Release type: Transcript


Sky News with David Speers on ABCC legislation


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: Re-establishment of the ABCC

DAVID SPEERS: Well returning here to Canberra, Parliament back today and the first piece of legislation that was introduced by the Government just minutes after Parliament resumed was to re-establish the building industry watchdog, the Building and Construction Commission that existed under the Howard Government, Labor got rid of, this Government now wants to bring it back. It’s already been rejected though by the Senate, the Government was not able to win enough of the crossbench Senate support. It’s trying again though, and this time using as part of its argument the recent findings of the final report form the Dyson Heydon Royal Commission into Unions.

Joining me now is the Minister for Workplace Relations and Employment, Michaelia Cash. Minister thank you very much for joining us this afternoon.

MINISTER CASH: Great to be with you as always.

DAVID SPEERS: Now you’re trying to win over not just the crossbenchers but I suppose all of the Senate with the Heydon Royal Commission, and in particular access to the confidential reports from Dyson Heydon. But you did say three days ago that the grounds put forward by the Opposition for accessing these confidential volumes didn’t demonstrate a public interest that would outweigh the risks to witnesses and investigations that could arise in providing access. Well now you are saying you’re willing to provide some access; what’s changed?

MINISTER CASH: Just in the first instance, I’m not trying to win over anybody in terms of the Heydon Royal Commission. The Government’s position is very clear, the case for the ABCC, the Australian Building and Construction Commission, was made by the Cole Royal Commission. And that is why the Howard Government introduced it. Even Julia Gillard, when she commissioned a review of the ABCC by a formal Federal Court judges Justice Wilcox, even he, Labor Government appointment, came out and said this particular industry, because of the nature of industrial unlawfulness, required a separate regulator.

DAVID SPEERS: So why are you now offering to show confidential elements of the Dyson Heydon report?

MINISTER CASH: Because certain people have requested access to it. As you know, the Heydon Royal Commission had six volumes, five of them publicly available. One of those volumes is confidential – confidential for very good reasons, it does contain the names of witnesses who have been threatened in terms of giving evidence at the Royal Commission, and access to it may prejudice some of the ongoing police investigations.

DAVID SPEERS: So why then are you offering to make …

MINISTER CASH: The Government can however, under very strict confidentiality provisions, allow access to it. So last week for example Labor and the Greens wrote to me and said we’d like access, we’d like the whole Parliament to have access, and other interested parties. Maybe the CFMEU I assume. I said no to that. I also wanted to ensure that Labor and the Greens, like the crossbench, have the opportunity to inform themselves, if that’s what they want. We found a pathway forward, we’ve now offered all political parties the opportunity to view the report, one person from each party, under those strict confidentiality provisions. David, the irony of it is this though, both the Greens and Labor, who last week I was the worst person on earth for saying no, now that I’ve said yes, I’m also the worst person on earth, they don’t want to view it.

DAVID SPEERS: So okay, but just getting back to why the change in your approach. Three days ago you were worried that Labor would share this with the CFMEU, now because of the conditions you’ve placed on looking at this report you’re satisfied that that won’t happen?

MINISTER CASH: We have offered one person from each political party, access under strict conditions, and we will be redacting the names.


MINISTER CASH: Again, the Government does take the issue of confidentiality seriously. I wish Labor and the Greens took the same approach …

DAVID SPEERS: Well just on that, because there are still questions about your approach here. There are two confidential chapters we’re talking about here?

MINISTER CASH: One from the interim report and one from the final report.

DAVID SPEERS: The interim report one, didn’t Dyson Heydon put a non-publication clause …

MINISTER CASH: Non-publication order, yes.

DAVID SPEERS: So how are you able to share that with anybody?

MINISTER CASH: Again, non-publication but given to the Government, and the Government is – because he changed the order slightly – able to show parties under the strict confidentiality provisions.

DAVID SPEERS: So Dyson Heydon has said …


DAVID SPEERS: … that it’s okay to show …

MINISTER CASH: Under very strict provisions. Can I also just say each of the state governors had a copy of it, and it’s gone to the state premiers obviously. And again, I really don’t want to get hung up on the confidential volumes. In fact I’d say David, the last thing anybody wants coming out of a Royal Commission is a confidential report. Because it means that I can’t refer to it because of the confidentiality provisions. But …

DAVID SPEERS: But as you touched on earlier, surely you shouldn’t even need to go down this path if you can win the argument on the ABCC on its merits.

MINISTER CASH: Exactly. The case for the ABCC has been made, the Cole Royal Commission, even Justice Wilcox, Julia Gillard’s hand-picked person to review the ABCC, he himself said the state of industrial unlawfulness within this particular sector is very unique in terms of non-compliance.

DAVID SPEERS: So why don’t you just say to the Labor Party and the crossbenchers these are confidential, forget it. Why even entertain the idea of showing them under strict provisions?

MINISTER CASH: Because again, they now have choice. And Adam Bandt made it very clear today, they’re not interested- they were never interested in actually reading it, and in fact he said the only reason he was going to read it was to actually beef up his case to get people to vote no. So, we said no, we were criticised; we’ve said yes, we’re criticised. We can’t win either way. The offer is there should they wish to take it. But as you’ve rightly pointed out, the case for the ABCC was made 13, 14 years ago. And in fact if you see the front page of The Australian newspaper today, former commissioner Cole has come out and said it’s all about productivity and jobs. Every time you have a stoppage on a building site in Australia ultimately that cost may well be passed on to the consumer. We bear, the average Australian, bears all of those costs.

DAVID SPEERS: Can I ask you about some of the other recommendations that Dyson Heydon did make. His number one recommendation was actually to establish this new single national regulator …


DAVID SPEERS: … for registered organisations, for unions and employer groups, separate from the Fair Work Commission with the power like ASIC to launch inquiries and investigations. When are you going to act on that?

MINISTER CASH: Okay. We agree with the recommendations. You will be aware that we already had a bill to establish a separate regulator for registered organisations. That was following the Health Services Union scandal. That has been dismissed by the Senate, or knocked back by the Senate three times. Following the Heydon Royal Commission we have now said it was way worse than what we had first anticipated in terms of the non-compliance by registered organisations. We are now looking at Heydon’s recommendations; we will now bring a strengthened package to the Parliament. So for example, Heydon made comment about the payment of corrupting benefits – the perfect example is Cleanevent. Cleanevent, a company, paid the union, the AWU, Bill Shorten’s union, the paltry sum of $25,000 not disclosed to the workers, bargained away their penalty rates – up to $2 million – and all that the AWU got was a membership list. Currently the law allows that, we say that’s completely wrong.

DAVID SPEERS: But let me ask you this, if you are going to have a beefed up national regulator … that’s what you’re talking about, and you’ll introduce that presumably some time …

MINISTER CASH:  In hopefully the first half of this year.

DAVID SPEERS: Okay, could that do the job of your Building and Construction Commission?

MINISTER CASH: No, no. Okay, that very much will deal with registered organisations, whether they’re employer organisations or employee organisations. The building and construction industry is an entirely separate issue. This is a building industry regulator, so you and I go to work every day …

DAVID SPEERS: Why couldn’t you have this single regulator look after all this?

MINISTER CASH:  Because it’s very different. The building industry is not a registered organisation, okay?


MINISTER CASH: So you have two very separate bodies, very distinct pieces of legislation, and the ABCC is to ensure that when people in Australia who work in the building and construction industry go to work every day, just like you and I, we get to comply with workplace laws. Why is it, that as a Parliament we tolerate unlawfulness, and unlawfulness to the cost of million and millions of dollars, to the ultimate cost of employees in the sector, why is it as a Parliament we tolerate that? We shouldn’t.

DAVID SPEERS: Let me just finally come back to the ABCC bill, the one that was introduced today. Any date yet on when you’ll put this to a vote in the Senate, and how confident are you, given all the arguments you’ve just made, that you can win over the crossbench?

MINISTER CASH: I’m continuing, as I would always do, my negotiations with the crossbench. But for those crossbenchers who don’t want to support the legislation, they should now come out and explain clearly why they are happy to support unlawfulness, industrial action- unlawful industrial action, you know, the loss of jobs, decrease in productivity within a particular sector of Australia when Federal Court decision after Federal Court decision, royal commission after royal commission, and even Julia Gillard’s own hand-picked reviewer have said there is a need for very unique reasons in this particular industry for a stand alone regulator.

DAVID SPEERS: Workplace Relations Minister Michaelia Cash, thank you very much for joining us this afternoon.

MINISTER CASH:  Great to be with you, thank you.