SUBJECT/S: AUSTRALIAN BUILDING AND CONSTRUCTION COMMISSION; DOUBLE DISSOLUTION TRIGGERS; TAX POLICY; EMPLOYMENT FIGURES; GENDER REPRESENTATION AND EQUALITY.
HELEN DALLEY: Well, one of the Government’s key pieces of legislation has been pushing to reinstall the Building and Construction Commission on the back of the findings from the Royal Commission into unions. It was the first order of business when Parliament resumed for this year. It’s gone to a Senate Committee, and it will report back in a few weeks’ time. Now, if it’s rejected again it could provide a trigger for a double dissolution election, which is keeping the option of an early election alive for the Government. Well, it’s been a busy time for Employment Minister Michaelia Cash, who also announced the new federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner last week, and Minister Michaelia Cash joins me now live from Perth.
Minister, thanks for joining us.
MINISTER CASH: Great to be with you Helen.
HELEN DALLEY: Now, let’s start with reintroducing the Building and Construction Commission and the Commissioner. What is the status of that legislation? Are you getting any signs that the Senate, the crossbench will support it this time around?
MINISTER CASH: Well as you’re aware it did pass the House of Representatives last week, or the week before. It came up to the Senate, and Labor, the Greens and four of the crossbenchers – Senators Lazarus, Lambie, Madigan and Wong – determined that they would send it to a committee. The committee has a reporting date of 15 March. The point that I made in relation to sending it to a committee is this: it’s already been to a committee, we did that the last time it came to the Senate. And on top of that, I personally- I could write the reports of Labor and the Greens and some of the crossbenchers. They have made it very … [interrupted]
HELEN DALLEY: All right, so how is this committee report going to be any different, do you think, from the last one?
MINISTER CASH: Helen, you’ve hit the nail on the head. I don’t think it’s going to be any different, unless of course they’re going to say- and by the way, the Heydon Royal Commission confirmed the need for a robust building regulator, and that’s why I said this is a farce; this is merely a delaying tactic because you do not want this legislation brought on and debated in the Parliament.
HELEN DALLEY: All right, well it sounds like they’re not going to support it, so where will that leave you?
MINISTER CASH: You are right, if there is a further rejection there will be another double dissolution trigger for the Government, bearing in mind that we already have a double dissolution trigger in relation to our Registered Organisations Commission legislation. So that’s the legislation to strengthen the regulation of registered organisations, and that has already been rejected by the Senate three times.
HELEN DALLEY: All right. I want to get to the double dissolution in a minute, but Minister you were criticised about your handling of whether the Senators could view the key part of the Royal Commission report, who could read it – first no one, then some, and you know, it was a select few. Do you believe you could have handled that whole issue better?
MINISTER CASH: In relation to the decisions that we made, no, I stand by those decisions. We had agreed that the crossbenchers would be able, if they so chose, to view the confidential volumes. Both Labor and the Greens wrote to me and they also asked to view the confidential volumes, but they placed additional conditions, which was you then also need to release those confidential volumes to interested parties. I said no to Labor and the Greens on that basis, I’m not about to release those confidential volumes to the CFMEU. We then found a pathway forward that we could offer … [interrupted]
HELEN DALLEY: Well why not? If you actually want them to make themselves into better organisations, why can’t they see that information?
MINISTER CASH: Helen, they have made it very, very clear that viewing the confidential volumes is not going to change their vehement opposition to ensuring that there is a strong regulator in the Australian Building and Construction Commission. And as I have said, the Government is not relying on the confidential volumes to make its case – the Cole Royal Commission did that for us back in 2003, 2004, and then you had the ABCC in 2005. The Heydon Royal Commission has merely confirmed what we all know: within the building and construction industry within Australia it’s rife with intimidation, with bullying, with thuggery. Helen, the laws are not strong enough, that’s pretty obvious, and when the laws are not strong enough to act as a deterrent something needs to change, and that’s all we want to do, is ensure the laws are strong enough to act as a deterrent.
HELEN DALLEY: These Senate crossbenchers, they obviously, from what you’re saying, they’re probably not going to pass it. If it isn’t passed, as you said it will provide a double dissolution election trigger. Is the Government inclined to use that trigger to go to an early election?
MINISTER CASH: Well again, we already have a trigger in place, but it’s up to the Prime Minister … [interrupted]
HELEN DALLEY: So that might suggest you’re not going to use it, you’re not going to go to an early election because of the risks.
MINISTER CASH: No, the Prime Minister has said at this point in time he expects an election later on this year. The point that I make though is, regardless of whether they are double dissolution triggers or not, the Coalition remains fundamentally committed to strengthened registered organisations and to the restoration of the Australian Building and Construction Commission. If the Senate, Labor, the Greens and some of the crossbenchers choose not to pass that legislation it will form part of our election policy and we will again take it to the Australian people – as we did in 2013 – and seek another mandate. Enough is enough. We need to clean up registered organisations and the building and construction industry within Australia, because the industry is just too important to jobs, to productivity for Australians.
HELEN DALLEY: All right. Well, you would have to say, on the issue of an early election, that after some of the Fairfax polling today showing your Government’s standing has slipped in the polls – yes, you are still in a winning position for the next election, but it has slipped nonetheless – and you appear to be at sea on tax policy, with nothing concrete to put to the Australian public, that you won’t be going early.
MINISTER CASH: Helen, I’m going to disagree with you in relation to being at sea. I don’t believe that at all, and that’s certainly not the feedback that I am getting when I travel around Australia. The feedback that I’m getting is very positive: thank you for having a conversation, thank you for putting everything on the table and talking about tax reform.
HELEN DALLEY: Well you’ve taken GST off the table though, not everything is on the table.
MINISTER CASH: We haven’t taken it off the table completely, not at all. But certainly, in relation to the conversation we’re having and the modelling we’ve now released, it’s obvious that the proposal that we had on the table, it’s got to all to be given back in compensation. That then gives you almost a zero net gain … [interrupted]
HELEN DALLEY: Sorry, I’m confused. Is it on the table or off the table?
MINISTER CASH: As I’ve said, we are still looking at everything. In terms of what our proposal was, you’re right, that’s off the table and the Treasurer has now released the modelling. But I am proud to be part of a Government that’s not scared to have a conversation, despite the fact that Labor has run a scare campaign in relation to the GST. We know what our end goal is. Our end goal has to be a taxation system that encourages productivity and encourages growth, but at the same time allows us to provide relief to the Australian taxpayer. We will release our policy in good time. We’re not going to be rushed into doing it, but when we do Australians will see it is a considered policy and one that we’ve talked to Australians about, so they have some real buy-in to it.
HELEN DALLEY: All right. I want to ask you about your portfolio more generally. Employment – now here’s your free-kick time. It used to be that any employment figure or unemployment figure that had a five in front of it, that meant we had full employment. I think Peter Costello used to say that. We have that now, so why is there still continuing uncertainty among employees about their jobs, about job security? There’s uncertainty and lack of confidence in the business community. Why can’t you – not necessarily you personally, but it is your portfolio – why can’t you sell that that is a strong point in our economy’s favour?
MINISTER CASH: Again, I’m going to disagree with you, because in the conversations I had people are very pleased that the unemployment rate in Australia is on a downward trend. As a Government though, whilst we still have unemployment our job is never done. People are aware that under this Government you have seen in excess, in the last 12 months, 301,000 jobs created. Participation is increasing, women’s workforce participation is increasing, you’ve seen a gradual decline in youth unemployment – it’s still way too high, I’m not about to make excuses –but I think people are aware that under this Government you are seeing jobs growth. I think what they are afraid of is that we’re a transitioning economy, and when you’re in a transitioning economy … [interrupted]
HELEN DALLEY: But it’s your job to make people not afraid, isn’t it, and be confident?
MINISTER CASH: Again, I think if you look at the ANZ job index, if you look at the surveys done on business confidence, if you look at the purchasing power of the average consumer over the Christmas period, these are all heading in the right direction. And as I said, this is a Government that has created, in 12 months, 301,000 jobs. We know what our mission is, our mission is to continue to create jobs, and that is why we’re having a conversation in relation to taxation policy even though we’re being criticised sometimes about that conversation. We know that you have to have a conversation about the broader picture so you can deliver to Australians, which is what we’ll do.
HELEN DALLEY: Back to that conversation, as you call it, about the tax policy. Do you think the Government can do a pretty neat little double twist with pike on negative gearing, on the one hand dismissing Labor’s policy while you yourselves are considering changes to negative gearing?
MINISTER CASH: I think you need to look at the reasons as to why we dismissed Labor’s policy. And again, we’re not about to just come out with a policy that hasn’t been thought through, which is very much what you’re seeing from the Labor Party. The Labor Party have announced a policy that over the forward estimates is going to potentially take in $600 million. How does that pay for anything … [interrupted]
HELEN DALLEY: But isn’t that still half a billion dollars? Isn’t that still good for the budget?
MINISTER CASH: Not when you’re looking at the amount of spending the Labor Government has already committed to; not when you say to yourself … [interrupted]
HELEN DALLEY: I would’ve thought it was better than nothing.
MINISTER CASH: Hold on, that is not the attitude we should be taking. But also, this is a policy that directly hits mum and dad investors going forward. Why would you announce a policy that you philosophically clearly think is going to get at those ‘richies’ out there who can, negatively gear a property, when the reality is when you unpick who is negatively gearing, two thirds of people who negatively gear are on an income of $80,000? So you’ve introduced a policy … [interrupted]
HELEN DALLEY: So does that mean negative gearing is off the table for you?
MINISTER CASH: No, no, no. Again, as I said, we will consider all options, but what we’re not going to do is come out with a policy announcement that raises almost no money over the forward estimates and hits mums and dads who are just trying to have a go. That is not the policy we’re going to be announcing.
HELEN DALLEY: On women being elevated into Cabinet in the ministerial reshuffle, Julie Bishop seemed to be saying today that there are six now and that’s better than one when she was the only one. But as my colleague Peter Van Onselen pointed out in The Australian on the weekend, of the 12 new faces on the frontbench since Malcolm Turnbull became Prime Minister, 10 of them have been men and women occupy just 10 of the 42 positions on Mr Turnbull’s frontbench, although they have moved up the ranks within that grouping. Now, as Minister for Women, is that good enough for you?
MINISTER CASH: It is a step in the right direction, and it is certainly better than where we were. I’m delighted that Fiona Nash is going to be joining us in Cabinet; I’m delighted that there are now six women in Cabinet, there are 10 in the executive. I don’t think anyone can say that Malcolm Turnbull does not have a commitment to gender equality. You might remember that the very first decision of the Turnbull Cabinet was the announcement of the $100 million Women’s Safety Package. So certainly- Malcolm is known throughout his life as being someone who wants to push the envelope when it comes to gender equality. It is a step in the right direction, and I think Malcolm would be the first person to say there is more to be done. But certainly, again, feedback that I’m getting from the average person in the street, they’re giving it a big tick as a step in the right direction.
HELEN DALLEY: All right. Well, as the Minister for Women, what is the new federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner going to focus on? She has very big shoes to fill after Liz Broderick.
MINISTER CASH: She has very, very big shoes to fill, and certainly she herself has already made statements to that effect. I did notice that Commissioner Jenkins came out and said she’s basically going to go on a listening tour. She wants to talk to people firsthand around Australia, all spectrums of life, to hear what they believe are the most important issues confronting them. Certainly from my perspective, I look forward to working with her in particular on ensuring that domestic violence remains as a key focus, not just for Government but for each and every one of us. I also look forward to working with her very much in terms of the work that had been done by Liz Broderick on the Male Champions of Change, and certainly Kate Jenkins, she initiated the Victorian branch of the Male Champions of Change.
So, certainly working with her to ensure that corporate Australia really does step up, and they’ve really moved ahead in some great strides, but we can build on that momentum to ensure that gender equality just becomes part of doing business on a daily basis. And certainly, there is Kate Jenkins’ work with women with disability and with the sporting codes. So I think she’s already proven that she is obviously over all of the issues, but very much in terms of what she said, she’s going to go and talk directly to the people to find out what they believe she should focus on.
HELEN DALLEY: Minister Michaelia Cash, we will have to leave it there. Thanks so much for joining us.
MINISTER CASH: Always great to be with you, thanks for having me.