SUBJECT/S: David Morrison, Australian of the Year, Rosie Batty and domestic violence awareness, The Trade Union Royal Commission, Industrial Relations Reform.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: But let’s bring in here on this program Michaelia Cash, shall we? Senator Michaelia Cash, now on the front bench, indeed in the Cabinet as well. Thanks very much for your company.
MINISTER CASH: Pleasure to be with you both. How are you…and happy New Year.
KRISTINA KENEALLY: Happy New Year and happy Australia Day, Minister Cash.
MINISTER CASH: Happy Australia Day, yes.
KRISTINA KENEALLY: Well, let’s start with the discussion that occurred over Australia Day, of course the transition of the Australian of the Year from Rosie Batty to David Morrison. Your reaction to David Morrison as the Australian of the Year, and particularly your reflections on Rosie Batty and what she’s done to elevate the issue of domestic violence?
MINISTER CASH: Kristina, I think, like all Australians, I am absolutely delighted that David Morrison was awarded the Australian of the Year. I’ve had a bit to do with David Morrison, in particular in relation to gender equality, but more particularly focusing on what we can all do to work together in relation to reducing domestic violence. I was delighted by David’s comments that that is going to continue to be a focus of his, now that he has this platform as the Australian of the Year, and also that very much builds on what Rosie Batty has focussed on over the last 12 months.
Rosie, as we know, is someone who has used that position to really give a voice in particular to those people who have been subjected to domestic violence, who previously didn’t have a voice. She really has assisted in ensuring that Governments of all persuasions have turned their minds, and will continue going forward to turning their minds towards taking further steps to address this issue. So from my perspective, delighted by David Morrison’s appointment, and full credit to Rosie Batty for everything that she did in her position as Australian of the Year.
KRISTINA KENEALLY: I noticed one aspect of the Prime Minister’s speech that didn’t get as much coverage as perhaps some of us would’ve liked, is that he announced a Government grant to the Rosie Batty Foundation.
MINISTER CASH: Absolutely. We announced the grant to the Luke Batty Foundation, obviously named in honour of her son, of $250,000 for two years each year – so half a million dollars in total. We’re delighted to be able to ensure that Rosie continues to have the platform that she has so beautifully used to promote reducing domestic violence, but in particular working with corporate Australia. Because Kristina, I think you and I both know corporate Australia has really stepped up over the last few years, in particular working with Liz Broderick, the former Sex Discrimination Commissioner. We’ve seen the Male Champions of Change, the stance they’ve taken not just on domestic violence, but certainly on gender equality in the workplace generally. And I believe that Rosie herself, and Rosie certainly acknowledges this, really now does have another role to play now that she is no longer the Australian of the year, but certainly still has a great role to play advocating for what more we can do – not just as Government, not just as business, but as a society, each and every one of us, to tackle the issue of domestic violence, and ultimately gender equality.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Senator Cash, you say that no doubt like all Australians you were pleased with David Morrison becoming Australian of the Year. Well, not all Australians. Miranda Devine and Chris Kenny, two prominent conservative commentators, they were pretty displeased with the choice of Mr Morrison in that role. What do you think of that?
MINISTER CASH: I think I’ve said this to you before, it’s not often that I disagree with Miranda Devine or Chris Kenny, but certainly on this issue I do. David Morrison is highly respected, in particular in terms of the work that he did in Defence to tackle the issue of gender equality. I listened to David’s speech yesterday, the one that he gave at the airport, an interview, and it was fascinating to hear him even admit that he himself throughout his life has been on a journey, and in particular in his role as Chief of Defence, what he learned in that role; how his views have evolved over time, and now that he is in a position to truly influence, that he is going to use that position to influence for good.
He was also very clear to say he is not passing judgement on anybody. He is looking forward at what we can do to tackle issues, and in particular when it comes to me and my position as the Minister for Women, gender equality and domestic violence. So I will disagree on this occasion with Chris Kenny and Miranda Devine, and I certainly look forward to the positive contribution that David Morrison can make as Australian of the Year.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Senator Cash, I’ve got to ask you about something that I’ve been seeking comment from some of your colleagues about, and it’s your comments to us – I think you also gave it at a media conference with the Prime Minister when announcing the response to the Trade Union Royal Commission’s findings. It’s this rhetoric that you’ve used where you say that the Government is paying down Labor’s debt. That’s a bit of an overreach isn’t it? I mean, maybe that’s the intent one day, but it hasn’t quite got there yet because it hasn’t had a surplus.
MINISTER CASH: Absolutely, and I think- I think it was an interview that you and I did where we talked over each other about six months ago. And certainly, the position I was trying to articulate, maybe not as clearly as I could have, was certainly that this is a Government that does have a plan for budget repair. We are a Government that is focused on reducing the deficit; we are a Government that is focused on reducing the percentage of Government spending as a percentage of GDP, we’ve clearly set that out in MYEFO. But you are right, you cannot start paying down debt until you reduce your deficits to zero, I will agree with you there. But the bigger picture I was making, Peter, was we do have a plan, we are committed to that plan, and certainly in MYEFO we were able to articulate that plan.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: You’ll be happy to know that you’ve got fiercely loyal colleagues Senator Cash, because I couldn’t get one of them to criticise you no matter how hard I tried.
KRISTINA KENEALLY: He tried!
PETER VAN ONSELEN: But what I do want to ask you about though, which sections- sections of the right are critical of this broadly, and it’s a question right in your portfolio area, it’s IR reform and whether it’s going to be on the agenda at the next election. Clearly, responses to the Trade Union Royal Commission will be on the agenda at the next election, and could even be a trigger for a double- or a double D on the issue. But that’s not really the sort of IR reform I’m talking about, I’m talking about addressing a lot of the wind-back that we saw attached to the changes that Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd brought in, as opposed to simply curtailing elements of union power. How bullish do you think that the Turnbull Government might be in the IR space to emulate the great changes and the great IR policies of Liberal tradition right throughout the Howard era, and indeed from the drives in the years before that?
MINISTER CASH: I just want to pick you up on one comment that you made, Peter, and that was curtailing the bullish elements of union behaviour. The changes that we’re going to bring forward to the Parliament, or the strengthened registered organisations legislation, I’ve made it quite clear is not going to target unions; it’s going to target both sides of the transaction. Heydon himself has recognised that there are two sides to any transaction: if a payment is made, somebody makes the payments, somebody receives the payment. So I do want to be clear that the changes that we will be looking at and certainly bringing to the Parliament are in relation to registered organisations themselves, whether they are employer registered organisations, or employee registered organisations.
But you are right, that is one side of the industrial relations equation. So more fair and transparent workplaces, and certainly on Tuesday of next week we will re-introduce the legislation to re-introduce the Australian Building and Construction Commission into the House of Representatives, because the Cole Royal Commission and now the Heydon Royal Commission have made it very clear, very clear – in fact I don’t know how much clearer you can make it – that the building and construction industry within Australia is a unique beast. It is a unique case in terms of its non-compliance with workplace laws, and it does need a specialist regulator.
Putting that aside, you were talking about our response primarily to the Productivity Commission. I have clearly stated that the Government is considering all of the recommendations flowing from the Productivity Commission. I also intend very shortly to commence a series of stakeholder consultations: unions, employer groups, small businesses, employee associations will be part of those consultations.
In the first instance I think it is very, very important to look at where we can all agree on what changes need to be made. I think that would be very refreshing for Australians to know that we can reach consensus on elements of the workplace relations framework that need to change, and then very much it’s listening to people about where they see the most pressing need. But in terms of my position and the Government’s position, and the prism that we are going to be looking at any changes through, it is very consistent with that whole-of-Government approach. The workplace relations framework is one part of a jigsaw, but it is a very, very important part of that jigsaw, so we need to look at what are the elements of the system that are holding employers back, because you need employers to have employees. Without employers you don’t have employees.
So we need to look at those elements of the system that is not allowing the employer to grow, but at the same time – and I want to be very, very clear – we need to ensure that we have that strong safety net. So when Brendan O'Connor next week stands up and does a speech and says the Government is going to rip out the working conditions and entitlements of the workers, Peter you’ve heard it from me first; Kristina you’ve heard it from me first – we are not going to do that.
The prism that we will approach workplace relations through is very much a strong safety net, whilst ensuring that business has the ability to grow, because the more employers we have, the more capacity they have to employ people, the more employees we have, and that’s positive growth for Australians.
KRISTINA KENEALLY: Minister Cash, I’ve got no doubt when you re-introduce that legislation on the Building Commission that you’re going to get that through the Lower House. But even Judith Sloan in The Australian today says that she doesn’t see much hope you getting it through the Senate, that the Prime Minister should put his passport in his bottom draw; stop gallivanting across the globe and stay here and get some legislation through the Senate on industrial relations reform. How are you going to get this though a Senate that’s already rejected many elements …
PETER VAN ONSELEN: [Interrupts] A double dissolution Kristina, that’s the answer.
KRISTINA KENEALLY: Well that’s what- maybe that’s what she’s going to announce here exclusively on Sky.
MINISTER CASH: Okay, I’m not [laughs]. However- but what I will say is, the very first bill the Turnbull Government got through the Parliament was changes to the Fair Work Act. They were modest changes, there were four of them, but it was the first bill the Turnbull Government got through. So I think what that says to the Australian public is, we can work with the crossbenchers – Labor did not support the changes, the crossbenchers did – we can work with the crossbench to affect change. I am in discussions with the crossbenchers, I will continue those discussions.
But what I will say is this. There is overwhelming evidence flowing from the Cole Royal Commission, and now the Heydon Royal Commission, that the building and construction industry in Australia is a unique industry that continues to fail to comply with workplace laws. Those are the laws that were passed by the Australian Parliament; they are not complying with those laws. When you had the Australian Building and Construction Commission in place under the former Howard Government, there was an increase in productivity, more projects were able to get off the ground, but what the statistics also show is there was a decrease in the number of days taken due to industrial action. You now have the reverse under the changes that Labor made. So we remain committed to ensuring that this sector has to play by the rules. Peter and Kristina, you and I get to play by the rules – it’s not always fun – but the rules are there for a reason. Workplace laws are there for a reason. And for anybody who now doubts, in particular following on from the chapter dedicated to this in the Heydon Royal Commission, that there is not a need for a specialist building regulator, quite personally I don’t know what evidence you need. I believe the evidence is there, we remain committed to that and, again, I will continue to work with the crossbenchers for what I hope will be a positive outcome.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Well we’ll find out, Parliament returns next week and I think you’ll get right on this as an issue. That certainly seemed to be the suggestion. We’re out of time. Michaelia Cash, we appreciate you joining us on the program as always, thanks again.
KRISTINA KENEALLY: Thank you.
MINISTER CASH: Great to be with you both, thank you very much.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Cheers.