Release type: Transcript


Press conference – Perth, WA on ABCC


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

 E & EO……………………

Subjects – Australian Building and Construction Commission, New South Wales campaign donations, Sharman Stone, same-sex marriage plebiscite, Senator Cory Bernardi, Mackellar preselection

MINISTER CASH: Well ladies and gentlemen, it is great to be here today with Julian Ambrose, a director of BGC, at the site of the new five star Western Hotel in Perth. This is in the background and it’s just one of the many construction projects that is going on in Perth at the moment. 

We’re here today to talk about the importance of the building and construction sector to the Australian economy, and of course, the importance of the restoration of the Australian Building and Construction Commission. As we know, the building and construction industry in Australia employs one in 10 Australians. That’s one million people in Australia who derive their jobs from this important sector. 

It is important therefore that in relation to the state of lawlessness within this sector, the bullying that we know of, the intimidation that we know of, the thuggery that we know of, that for this sector to function properly going forward, we need to restore a strong cop on the beat. When you have a sector that is in a constant state of lawlessness – and we know that it is – when you have 100 CFMEU officials currently before the courts on over 1000 charges, that should say to all Australians that clearly the laws in relation to this sector are just not strong enough, and when you look at the fact that the CFMEU has been fined in excess of $7 million for breaches of workplace laws, what that should say to the Australian people is clearly the penalties are not sufficient. 

More importantly, it’s the hip pocket of Australians that pays every single time you have cost overruns, you have extortionate demands from the CFMEU to the contractors. What that means is the price of the project that is being constructed costs more for the Australian taxpayer. So every time you see a public hospital or a public school, there is a very good chance that you pay a lot more than what you should have because the CFMEU has a stranglehold on this industry.

Malcolm Turnbull has recalled the Senate as of the 18th of April. He is ensuring that the Australian Senate has three weeks in which to consider in detail this legislation and then do the right thing by the Australian people and pass it.

Mr Turnbull, the Prime Minister, has made it clear that if the Senate does not pass the Australian Building and Construction Commission legislation, we will go to a double dissolution on the 2nd of July. 

The restoration of the Australian Building and Construction Commission is an important part of the Turnbull Government’s economic plan for Australia. 

As I’ve said, one in 10 Australians, they derive their job from this important industry, and clearly the laws are not strong enough to prevent the behaviour that we see from the CFMEU. 

We know what the problem is; we also know what the answer is, and I would call on the Australian Senate to do the right thing by the people of Australia and pass the Australian Building and Construction Commission legislation. Julian.......

JULIAN AMBROSE: We support this legislation. I think it’s very important for the construction industry. I’ve worked in this industry for 30 years, and the kind of behaviour that you experience on site is just simply something that wouldn’t be acceptable in any normal workplace. I think that it’s very important that there be some form of regulator who can take action against what are essentially thugs. I’ve experienced violent threats, as have other people. We take very seriously our obligation to the people we employ to provide them with a safe workplace, and that extends to them being able to avoid having harassment when they’re at site or when they’re trying to enter or leave site. Unfortunately, that’s what we put up with the union in our industry.

MINISTER CASH: Thank you. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: Labor’s Fair Work Building Commission has coercive powers; it just needs to get Administrative- Administrative Appeals Tribunal approval to use them. Why do you want to take that layer of commission away?

MINISTER CASH: Because we see that as an extra layer of red tape. You also need to remember that in relation to the coercive powers, besides that small change, the powers that we propose the ABCC to have and the powers that the Fair Work Building Commission had, they are identical. Even the LaborParty understood that because of the nature of the building and construction sector, because of the threats, the bullying, the intimidation that is rife in the sector, witnesses will not come forward without these powers. I’d also note that the powers that the Fair Work Building Commission has and the powers that the ABCC will have are almost identical to powers that other regulators have: APRA, the ACCC, and ASIC. I would also note that since the FWBC was in existence, the powers have only been used on a handful of occasions. 

JOURNALIST: Okay, so you’re talking about their coercive powers, where they’ve been likened to the same powers that police have to deal with terrorists.

MINISTER CASH: Obviously that is completely incorrect. ASIO’s powers, because they deal with terrorists, are fundamentally different to the powers of other regulators. The powers of other regulators – including, for example, Medibank, Centrelink, APRA, the ACCC, and ASIC – are almost the same powers as that- the ABCC will have, and as I said, even the former Labor Government recognised that coercive powers were necessary, basically to protect witnesses who want to come forward but without these powers they will not tell their story.

JOURNALIST: What about criticism that has come from Senator Leyonhjelm and others that the- that it needs to actually be not just focused on this industry? Is it that you see that this industry is particularly much more corrupt…

MINISTER CASH: Absolutely, and Royal Commission after Royal Commission, dating all the way back to the Giles Royal Commission in New South Wales, the Cole Royal Commission, even Julia Gillard’s hand-picked inquiry Mr Murray Wilcox, and then of course now the Heydon Royal Commission, they all recognise that the building and construction industry within Australia, when it comes to the bullying, the intimidation, the thuggery and the non-compliance almost on a daily basis, with workplace laws, it is a unique sector. And because of the unique nature of that sector, it does need its own regulator. But again, even Labor recognised this, because they have kept the Fair Work Building Commission.

JOURNALIST: Okay. Are you really happy for the Senate to pass the ABCC bills, and therefore wait until later in the year for an election?

MINISTER CASH: This is good policy. Ever since the Australian Labor Party abolished the Australian Building and Corruption Commission, the Coalition Government has made it our position to restore it. It is good policy, in particular for the reasons articulated by Julian Ambrose here at the site. This is good policy, and in particular it impacts directly on the Australian people in terms of what they are paid by way of their taxes for public infrastructure. So do I want to see this legislation passed? Yes I do, because it is good policy.

JOURNALIST: Do you think the Coalition has a better chance of winning a July election or a September election?

MINISTER CASH: Certainly from my perspective I would like to see this legislation passed and if it does, the Prime Minister has made it very clear there will not be a double dissolution on July 2. My goal is to see this legislation passed because it is good policy. But in the event that it does not, we will take it to the people.

JOURNALIST: Okay I’ve just got a few more questions. Arthur Sinodinos- should Arthur Sinodinos stand aside?

MINISTER CASH: Arthur Sinodinos has issued a statement relating to the issue in New South Wales. Clearly that is a matter for the New South Wales Liberal Party. I do note that Senator Sinodinos is basically contradicting what has been said in a number of the media statements.  But as the Premier of New South Wales and the Prime Minister have said, all donations should be disclosed in accordance with the law. I do note though, that in relation to Labor’s reaction to this, I didn’t see Mr O’Connor asking for Mr Shorten’s resignation when it was revealed that Mr Shorten, who is directly responsible for his disclosure statements in relation to the campaign in 2007, failed to disclose until 2015 a $40,000 donation from a company union whilst the company was in negotiations for an EBA with the union. So it would appear that when it comes to Labor and the non-disclosure by the current leader of the Opposition, they have very different standards in what they ask for.

JOURNALIST: Do you think Malcolm Turnbull needs Arthur Sinodinos to protect him from the party’s right-wing?

MINISTER CASH: Arthur Sinodinos is an outstanding Cabinet Secretary, and certainly I think the Prime Minster is big enough to protect himself from anybody, including the Australian Labor Party.

JOURNALIST: Do you personally believe that Arthur Sinodinos didn’t know where New South Wales campaign donations were coming from, even though he was Treasurer at the time?

MINISTER CASH: I rely on the statement that has been issued by Senator Sinodinos.

JOURNALIST: Sharman Stone has said that she is stepping down from politics. Do you think that’s because she wasn’t given a position in Cabinet?

MINISTER CASH: You’d need to ask Sharman why she’s stepping down. But Sharman has certainly had a very long and esteemed career as the Member for Murray. She has certainly been someone who has stood up at all times for the constituents in her electorate and in particular in relation to the unique issues they face. So I congratulate her on everything she’s achieved. And if she is not contesting the next election, which I understand is the case, I wish her all the very best as she goes forward for the next phase.

JOURNALIST: So what do you think of her contribution to the Murray electorate, especially the way she handled the SPC- you know, the bailout of the SPC factory?

MINISTER CASH: As I said, Sharman is someone who is very passionate about the electorate of Murray, about the constituents, about the unique issues they face, and she has never been afraid to stand up and argue their case.

JOURNALIST: Are preparations for the same-sex marriage plebiscite being delayed?

MINISTER CASH: The Coalition has always said that the plebiscite on same-sex marriage would occur after the next election and that remains our position.

JOURNALIST: Will it be done by the end of this year?

MINISTER CASH: Well that is something that you would need to speak to the Prime Minister about, but certainly our position is it will happen as soon as possible after the next election. And clearly that depends on when the election is being held.

JOURNALIST: Are there concerns the right of the party will disrupt the campaign?

MINISTER CASH: The right of the party has its position. And their position is consistent with the Liberal Party’s position which is we will have a plebiscite on this issue after the next election. That is the agreed position of the Coalition Government.

JOURNALIST: [Indistinct] Right-wing Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi has laid the groundwork to launch a new political force. Does that risk splitting the Liberal Party up?

MINISTER CASH: Well I’ve certainly seen reports but I’ve had no confirmation from Senator Bernardi that that is what he’s doing. Senator Bernardi is someone who is well-known for his conviction to conservative politics. He is a good friend of mine, and as I said I have seen all the reports but I have had no indication from Senator Bernardi that this is what he’s doing. He is a valuable member of the Liberal Party.

JOURNALIST: There are suggestions Liberal fundraisers won’t buy Arthur Sinodinos a house. Is his position as Cabinet Secretary now untenable?

MINISTER CASH: Senator Sinodinos has issued a statement stating that he had no knowledge of this, and I refer you to Senator Sinodinos’ statement.

JOURNALIST: Tony Abbott stood aside Arthur Sinodinos when he was being questioned by the ICAC; shouldn’t Malcolm Turnbull have the same standards?

MINISTER CASH: And again, I would refer you to the statements issued by Senator Sinodinos in this regard.

JOURNALIST: Does it worry you there seems to be a messy preselection battle in Mackellar with polling that shows Dick Smith would win convincingly against Bronwyn Bishop?

MINISTER CASH: Pre-selection  is one of those times, whether you’re a Liberal Party member, a National Party member, or a Labor Party member, it does bring some form of excitement with it, but at the end of the day, we will have a strong candidate who will campaign on good policy and the re-election of the Turnbull Government. Ultimatley , it will be for the people of Mackellar to decide who they wish to represent them. I would hope that it is a member of the Liberal Party and that we’re able to form Government, and then that particular member is part of a strong Government making a difference for all Australians. Thanks everybody.