Release type: Transcript


Money News with Ross Greenwood - 2GB


Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash
Minister for Employment
Minister for Women
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service
Senator for Western Australia


SUBJECT/S: Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption; Sunday penalty rates.

ROSS GREENWOOD: Let’s start, however, with today in Federal Parliament, and what occurred here was again the Opposition is trying to make mileage out of changes – or proposed changes – to penalty rates in Australia. Now, in this particular case you’ll hear Bill Shorten in Question Time chiding the Prime Minister about this, about the reduction of penalty rates. Well, the Prime Minister, it would seem, had had enough. This is what happened.


MALCOLM TURNBULL: When it comes to penalty rates, Mr Speaker, imagine if Andrew had been working for Cleanevent. Imagine if he had been getting, thanks to the great advocacy of the Leader of the Opposition – this champion of the working class, this hero of the people he would’ve got- Andrew would be getting $18 an hour instead of $50 under the award. But, Mr Speaker, there was something else: payments to the union not disclosed. Mr Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition has been selling workers down the river for years, trading away penalty rates for years, taking back-handers for years, and we’re going to stop it.

[End of excerpt]

ROSS GREENWOOD: That was the Prime Minister in full flight in Question Time today. A bit of background for you: the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption had heard that Cleanevent – and I mentioned Spotless earlier; well Cleanevent now is a Spotless company – that it agreed to pay the AWU up to $25,000 a year for membership fees in return for an agreement that delivered the company a $1.5 million profit, largely by taking away the penalty rate rights of workers.

Now, also in that Royal Commission Thiess John Holland admitted that invoices that it made to the Australian Workers’ Union were fake at that time. So there were a number of issues that are coming in. However, this week the Turnbull Government is bringing in legislation that would ban secret payments between employers and unions – exactly those types. Now, it would not be

only just the union officials that would be on the hook, it would also be those employers, those companies that tonight decided to do so.

The person brining that before our parliament, the Minister for Employment Michaelia Cash, is on the line. Many thanks for your time, Michaelia.

MINISTER CASH: Always good to be with you, and good evening to your listeners.

ROSS GREENWOOD: Well, I couldn’t ring you on the mobile tonight because there’s problems with the mobile, as I understand. Have you got a new one yet or not?

MINISTER CASH: Not yet, not yet.

ROSS GREENWOOD: But you will have very shortly I presume? Everybody’s going to be running around trying to find a new mobile number.

MINISTER CASH: Look, I have to say I think most people actually already do have my mobile number.

ROSS GREENWOOD: That’s true, but it is still a breach and it shouldn’t happen, that type of thing.

MINISTER CASH: No it shouldn’t, and that’s exactly right and obviously it is being looked at.

ROSS GREENWOOD: Because there are enough nutters actually ringing you up and somehow obtaining your number, let alone having it publically out there and plenty of other people besides.

MINISTER CASH: Yeah, it is being looked at. It is unfortunate and I’m sure the appropriate action will be taken.

ROSS GREENWOOD: Let’s hope so at least anyway. Let’s get to the important part: criminalising secret payments between employers and unions. A lot of people would sit there and say, well, why wouldn’t that have already been law in Australia. Why is it not law already?

MINISTER CASH: You know, Ross that is exactly the reaction I’ve had from people when I’ve been talking to them about our commitment to ban the secret payments between businesses and unions. One of the things that the Heydon Royal Commission uncovered was that basically over the past 30-odd years, royal commission after royal commission after royal commission has uncovered a raft of payments between unions and employers that have been designed to ensure, for example, companies got favourable treatment from the unions. And he’s defined them as corrupting benefits. He basically found that there was no real offence at a Commonwealth level, and he has said that the Commonwealth should bring in the offence of banning secret payments, and that is exactly what we are going to do.

ROSS GREENWOOD: Okay, so in this regard a union official would face a maximum 10 years in prison, up to a $900,000 fine for an individual and a $4.5 million fine for a company. And what would happen to corporate officials – in other words, directors or chief executives?

MINISTER CASH: It is exactly the same. So basically, as Commissioner Heydon found, it takes two to tango. So we are criminalising both the giving or the soliciting of the corrupting benefit, but also the receipt or the taking of. So this is not about bashing unions at all;

this is very much about criminalising payments from an employer to a union if they would tend to corrupt the union official or an employee of the union. So it targets employers as much as it targets unions, and this is just all about transparency in the workplace.

ROSS GREENWOOD: OK. So given that it does target employers as it targets the union officials, what response do you believe you’ll receive from the ACTU and/or the Labor Party in regards to this legislation?

MINISTER CASH: Well if the ACTU and Labor Party are dinkum about standing up for the workers – they continually say they don’t support corruption in unions – then they should be standing side by side with Malcom Turnbull when he introduces the legislation on Wednesday. Because who in their right mind supports secret payments from businesses to unions being made …

ROSS GREENWOOD: But what’s your suspicion as to what will happen on Wednesday? They won’t be there.

MINISTER CASH: I think unfortunately, Ross, yet again they’ll play politics. They will play politics with this issue because that’s all Bill Shorten does. He says one thing, he says "I don’t support corruption in the workplace", and yet when he is given the opportunity to support transparency, to support honesty, et cetera, he refuses to do it every single time. So I think this is a real test for Bill Shorten’s leadership: do you or don’t you support the banning of secret payments from businesses to unions? If you do, let’s just get this legislation through the parliament as quickly as we can because, as you correctly identified, most Australians would say are you kidding me, how is this not already unlawful behaviour?

ROSS GREENWOOD: OK, let’s go to another issue, which is penalty rates and the Fair Work Commission seeking to - or at least putting out their recommendation that penalty rates on Sundays could be cut for those in hospitality, retail, fast-food. Now, Bill Shorten again has introduced a bill to parliament to try and stop the decision from the Fair Work Commission being implemented, but then at the same time there is no decision from the Fair Work Commission because we don’t know what the final determination is. That’s one thing.


ROSS GREENWOOD: But he also says it’s now the start of an attack by your government to try and basically take away living standards and conditions for working Australians. Is that what it is?

MINISTER CASH: Absolutely not. Mr Shorten is a hypocrite on so many things, but I have to say when it comes to penalty rates he gets the gold medal, because as a union boss, Mr Shorten – the Leader of the Opposition – was happy to make deals cutting penalty rates to low paid workers. Bill Shorten supports big business and union leaders doing deals to cut penalty rates. However, he’s only opposed to penalty rate modifications when an independent umpire does it for small business. So what we’ve got here is Bill Shorten supports lower Sunday penalty rates when it benefits his big union donors, but he opposes it when it benefits small business and jobs. This is all about backing small business, giving small business a more level playing field so it can compete with the big unions and big business, and we will back small business every step of the way.

ROSS GREENWOOD: And we still have not seen the determination from the Fair Work Commission.

MINISTER CASH: And we haven’t, and that’s what Mr Shorten conveniently forgets. As you said, there’s another round to this decision, and that’s in relation to what are the transitional processes that the Commission is going to put in place to mitigate any hardship. Bill Shorten completely overlooks that quite deliberately because he wants to play politics with this issue. But more than that, he wants people to forget that he is the one person in this place – the one person – who has personally himself cut a deal with an employer to abolish penalty rates for the lowest paid workers in this country. If Bill Shorten fronted up and admitted to that perhaps we might take him a little bit more seriously.

ROSS GREENWOOD: Yeah. Michaelia Cash, the Minister for Employment, always great to have you on the program, Michaelia.

MINISTER CASH: Fantastic to be with you.