LAURA JAYES: Joining me now is the Employment Minister and Minister for Women, Michaelia Cash. Thanks so much for your time.
MINISTER CASH: Fantastic to be with you.
LAURA JAYES: Thank you. I understand you are going to release this secret chapter to some interested parties under new circumstances. Can you explain that to us?
MINISTER CASH: Well initially both Brendan O'Connor and Senator Di Natale had requested access to the confidential volumes of the Heydon Royal Commission on the basis that we release it quite widely to all members of the Australian Parliament and other interested parties. I had declined that request, in keeping with the outcome of the Heydon Royal Commission and the confidentiality requirements. This is all about, however, ensuring that people are informed and can make a decision, and on that basis we have now decided that we will provide access to one member of the Labor Party and one member of the Australian Greens; who that person is is still being decided. But on that basis, given now the wider dissemination of the confidential report, to protect the names of the witnesses and to ensure that we don’t prejudice ongoing police investigations, they will be redacted versions – so the names taken out – that people will now see.
LAURA JAYES: So these new rules will apply to the crossbench members and one member of Labor, one member of the Greens. And what will be omitted, just the names?
MINISTER CASH: Basically just the names and other identifying features. We need to remember that a Royal Commissioner makes a confidentiality order, or a non-publication order, for very good reasons. The majority of the Royal Commission is obviously out there for all to see, but in relation to these volumes, because there are the names of witnesses in there and because they do have ongoing police investigations, the Royal Commission has determined that these volumes are subject to a non-publication order.
LAURA JAYES: So what’s the fear here, that Labor could use these names as a kind of get square to any witnesses who’s given evidence against them? Or is it wider than that?
MINISTER CASH: Well certainly, again, you have what the Commissioner has said; he has recommended non-publication for the reasons that he’s stated. We need to be very, very mindful of those reasons and the fact that there are names of people who have given evidence to the Royal Commission mentioned in these reports, and certainly there are ongoing police investigations.
LAURA JAYES: In your view, is there anything in this secret chapter that would really change Labor’s mind?
MINISTER CASH: I think the case for the ABCC was made following the Cole Royal Commission some 13 years ago now, where the Cole Royal Commission found that the building and construction industry in Australia was a unique industry in terms of its failure to comply with workplace law. Even Julia Gillard, she commissioned Justice Wilcox to have a look at the ABCC, and even the review coming out of Justice Wilcox – he himself said there was a need for a standalone industry regulator within this industry. Even the Labor Party agrees with that, because we currently have a standalone regulator. The argument seems to be about whether or not the regulator should have strong enforcement powers, and whether or not the penalties for breach of workplace laws should be increased.
LAURA JAYES: But Labor has argued and has put alternative proposals forward. Why not have ASIC be the monitor for this? It has the infrastructure there, it certainly has the credibility to do so, so why no just enforce that and extend it?
MINISTER CASH: That’s in relation to the registered organisations; in terms of the ABCC – quite separate. We need a regulator for the Building and Construction Commission because all the evidence shows this is a unique industry in terms of its failure to not comply with the law. The Government is committed to that, and we’ll reintroduce the legislation tomorrow. In terms of Labor’s proposals in relation to registered organisations, they were an 11th hour bid quite frankly, because they knew the Heydon Royal Commission was about to report.
LAURA JAYES: Regardless of the timing though, there are some proposals here that seem, on the face of it, something that should be considered. Why not consider it?
MINISTER CASH: Laura, they’re not strong proposals. For instance, they don’t actually attack the system. What Heydon has recognised is that it’s not just corruption in one party, with any registered organisations, it’s looking at the system. So for example, corrupting benefits. An employer, Cleanevent for example, pays a union – the AWU – the paltry sum of $25,000 whilst bargaining away up to $2 million in penalty rates that would otherwise have gone to the employees in return for a membership list. Under our proposal that’s a corrupting benefit, and we’re going to criminalise it. Labor has said nothing about that in its proposal.
LAURA JAYES: What about the legislation that the Government is proposing, and looking at a recent case we’ve seen like 7-Eleven workers, how are you proposing to protect them?
MINISTER CASH: The Government has taken a very strong stance in relation to the exploitation of foreign workers. As you’d be aware, last year I initiated a Ministerial Working Group in relation to the exploitation of foreign workers. This is a whole-of-government initiative, so I’m working with Kelly O’Dwyer, Peter Dutton, and Michael Keenan.
LAURA JAYES: But nothing has been put in place so far to tackle this issue.
MINISTER CASH: This Government has done a lot in relation to foreign workers.
LAURA JAYES: But do you need to pass new legislation to make sure foreign workers are protected? Because that was a pretty shocking case; I’m sure if we dug deep enough there might be more out there.
MINISTER CASH: Absolutely, and that’s why we stood up Taskforce Cadena. Taskforce Cadena has a specific role to tackle worker exploitation. We have said we are looking at increasing penalties, because clearly the penalties at the moment are not a deterrent, but certainly the Government has taken a very strong stance in relation to protecting vulnerable workers.
LAURA JAYES: Let’s look at the GST quickly now. We’ve seen this proposal put forward by Mike Baird; this is not the first time he’s taken the lead on this. It does seem like quite a sensible proposal; increasing the rate of the GST to 15 per cent, cutting the rate of company tax to 25 per cent, also putting money off to the side for compensation. This seems like a pretty good deal to me.
MINISTER CASH: I think it is absolutely fantastic that we have our state Premiers who are prepared to engage in a sensible debate about long-term taxation reform. As we’ve always said, the objective of the tax system going forward has to be to stimulate growth, encourage productivity, and be one that doesn’t hold Australians back, but is one that backs Australians. Part of that conversation relates to should we increase the GST. If we should, what is that going to relate to?
LAURA JAYES: But you’d agree that the GST is less regressive than the issue that we’re facing at the moment, which is bracket creep. So shouldn’t- as part of this conversation, shouldn’t we start to see some of the modelling?
MINISTER CASH: Look, very much so, and that is what Scott Morrison is doing in terms of the taxation conversation that he is having. I think the point that needs to be made though is it’s not just about a rise in the GST, which so many people seem to say – “you’re going to raise the GST”. No one has made a decision. What we’re saying is we want to go forward with a tax policy that gives company tax cuts, that gives an individual a tax break. But if you’re going to do that you actually need to have an holistic tax policy, and so we’re in good-faith discussions with the states, whether it be New South Wales and Mike Baird, whether it be South Australia – a Labor state – and Jay Weatherill, who at least is prepared to have a conversation. This is all about holistic taxation policy going forward that is going to incentivise companies and individuals.
LAURA JAYES: Where do you put on the list of your priorities then, a cut in the company tax rate or looking at income tax cuts? Because some economists have argued that, in fact, cutting income tax rates is actually more- will promote growth even further than cutting company tax. So where do you come into this argument?
MINISTER CASH: Well again, this is all part of the conversation that we’re having, but in terms of the big picture it’s all about a taxation system that is going to sustain us going forward. We’re a transitioning economy; we’re moving out of the mining boom, we’re moving more into a services-based economy. What’s the taxation system that we need to sustain us going forward, and what’s one that’s going to promote growth? It’s not going to strangle growth in Australia, but in particular it’s going to back you, it’s going to back me, it’s going to back the average Australian and ensure that it doesn’t hold them back.
LAURA JAYES: But an increase in the GST wouldn’t strangle growth.
MINISTER CASH: An increase in the GST is just but one part of the puzzle …
LAURA JAYES: [Interrupts] Package.
MINISTER CASH: It’s but one part of the puzzle, and that’s the conversation we’re now having.
LAURA JAYES: Okay, as Minister for Women now, can I ask you about the Sex Discrimination Commissioner? This is a position that’s been vacant for a number of months now. We heard David Morrison, on this program in fact, tell us how important it is to have that role. When is it going to be filled?
MINISTER CASH: We are currently undergoing the final stages of a selection process; we put in place a comprehensive selection process last year. I understand that the final names are going to go up to the Attorney-General this week, and Cabinet should make a decision over the next few weeks. But obviously Gillian Triggs, the president of the Human Rights Commission, has been acting in the role whilst we are going through what is an extensive selection process to ensure that we really do get the very best person for the job.
LAURA JAYES: And it will be a woman?
MINISTER CASH: I don’t know, we’ll have to wait and see the outcome. We want the best person for the job.
LAURA JAYES: Okay. Can I just ask you finally about the controversy around David Morrison? I know you’ve done so much work with him, he’s the Australian of the Year, and we’ve had the IPA in recent days call for him to actually give back that award. How do you feel about the debate that’s been going on at the moment, and the whole point that it’s an appointment and an award given to an activist, not someone recognised as a great Australian in their view?
MINISTER CASH: The first point I’d make is: independent panel. The Australia Day Council chooses the Australian of the Year based on nominations from the states, so this is a process that is independent from Government. I certainly acknowledge the controversy surrounding the appointment of David Morrison. From a personal perspective though, and someone who has worked for a very long time now in relation to raising the issue of the impact of domestic violence, I am very pleased that I have another voice out there championing that particular cause. Domestic violence affects one in three women in Australia. In fact, it affects almost every single one of us. You look at how many billions of dollars a year domestic violence costs the Australian economy. This is a Government that has made tackling domestic violence a national priority, and I’m pleased that the Australian of the Year has nominated that as one of the issues he’s going to champion.
LAURA JAYES: Hopefully that’s the end of the controversy…
MINISTER CASH: [Talking over] Hopefully.
LAURA JAYES: ...but I don’t think it will be. Michaelia Cash, thanks so much for your time on the program.
MINISTER CASH: Fantastic, and congratulations on the show. Thank you.
LAURA JAYES: Thank you, I appreciate it.