, I disagree with you. I disagree with you in relation to horse-trading. The reality of the matter is, there were some senators, One Nation, who made it very clear they supported these bills with no amendment because they believed it was in the national interest.
LAURA JAYES: Yeah, but senators are now looking at what’s going on and saying, well, we can get as much as can, so we’re going to hold out …
MINISTER CASH: No, not all senators are. And, you know, that’s actually …
LAURA JAYES: [Talks over] Well, what’s Derryn Hinch doing at the moment with the backpackers tax?
MINISTER CASH: No, no. But that’s the reality of politics. Everybody comes in with their own agenda. We had a piece of policy that we believed and we know was in the national interest.
LAURA JAYES: So, you recognise that each individual crossbench senator does have a mandate of their own?
MINISTER CASH: No, they will come to you with certain demands. I am a believer in the practical reality of Government. I’m also a believer that where you can negotiate the passage of legislation that is in the national interest and you do not compromise the integrity of that legislation, yes you may have to deal with the other person but let’s face it …
LAURA JAYES: [Interrupts] That’s the Government’s bottom line from here on in, is it?
MINISTER CASH: No, no, not at all. In this situation, this was in the national interest and we were able to work with …
LAURA JAYES: [Talks over] Yes, because you always said this about the ABCC, you don’t think that the amendments change the flavour of the original bill.
MINISTER CASH: No, I actually think- in fact, in relation to security of payments, I believe it enhances the bill that we have managed to put through the Parliament.
LAURA JAYES: Alright. Well, congratulations, this is a big win for the Government.
MINISTER CASH: [Talks over] Thank you. And the Australian people, and the Australian people.
LAURA JAYES: And the Australian people. Thanks for hanging around, and the bells aren’t ringing.
MINISTER CASH: [Laughs] The bells aren’t ringing, so I can quietly exit now.
LAURA JAYES: Look, this just caps off a perfect day, really.
MINISTER CASH: [Laughs] Great, exactly.
LAURA JAYES: It really is the flavour of the day. Michaelia Cash, thank you.
MINISTER CASH: Always good to be with you.