Press Conference, Parliament House, Canberra
Subjects: Response to Brendan O’Connor’s comments on the ABCC legislation , double dissolution, High Court decision on Nauru.
MINISTER CASH: Well ladies and gentlemen, it is one thing to oppose a piece of legislation, and in this place, obviously we’re entitled to oppose legislation.
It’s another thing though to go on national television and blatantly mislead the Australian people in relation to the facts of that legislation. That’s what we saw last night. The shadow spokesperson for industrial relations, Brendan O’Connor, was on Lateline and deliberately mislead the Australian people in relation to the facts of the ABCC legislation.
The first thing he did, which I think astounded a lot of viewers because I’ve received a lot of feedback, is he justified the culture of fear, bullying, and intimidation within the building and construction industry as, and I quote: merely a rough and tough industry. I’m sure the victims of this bullying, fear, and intimidation would disagree with Mr O’Connor.
The second thing he did was, and I quote, he said: the laws are excessive; remember, it denies people’s rights of representation, you could be compelled to give testimony without legal representation.
That is incorrect.
The ABCC bill explicitly includes a right to legal representation, and I will refer Mr O’Connor for his own benefit to section 61(4) of the bill. And in fact what Mr O’Connor also forgot to tell the Australian people is that the current powers that the Fair Work Building Commission inspector has, Labor’s regulator, are the same powers as the Australian Building and Construction Commission person will have.
The next untruth he told was this: we think it’s excessive the powers, given that the ABCC only works in the civil jurisdiction. Again, an untruth. These are the exact same powers that other regulators in the civil jurisdiction use. And in fact, again, Mr O’Connor forgot to tell the Australian people that the powers that are being given to the ABCC are the same powers that are currently exercised by the Fair Work Building and Construction Commission regulator.
The other misleading fact that Mr O’Connor said to the Australian people was in relation to the statistics on productivity within the sector. It is a fact that when the ABCC was in place there was a rise in productivity, and this is in particular borne out in the number of days lost due to industrial action, they significantly decreased.
It is also a fact that since the Gillard Government watered down the powers of the ABCC there has been up to a 30 per cent increase in the number of days lost due to industrial action. We all know that has a direct effect on productivity, and it also has effect on costs flowing through to the Australian consumer, but it also has an effect on jobs.
So as I said, there’s one thing to oppose a piece of legislation; Labor, beholden to the CFMEU, are entitled to do that. But it is another thing to go on national television as Mr O’Connor did last night and blatantly mislead the Australian people in relation to the nature of the industrial regulator.
Are there any questions?
QUESTION: Minister how many crossbenchers have seen the secret report of the Royal Commission and have they indicated their intentions on this bill?
MINISTER CASH: To date we are still facilitating access. Four crossbenchers have requested to see it and two have accepted the offer. That will be facilitated in due course.
QUESTION: What do you make of Greens and Labor knocking back your request to show one representative?
MINISTER CASH: As I said, I can’t win with Greens and Labor. Last week I did the wrong thing because I denied them the opportunity to view the confidential reports because their request was too wide. This week I still can’t do the [right] thing even though we found a pathway forward and we have offered to one person from Labor and one person from the Greens the opportunity to view the reports. So quite frankly, I cannot win whether my answer is yes or no. But what I will say is this. Labor and the Greens have made their position very, very clear: under no circumstances are they going to support the reintroduction of the Australian Building and Construction Commission.
QUESTION: Isn’t it unreasonable to give one member from Labor and the Greens the opportunity to read this, and then expect them to go back to their party and say we should vote in favour or against this measure, but I can’t tell you why?
MINISTER CASH: No not at all. And I think your question there goes to why it’s not unfair, Labor and the Greens have made up their mind. In fact, Adam Bandt in his press conference yesterday made it very, very clear. He reconfirmed the Greens’ opposition to the bill and said even if he took up the Government’s offer to view the confidential report he would only be doing it to further his no case. So there you go, they’ve already made up their minds, they’re not moving.
QUESTION: Senator Cash, doesn’t this, the debate over the confidential volumes seek to become a distraction and overwhelm the substance of the Heydon Royal Commission, which supported , in substance, the return of the ABCC?
MINISTER CASH: Look, I don’t believe so, and I also believe that the case for the ABCC was made prior to the Heydon Royal Commission. The Cole Royal Commission some 12, 13, 14 years ago, that was the reason the Howard Government established the Australian Building and Construction Commission based on the findings that flowed from the Cole Royal Commission.
I note that the former commissioner came out yesterday and strongly endorsed the reestablishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, primarily to ensure that we do not entrench a culture of unlawful behaviour within this particular industry. But also, and he articulately stated, the productivity benefits that flow on to the Australian people when you have a sector that just has to behave and comply with workplace law.
QUESTION: But you’re not worried that the crossbench now are going to be voting on this based on this confidential volume rather than …
MINISTER CASH: No not at all, I’m sitting down in good faith with all of the crossbenchers and explaining our position to them. And again, I am not relying and the Government has never relied on the confidential report to substantiate our case for the Australian Building and Construction Commission. That has been made now for a number of years, and I think it’s supported by the fact that when the ABCC was in play for six years the temperature in the industry went down. People could go to work on a daily basis without fear of being bullied, without fear of being intimidated, without fear of being subjected to thuggery. The minute that was unwound, within months you saw what happened on the streets of Melbourne, the industry reverted back to type. That’s not good for productivity, that’s not good for jobs for the Australian people, and that’s what we just want to clean up.
QUESTION: Senator Cash, can I just take you back to Monday morning. On Monday morning you were still saying that Labor and the Greens shouldn’t have access to the confidential volume because they’d already made up their minds about it. By Monday evening that position had changed. Were you rolled on this issue in Cabinet?
MINISTER CASH: No not at all. In relation to the … I didn’t facilitate the request last week, it was because it was a wide-ranging request. Labor and the Greens basically asked for all members and senators and other interested parties to see the confidential report. We said no on that basis. We’d been actively working through to find a pathway forward. We found that pathway, and we communicated it to them. But as I said, doesn’t matter what my answer was going to be or the Prime Minister’s answer, yes or no they’ve made up their minds, they are not moving. But in any case, we are not relying on the confidential report for our case. The case for the ABCC was made over a decade ago flowing on from the Cole Royal Commission.
QUESTION: And Minister, are the crossbench right to feel that they’re threatened with a double dissolution if they don’t vote for the bill, like …
MINISTER CASH: I don’t believe the crossbench are being threatened by a double dissolution. It is a fact that this Government already has a double dissolution trigger in the Registered Organisations Commission Bill. It is a fact that if the ABCC legislation doesn’t pass it is another double dissolution trigger. They are just facts. But it is also a fact that the Prime Minister has stated he expects an election to be held in the second half of this year.
QUESTION: And just on the issue of Senate reform, as a senior member of Government will you be involved in those sorts of negotiations?
MINISTER CASH: At this stage I’ll leave that to Mathias Cormann and the Prime Minister.
QUESTION: Minister just on one more issue just with your regards to your other responsibilities as Minister for Women, do you have any concerns about the women and children who are now going to be sent back to Nauru off the back of today’s High Court decision?
MINISTER CASH: Well I note today that the High Court has upheld the Government’s position in relation to offshore processing. Peter Dutton I believe has issued a short statement, but is now considering the decision. The best thing you can do for women and children is to ensure they don’t get on boats. How many women and children died under the former policies of the Labor-Greens Government?
QUESTION: But the women and children who were already here that will be now sent back…
MINISTER CASH: That’s something that Senator Hanson-Young, who’s going to give her press conference shortly, ask her about the women and children who died under her policies. I will stand by our policies any day of the week. The women and children who came here from Nauru came here knowing full well it was for a specific purpose, and they would always be returned. Again, the best thing you can do for women and children is ensure your policies act as a deterrent so they don’t get on those boats, they don’t make that journey, and they don’t die at sea.