Release type: Transcript


Press Conference with Prime Minister The Hon. Malcolm Turnbull MP


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

SUBJECTS: Corrupting Benefits Legislation; Same Sex Marriage; North Korea.


PRIME MINISTER: Good morning. Yesterday we were standing up for Australian families, cutting a better deal for them on their electricity bills. And last night once again, the government has stood up for Australian workers.

Michaelia and our Senate team have secured the passage of legislation that will ban secret payments between employers and unions - corrupting benefits.

And who wanted to retain them? Who was on the side of corrupt union officials? Bill Shorten.

For years, as the Heydon Royal Commission revealed, unions, the CFMEU and the Australian Workers Union in particular have received payments for employers in return for trading away workers' benefits, received payments for employers at the same time as enterprise bargains were being negotiated and not disclosed to the members.

Now, you would think that the Leader of the Labor Party and a former head of the Australian Workers Union who claims to have zero tolerance for corruption, you would think that he would recognise that the best antidote to corruption is sunlight and that he would be in favour of transparency and disclosure.

But, oh no, the Labor Party voted against that legislation last night.

I want to thank again Michaelia, for her leadership, our Senate team and the crossbench for once again supporting our determination and our delivery of a better deal for Australian workers. Whether it is the Victorian firefighters working the volunteers at the CFA, whether it is the owner-drivers who are being
put out of business by Labor legislation delivered in the Gillard Government at the demands of the Transport Workers Union, whether it is the one million Australians who work in the construction sector who are being stood over by thugs and the CFMEU and now the rule of law prevails.

Why does it prevail? Because we delivered. Reintroduced the Australian Building and Construction Commission and again, yesterday, the Senate did not go along with Labor's campaign to disallow the building code.

So that has been maintained, and I thank my Senate team, I thank Michaelia and all the Senate team and the crossbench for once again standing up for Australian workers.

There is a very clear demarcation here. We are standing up for Australian workers.
Bill Shorten and the Labor Party are standing up for big unions, officials who take payments from employers.

Be very clear about this - how can the Labor Party justify a position where they oppose obvious, fundamental reforms of transparency?

That was where the line was set in the Senate yesterday as it has been for over a year now in this Parliament, as we have continued to deliver one important reform after another.

Labor has stood up for secrecy and corruption. We have opposed it.

We have said integrity, transparency, unions should look after their workers and be seen to do so.

And the Labor Party has stood up, stood up shamefully, for big Labor, big unions, and officials at the expense of the workers they are supposed to represent. Michaelia.


Thank you, Prime Minister.

And yesterday in the Senate, Bill Shorten and Labor this the opportunity to stand with the Government and put workers first.

Bill Shorten and Labor failed on both accounts.

In the first instance, they failed yesterday to do the bidding of their mates in the CFMEU and bring down the Australian building and construction industry.

This government is very, very proud to have restored law and order to an industry in Australia that over one million Australians rely upon for their job.

This government is proud to stand alongside small and medium sub-contractors and say to them: ‘We back you every step of the way and we're levelling the playing field to ensure that you get a fair go’.

We are proud, Prime Minister, that we will never tolerate bullying, thuggery and intimidation in any industry, but in particular in an industry where it happens on a daily basis.

The campaign by the Labor Party and the CFMEU, since the ABCC was introduced, the bullying the intimidation and the thuggery that has been exhibited in relation to small and medium contractors and to some crossbenchers shows us all exactly why we needed to put a stop to this behaviour.

And I thank the crossbenchers for working constructively with the Government to ensure that the important reforms that we have introduced, bringing back law and order to the Australian building and construction industry are now there to save.

But, of course, the second important reform and one of the most fundamental pieces of industrial legislation change to ever go through the Australian Parliament was of course last night the passing of the corrupting benefits legislation.

This is a piece of legislation that is pro-worker and anticorruption, and Bill Shorten and Labor, they fought against us every step of the way.

Last night we officially banned, we officially ended the sweetheart deals that are done between employers and unions that have been done for decades and decades, that do nothing to benefit the workers.

In fact, one of the deals that is now banned under this legislation, and could potentially face time in jail, is of course a union official who gets onto an employer's private jet, enjoys a holiday in Cuba while sipping Crystale champagne, but at the same time is negotiating an enterprise agreement with that employer. Yes, you're right, it was Bill Shorten.

Another corrupting benefit that is now banned under this legislation is an employer, Cleanevent, handing over to the AWU $75,000 to ensure that the union did not agitate for higher wages for the workers that it represented.

We say enough is enough.

We stand here and we are unashamedly pro-worker and anti-corruption.
Another thing that our bill does is ensure transparency. No-one in Australia should be afraid of transparency.

If you're doing the right thing, you should be able to tell the workers exactly what you are doing. And as at the passing of this legislation last night, employers and unions who are negotiating enterprise agreements must now disclose to the relevant workers, prior to voting on the agreement, any benefits that are being exchanged between the employer and the union.

Again, if it is not in the interests of the worker, then quite frankly the behaviour should not be occurring.

So when we say that this is a government that is proudly pro-worker and stands firmly against corruption, the legislation that we pass shows exactly that we mean what we say.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, employers are crying out for more workplace reform, deeper workplace reform. What's next on your agenda?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we are committed to defending workers, we are committed to reform. Just focusing on the reform that we passed last night -

JOURNALIST: What’s next?

PRIME MINISTER: Just hang on a second. Michaelia will touch on those.
But I just want to emphasise the significance of what was done last night and the fundamental fault line between our government and the Labor Party.

You have got a Labor leader who is the most who is the most left wing Labor leader we have seen in generations. He is a wholly owned subsidiary of the CFMEU. He is a wholly owned subsidiary a union that has no regard for the law, that is flagrantly breaching the law, and like the puppet that he is, he has
gone in there, sent his Senators there to vote against legislation which does no more than require employers and unions to act honestly. To act honestly.

You would think this legislation would have been a pushover. You would think everyone would have looked at the it and said: ‘Good heavens, we should have done this years ago. Why didn't we think about this?’

But, no, Bill Shorten was there defending corruption and secrecy, while the government was standing up for integrity and transparency. These are fundamental issues of values.

Bill Shorten has been defending, tooth and nail, corruption and secrecy, defending big unions and union officials doing dodgy deals with employers at the expense of the workers. Now, Michaelia.

MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT: This is a government that has had one of the most ambitious industrial relations agendas that the country has ever seen.
We have stood up for Australian workers every step of the way. Labor has opposed us. We abolished the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal -

JOURNALIST: Once again, what is next?

MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT: No, just let me explain what we have done to give you an indication of where we are going.

We have stood up for the worker, mum and dad owner-drivers against the TWU and big business.

We have stood up for the 60,000 volunteer firefighters in Victoria against the United Firefighters Union and Daniel Andrews.

We dissolved the Parliament on the basis of law and order in the building construction industry and transparency in registered organisations.

We have implemented both of those pieces of legislation.

We have, last night, passed the corrupting benefits legislation.

We have committed between now and the end of the year of adopting the rest of the recommendations flowing from the Heydon Royal Commission.

We will also be introducing, into the Parliament - as we have already alluded to in the last Parliament -the fit and proper purpose test for officials in registered organisations, particularly given the absolutely disgusting comments made by CFMEU official John Setka.

We have also committed to a program worth $850 million to get our youth off welfare and into work.

So when you talk about an industrial relations agenda, this is a government that is actually making fundamental, cultural reform to industrial relations within Australia, and we are very proud of that.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, two groups are challenging the marriage proposal vote in the High Court. Will you allow a free vote in Parliament if the poll is struck down? And does this strong leader have a plan C ?

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much for your question. Our policy is very well known. We discussed it earlier in the week. We're committed to every Australian having their say.

JOURNALIST: What if the postal plebiscite is struck down? No free vote?

PRIME MINISTER: Our policy is very clear. We will not facilitate the introduction of a Private Members Bill on this matter unless the Australian people have given their support through a ‘yes’ vote through this national vote that we are now undertaking.

JOURNALIST: Mr Turnbull, can I just take you to North Korea?


JOURNALIST: We know that you want a diplomatic outcome there but the US and Korea have been amping up their rhetoric on that front. What preparations have you made with your Defence officials? What’s the legal position of Australia in a war in which we were combatants which only has an armistice? So what
planning have you done for the possibility of a military threat in our region?

PRIME MINISTER: We obviously plan for all contingencies, Chris, as you know, but I'm not going to talk about, I'm not go to get into speculative territory.
Plainly, we are very alert to the situation, it's constantly under review and I'm constantly discussing it with our officials and our allies including, obviously, the United States.

I'd just repeat what the Foreign Minister and I have been saying over the last several months again - the North Korean regime's illegal, reckless and dangerous conduct must stop. They must come to their senses.

What they are doing is putting the peace and stability of the region and indeed the world, at risk.

We welcome the strong action by the UN Security Council imposing much stronger sanctions than before.

We welcome the support of China and Russia for that and we note that China has unique leverage over North Korea and we encourage China to use that to bring this regime to its senses.

JOURNALIST: On same-sex marriage, proponents of change are broadly dividing already into two camps. One is to challenge the process and if necessary, boycott a vote. The other camp, as Greg Barnes has said today, he said accept the process and try and get a ‘yes’ vote. Do you see any parallels with your experience in 1999?

PRIME MINISTER: I encourage every Australian to exercise their right to vote on this matter. It's an important question.

Everyone will get an opportunity to have their say. We encourage everyone to have their say.

Are there any further questions on industrial relations?

JOURNALIST: The ABC this week revealed that Bruce Bilson was taking a salary from a lobbying outfit at the same time he was serving as an MP. Is that appropriate and should he return to the taxpayer a portion of his salary?

PRIME MINISTER: He’s acknowledged that he should have disclosed that and he's apologised for that, I understand. It was not appropriate to fail to comply with the standing orders and make the disclosure.

MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT: But on that note though, can I say to add to the list of the government's achievements and what we're looking forward to debating, our vulnerable workers, the protection of vulnerable workers is the next piece of legislation that we will be debating in the Senate. It has passed through the House of Representatives.

JOURNALIST: On this announcement today, the Heydon Royal Commission didn't make any adverse findings against Bill Shorten. And if I’m hearing what the Minister and you were saying today under these new laws, he would be found a criminal and put in jail, is that correct?

MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT: Potentially, that is correct.

PRIME MINISTER: Yes, essentially, what Michaelia is saying is that the conduct of Mr Shorten -

MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT: If it were repeated.

PRIME MINISTER: If it were repeated under these laws, would attract criminal sanctions - yes, that's right.

If you take benefits from an employer of that kind, undisclosed, in the course of negotiations, enterprise agreement negotiations, that is made unlawful.

You know Mark, the truth is that the vast majority of Australians, I believe, looking at this legislation, would say: ‘Why hasn't that been the law for years?’

The reason it hasn't been the law of course is because the Labor Party is so trenchantly determined to protect the interests of union officials, union bosses and big unions, at the expense of workers.

We're standing up for workers. What we're delivering here is integrity and transparency. What Labor was defending in the Senate was corruption and secrecy.

Bill Shorten has got to answer for that, he says he's got zero tolerance for corruption. Well, can I tell you, he was defending it in the Senate last night.
Thank you all very much.