SUBJECTS: Union merger; Newspoll
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Let's return home now, and the Fair Work Commission has given the nod to the creation of a new so-called super union, with the merger of the Construction and Mining Union with the Maritime Union. The new organisation will have more than 140,000 members, but the concept has sparked serious concern from business groups and the Turnbull Government. And the Minister for Small Business, Craig Laundy, joins us now from Sydney.
Minister, a very good morning to you.
MINISTER LAUNDY: Good morning, Michael.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: What, in your view, is wrong with this merger?
MINISTER LAUNDY: Look, it's the power they can ultimately wield and the fact that, with combining the port and the construction industry, they have the ability to impact supply chains economy-wide, far beyond their actual sectors and if they continue their, you know, the behaviour that they've demonstrated over the most recent years, there's a real risk that there could be serious disruptions to the economy.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: What behaviour are you talking about in particular?
MINISTER LAUNDY: Well, you look at, in particular, the CFMEU side of this merger. We’ve currently got 77 individuals before the courts and over the past two to three years around $13 million in fines issued. The problem now is that this union would have revenue, yearly revenue, around $150 million, and they will treat those fines- the risk is they'd treat those fines as a cost of doing business without thinking about, more broadly, the damage they could be doing.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: But what's wrong with these unions, Minister, teaming up, with the concept of there being strength in numbers and at a time, as you know, of stagnant real wage growth? There is strength, they would argue, in banding together and improving the position of the average worker out there.
MINISTER LAUNDY: Well, Michael, up until mid-2009 - and the Labor Party took it out - there was a public interest test for these styles of mergers, not just for unions, for registered organisations across the board. That is the legislation that we've been trying to pass through the Senate but, as to yet, unsuccessfully because, you know, if you look at the shoe on the other foot, economically, if there was two companies that merged and controlled 25 per cent of the economy, we'd run the public interest test through the ACCC. And what we're saying here is: yes, there's 177,000 workers, or 147,000 workers, I should say, but 91 per cent of the private sector in this country are not unionised. But the role that these actual specific unions play could massively adversely impact and, you know, the recent behaviour - it scares us.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Union leaders argue, in turn, that big business, as they see it, is becoming far too powerful and far too concentrated in Australia, so why shouldn't they follow suit?
MINISTER LAUNDY: Because big business have a public interest test to do that. So I think they should follow suit, unions. But …
MICHAEL ROWLAND: But the public interest test is stuck in the Senate, as you say.
MINISTER LAUNDY: No, no. It is for unions, yes. And it was in there until mid-2009. As I say, Michael, the Labor Party took it out. And here's the real problem, Michael: this is, I guess, a historic example of a Labor government removing barriers for union power inside the economy and – with where Sally in Manus has gone to with her commentary – my real fear is for the economy is if a Labor government is elected at the next election, the favours they’d owe - you're already seeing the pattern of Sally McManus saying something, Brendan O'Connor parroting it within 48 hours, and then Bill Shorten making it Labor Party policy. The risk to the economy is massive.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: You might have concerns about this, Minister, but you’re really – or the government generally – is really powerless to stop this merger going ahead because this legislation, as I understand it, is not retrospective.
MINISTER LAUNDY: No, the legislation, Michael, you’re right, won't be retrospective and this merger was approved yesterday by the Fair Work Commission. That's why in the last 24 hours, I've been calling on those union leaders that will gather on Friday and work out who takes senior roles, they need to really do a 180-degree backflip on how they've been conducting themselves over the past two or three years. If not, I fear for the sake of, as I say, the 91 per cent of Australians and their jobs that aren’t a part of the union sector.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: While I've got you, Minister, there's been a lot of chatter in the last couple of days or so about what may, or may not, happen if and when - more when - the Prime Minister ratchets up 30 negative Newspolls. Suggestions that there might be an argument from the Prime Minister’s office that that should not be a hanging offence, given that we all know it was the key reason that he used to roll Tony Abbott in 2015. Where do you stand on that?
MINISTER LAUNDY: Michael, I'm a participant, not a commentator. I keep right out of it. All I know is the economy is going from strength to strength - 403,000 jobs, most ever created, in the last calendar year, 75 per cent of them full-time. We've got a good, strong economic record, we're trying to deliver on it. On the alternate side, you've got union-dominated plans for the future of the country that scare the bejesus out of us.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay, but as you said, there’s no threat at all to the Prime Minister’s leadership, even though he set this own benchmark for himself?
MINISTER LAUNDY: No, no threat at all and any commentary that says so, as I say, is commentary, not from those involved in the participation in it.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay. Craig Laundy in Sydney, thank you so much for joining News Breakfast this morning.
MINISTER LAUNDY: Thanks, Michael.