Release type: Transcript


PVO Newsday with Peter van Onselen and Kristina Keneally


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: ABCC, Senate Voting reform,  Queensland Nickel, Clive Palmer, Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, TWU.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: We’ve got Michaelia Cash the Industrial Relations Minister for the Government, she joins us live from Perth, thanks very much for your company.         

MINISTER CASH:  Great to be with you both.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Are you thinking you’re going to get your way on this ABCC legislation next week? The cross benchers are continuing to talk tough but I am wondering if electoral reality is going to hit some of them in the face.

MINISTER CASH:  Peter, Kristina, as I have always said, I will negotiate in good faith with cross benchers. This is good policy. As employment minister I would like to see this policy get through the senate. We have been committed to it for several elections now. We need six out of eight votes as you know. We are still working on getting those six out of eight votes. I have had a number of amendments presented to me. I am working through the amendments to see how they sit with the total integrity of the Bill.

The Prime Minister has made is clear this is good policy, we stand by the policy and if we don’t have the support of the Senate then we will dissolve the Parliament and go to a double dissolution election on July 2nd.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:   Its ironic isn’t I Senator that we are in this situation, exactly as you just pointed out for a number of elections now, this is Liberal party policy. You are simply looking to implement an election policy. How ironic when all the other ones you looked to implement that were broken promises you ran into problems there and this one you’re actually trying to do something that you said you’d do and you’re getting blocked!

MINISTER CASH:  You’re right – we received an overwhelming mandate at the 2013 election to implement our policies. Cleaning up the building and construction industry is one of those policies. Unfortunately with the nature of the Senate, as you know, it is a difficult Senate.

If you can’t get the support of Labor or the Greens.

We recently got the support of the Greens in relation to Senate voting reform, we were able to work with them and get that through. If we can’t get the support of Labor or the Greens it is six out of eight cross bench votes that we need. That’s six people with very different views and approaches to legislation. We have to work with each one of them if we want to achieve an outcome. That is what I am doing at the moment.

KRISTINA KENEALLY: So you are still holding to your negotiating position Minister , that any cross bencher needs to bring 5 friends with them before the Government will sit down and talk to them.

MINISTER CASH:  Some have come to me without the additional votes attached. I am impressing upon them that if we are serious about passing the legislation, come to me, speak with the other cross benchers. Come to the Government with amendments that you know you have support for so that we can sit down and talk through them. That is what I continue to do with the cross bench.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Have you had any conversation with the Prime Minister or his office about being more amenable to amendments over the last couple of weeks. Given the political fortunes of the Government have become a little less certain. An early election doesn’t quite look good for your guys as it perhaps did when the PM announced this so strongly.

MINISTER CASH:  I am in constant contact with the Prime Minister’s office on a number of issues, one that I am sure we will get to is the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. The Prime Minister is in full agreement with me and the rest of the Coalition. This is good policy our preference is to see this policy get up.

That is a real achievement for the Australian people. Cleaning up the building and construction industry. One in 10 Australians – their job is because of the building and construction industry. Let’s ensure their workplace is one in which they want to go to work every day.

Registered Organisations – because obviously there are two bills that we will be debating. If the ABCC does get through, we will then bring on the bill to ensure that employers and employee organisation unions when they are dealing with each other do so in a transparent manner. More transparency for registrered organisations. These are both good policies. We would like to see them get through  the Parliament.

Ultimately that is why the Prime Minister has said we have a mandate for both of these policies. Of ultimately the Senate does not want to pass them, we are committed to them because they are good policy. We will dissolve the Parliament and as you rightly point out, go to a double dissolution election on July the 2nd.

KRISTINA KENEALLY: Minister we will be watching the Parliament of course with great interest next week, we do want to talk to you about the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal but before we do that I’d like to turn our minds to Queensland nickel, Clive Palmer, some $73 million in entitlements outstanding to the workers there. Any consideration? It is within your discretion I understand to use taxpayer funds to provide those entitlements to those workers?

MINISTER CASH:  Kristina, it is absolutely devastating what has occurred at Queensland Nickel. All Australians, our hearts go out to the employees who no longer have a job. There is a process to go through in terms of the release of the Fair Entitlements Guarantee. We received yesterday the report from the creditors. It is a comprehensive report. My Department is currently undertaking a thorough consideration of that report. It will be providing a brief to me shortly. At which point in time, I will determine whether I determine whether or not will exercise my discretion to release the funds early. A decision will be made within the next 24 hours. An announcement will be made shortly.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: What is your philosophical view on that? It is an interesting one. You feel for the workers. By the same token, not a great precedent to be setting is it? To be bailing them out? Bailing Palmer out?           

MINISTER CASH:  It is a really good point. The fund was set up to protect the entitlements of employees in circumstances like this. I think both sides of politics agree that you do need to have some provision to ensure that where an employee has entitlements, they have worked hard, they have built up these entitlements. The business goes bust, there is some level of assurance that they will receive some of the monies. You are right. The scheme is not set up so that businesses can say, “I don’t have to take care of employee entitlements because ultimately the Government will step in and do that for me.” That’s why the Government takes its role as the release of taxpayers monies in these situations very seriously.

I know Bill Shorten has been out there saying, “I am calling on the Government I am calling on the Government.” Bill is also aware that there is process the Government has to go through. You cannot release the funds unless you are certain that the company is going to go into liquidation or has gone into liquidation.

That is the point in which we are now at, and that is why we are looking at the creditors report. You are right - $73 million dollars. It is Clive Palmer’s ultimate responsibility. Clive should not be let off the hook. The Government steps in because he has vacated the space and we should never forget that. Clive is responsible for what’s gone on here. He should ultimately be held accountable for this.

KRISTINA KENEALLY: Are his workers suffering because he is a member of parliament and really your political opponent? Are you allowing politics in any way to cloud your judgement and when to release these funds?

MINISTER CASH:  Absolutely not Kristina. There is a process we need to go through. The creditors report was received yesterday – the process is you do need to be assured that the company is going to go into liquidation or as I said on the 22nd April – there will be a creditors meeting and a vote will be taken as to whether the company should be put into liquidation. We are now at that position. Previously, I think like so many people the Government was really hoping the voluntary administrators could work this out. What we didn’t want to see was employees lose their jobs. We were hoping the company could keep on trading and ultimately we would not get to this situation. We are now in what seems to be an inevitable situation and that is why as I have said, we are seriously considering the report and an announcement will be made shortly.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Just as an aside Kristina, I actually would say the opposite. That it is not the politics is clouding their willingness to intervene because it’s a political opponent. I see that because we are so close to an election they are more likely to be kinder to the proposition than perhaps more ideological…. [interrupted].

MINISTER CASH:  Just on that Peter, if politics was clouding my judgement or the Prime Ministers judgement I would have exceeded to the calls of Bill Shorten several weeks ago. Politics is not clouding my judgement. This is a significant call on the Fair Entitlements Guarantee fund. We have to go through due process because this is ultimately taxpayers money. We are now literally at the pointy end and that is why as I have said we’ve gone through the process. We’ve now received the creditors report. We are looking at it. We will make an announcement very shortly.

KRISTINA KENEALLY: Within the next 24 hours?

MINISTER CASH:  Probably within the next 48 hours to be fair to the employees.

KRISTINA KENEALLY:  We will look forward to that. Can we move on to the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal The 2016 Price Waterhouse Coopers review of the Tribunal, that reports been provided to your government, that said that this order you are seeking to delay will reduce crashes by 28% wouldn’t it follow that your determination to delay the implementation of this order is going to result in crashes that could have been avoided and deaths that could have been avoided on our roads.

MINISTER CASH:  No Kristina. I was with a group of truck drivers this morning and they are obviously furious with the Labor Government and the Tribunal that was put up. They are losing their jobs now. I was with a company last week, 70 years in business and is now looking at closing down. Imagine the impact on someone’s health and safety when they are having their truck repossessed and they cannot pay their mortgage. That’s an impact on  health and safety… [interrupted]. 

Kristina there is little to no evidence that mandating a rate that someone has to pay and only a part of an industry, remember, this only applies to owner drivers, it does not apply to employees or to the big companies. Mandating a rate that someone has to pay, suddenly means they are going to drive more safely. Both of the reports, the Jaguar report and the report you referred to, they actually found that there is little to no evidence to support that. I think Kristina the bigger issue is this. The whistle-blower coming out from the TWU, Michael Wong in particular is openly saying “I worked on the political campaign to set up the RSRT, I now apologies to the Australian people that my expertise was used in this way.” Because it was never about safety it was all about bolstering the numbers of the TWU and their finances..[interrupted].

KRISTINA KENEALLY:  Do you take the word of the Royal Commission seriously?

MINISTER CASH:  Which Royal Commission are you now talking about?

KRISTINA KENEALLY: The Trade Union Royal Commission.

MINISTER CASH:  I accept the findings of the Trade Union Royal Commission yes.

KRISTINA KENEALLY: This is the Trade Union Royal Commission where Mr Wong admitted to lying on the stand and he was repeatedly reprimanded by the commissioner for his evidence. I find it curious that the Government want to rely on a person like that in their arguments against the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal.

MINISTER CASH:  Kristina he is not the first whistle-blower to come out. He is now one of a number of whistle-blowers. Put that aside [interrupted].

KRISTINA KENEALLY: I can’t put it aside, the Prime Minister tells us we should listen to Mr Wong, but the Royal Commissioner says he reprimanded him for lying on the stand. The Royal Commission made no finding against the TWU when it came to this issue of road safety or the Tribunal.

MINISTER CASH:  Let’s put that aside for the moment. Look at the evidence of the mum and dads who have mortgaged their homes to buy their truck who just want to be small business operators. Let’s listen to their evidence. We agree – let’s put Mr Wong aside. Let’s look at their evidence. I have been contacted by members across Australia, by thousands of people. I have grown men crying on the phone. They are not going to be able to pay their mortgage. They are possibly going to lose their trucks because a Tribunal under the guise of safety has interfered in the market and has fixed a rate for only one part of that market. Kristina I cannot stand by as a policy maker and watch a Tribunal destroy the livelihoods of mum and dad truck owners in Australia. We have to do something.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: I just have to ask Senator, is that right that its different rule for different sections for the industry? The big end of town for the owner operators. You get told different things from both sides. You hear that from your side, the other side say no, there are different rules that the big operators have to operate under. Which therefore would now equalise them? 

MINISTER CASH:  No and this is the biggest problem. You are right there are separate rules. This is a completely separate rule all together in n terms of pay rates. The pay rates that have been mandate only apply to the employee drivers. The owner drivers. For example this morning we had a truck driver who is an owner driver. As he said when he gets into his truck and drives it he now has one set of rules that apply to him. When he has someone else driving his truck, not an owner driver, someone else a subcontractor, a completely different set of pay conditions apply…[interrupted].

KRISTINA KENEALLY:  Isn’t this a problem of implementation and definition? Because your argument seems to be that owner drivers can only continue to exist if they are vastly underpaid in comparison to fleet drivers.

MINISTER CASH:  Tell me this, it is the owner drivers who are putting up their hand and begging us to get rid of this order. They are begging us to return them back to the situation that thye were in whereby they determined what they would pay. The fact that I have got owner drivers begging me that they do not want these additional rates in place because ultimately it is putting them out of business and instead of taking home x hundred of thousand per week they are now taking home 0 per week.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Can I ask – in other words though they’ve bene asked to pay the same as what the unionised larger workforce..[interrupted].  

MINISTER CASH:  No they haven’t. this is the huge with the order. If the minimum rates were across the board and the big companies had to pay them in the identical way that owner drivers had to. What you would see obviously is that the cost of business would go up for everybody. You might say, well okay, that’s fair. The fact that the order specifically applies to only owner drivers, that is where the distortion in the market comes from.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Isn’t that because at the moment the bigger operators are required to adhere to other awards that exist. Which this decision by the Tribunal would therefor equalise. I thought that is what was happening?

MINISTER CASH: No, and that is the huge problem with it. It doesn’t equalise it. It distorts it. Peter can I go to another point that you have raised…[interrupted]

KRISTINA KENEALLY: It equalises it in terms of cost recovery. It may not equalise it in terms of actual money being paid but it is an equalisation in terms of cost recovery. Isn’t it the order trying to ensure that owner driver has enough, is paid enough to maintain the truck and is paid enough to look after their superannuation and other entitlements as well? Because they don’t have that under an award system.

MINISTER CASH: Kristina – you can’t maintain your truck and pay yourself any money if you have no money. We are putting people out of business with this pay order. That is the issue. The order is gone way over and above anything that the market would dictate. Peter I want to go back to your point of confusion [ interrupted].

KRISTINA KENEALLY: How do you know that?

MINISTER CASH: Owner drivers are telling me every single day. The bigger problem is this, you actually are right in this conversation. One of the huge issues that has come out of this is the absolute confusion as to who the order applies to, when it applies. You are charging by an hourly rate. If you are going from A – B what do you charge? And if you return from B to A what do you now charge?

It is a fundamentally different way of doing business. The issue that has arisen is, even the Fair Work Ombudsman the body that is meant to be able to explain the order to owner drivers is not able to explain the order. If nothing else, we need to delay the implementation of the order so that owner drivers can get their affairs in order and understand the actual impact of this order on  them, so that they are not going out of business which is exactly what is happening now.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Minister, can I just go back to this PWC review that Kristina mentioned earlier with the 28% reduction in truck crashes. You rejected that. Is that because you rejection the PWC review making that assertion or do you think that is taken out of context?

MINISTER CASH: it was taken out of context. That was a very small part of the review. The review itself actually recommends abolition of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. As does the Jaguar report itself. You have two reports that actually recommend abolition of the Tribunal. In terms of safety, the more appropriate way is through the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator. What we have said is, if we are able to abolish the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, which remember did nothing for 4 years except in December last year with decimating the owner driver industry. We will give the $4 million that we will save..[interrupted].

KRISTINA KENEALLY: Did you make a submission to their review? Because they have had this order under development for two years. They did consultation. Did the Government make a submission.

MINISTER CASH: I don’t believe we did. Kristina you have got to remember they only brought down the order in December.

KRISTINA KENEALLY: They had a draft for consultation in August.

MINISTER CASH: Nobody knew what the actual impact of the order would be. I have got to deal in reality. I have mum and dads coming to me across Australia begging me to save their business. I can’t sit here and make excuses I am going to stand up for small business. I am going to stand up for mum and dads who are directly impacted by this order. I am going to do what I can as a Minister in the Turnbull Government to save their business. I cannot sit by and watch an industry be decimated because we all want to play politics. This is a real life situation where people have already gone out of business. I was with someone last Sunday in Sydney and he said to me, “Michaelia do you know what I am doing tomorrow?” I said “Gordon I don’t know will you tell me?” he said “I am dropping of my last load” that is what I am dealing with and I can’t stand by and let that occur.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Should Joe Hockey have done the same for the car industry at the start of the Government?

MINISTER CASH: Not quite sure what you mean  there. It is quite a separate situation in terms of manufacturing and the car industry and the fact that the car industry has been on decline now for many many years. I have to deal with now, my reality today and for 2016. My reality is I have got owner drivers going out of business and I cannot stand by and let that occur.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: There is a lot more in this debate and we will continue that in Parliament next week. Michaelia Cash thank you.

MINISTER CASH: Always great to be with you guys thanks for having me.