E&OE TRANSCRIPT – RADIO NATIONAL BREAKFAST
SUBJECT: Union merger
FRAN KELLY: Well, the national industrial landscape is set to be transformed with the creation of a mega trade union – a super union – which business leaders are warning will entrench unlawful conduct and be a disaster for supply chains from pit to the port. That’s what they’re worried about. The CFMEU has been given the go ahead by the Fair Work Commission to merge with the Maritime Union and the Textile Clothing and Footwear Union, which would give it more than 140,000 members. The new union would have a revenue stream of close to $150 million a year.
The National Secretary of the TCF, Michele O’Neil says the super union will write a new chapter in Australian workplace relations.
MICHELE O’NEIL: I mean; this is a simple decision of workers deciding that they want to join the unions together so that they can together campaign for change. And they want to be able to campaign for change in terms of better pay and conditions. And that’s a fine thing. We’ve got a proud history in Australia of workers being able to stand together and win a better deal.
[End of excerpt]
FRAN KELLY: That’s union boss Michele O’Neil speaking on RN Drive last night.
Well, Craig Laundy is the Minister for Workplace Relations. He joins me in the Breakfast studio. Minister, welcome to Breakfast.
MINISTER LAUNDY: Good morning, Fran.
FRAN KELLY: Safety in numbers; that makes sense doesn’t it?
MINISTER LAUNDY: If they use the power they’ve been given responsibly, if they abide by law. But the drama here, Fran, is that you don’t have to look too far into the past to see – especially on the CFMEU side of the fence – consistent actions that disobey the law. And indeed on the ACTU side of the fence, as late as last Friday on this actual radio station, you had Sally McManus, yet again; saying that some laws are okay to be obeyed and some are okay to be broken.
FRAN KELLY: Yeah, but she put that in the context of global activity and resistance movements like Nelson Mandela. I mean, there’s all sorts of ways that that has happened.
MINISTER LAUNDY: Actually, Fran, she didn’t. She put it in the context; she referred the modern industrial relations system in this country to Nazi Germany. Now, I generally…
FRAN KELLY: No, she wasn’t comparing this to Nazi Germany, she was saying: in Nazi Germany, people broke the laws in resistance.
MINISTER LAUNDY: No, Fran, yes but what she’s saying if that’s the linkage she wants to make, then the current industrial relations system in this country is like Nazi Germany.
FRAN KELLY: What if you made another comparison, like anti-apartheid resistance?
MINISTER LAUNDY: She didn’t. She used Nazi Germany.
FRAN KELLY: But the point she’s making is that some laws can be broken.
MINISTER LAUNDY: No, Fran. She made the point that the modern industrial relations, she chose specifically Nazi Germany, which I think if you ever have to go to that place, you’ve lost the argument to start with. And my great hope is the Australian public will agree with me.
FRAN KELLY: Let’s agree it’s not close to Nazi Germany. But is this the Government’s own problem that this super union has been merged? Because the Government’s been warning that this would create industrial chaos. You went to the last election, 2016, promising laws that would have prevented a mega union like this. The bill is stuck in the Senate; you didn’t even put it in there ‘til late last year. Have you been caught asleep at the wheel, is this your own doing?
MINISTER LAUNDY: No, it’s the Labor Party’s doing. This public interest test was in industrial relations landscape in this country ‘til mid-2009 when the Labor Party took it out. And let’s …
FRAN KELLY: Yeah, and you promised to bring it back in 2016, and you brought it back –when – October of last year?
MINISTER LAUNDY: No, no, we have been working- obviously the reality is if we had the support of the Labor Party, we would have put it in straight away and got it through. We don’t have that …
FRAN KELLY: No, you know you don’t have that. So, what other efforts could you make to get it through?
MINISTER LAUNDY: Exactly. But why shouldn’t we have that, Fran? I mean, they took it out, what is the argument here? It’s not just union focussed; this is a public interest test of all organisations that the Fair Work Act must consider. And let’s look at the alternative on the economic side of the fence: if you had two businesses coming together and they had up to 25 per cent control of the supply chains in this country, would we not run it through the ACCC?
FRAN KELLY: We would run it through the ACCC.
MINISTER LAUNDY: Exactly, and that’s what we’re arguing here. There is no consistency.
FRAN KELLY: But you didn’t bring in the law. Minister, you did not bring in the law.
MINISTER LAUNDY: Fran, the law is in and we’re trying to get it through the Senate. And I’m not going to stop trying to get it through the Senate, Fran.
FRAN KELLY: But you didn’t bring it in for a year-and-a-half.
MINISTER LAUNDY: Fran, we brought the law through the Lower House. I cannot, at this stage, without the support of the Crossbench, get it through the Senate. I continue to work on that and when I do have it – and my great hope is I will - I will put the law back into the Senate.
FRAN KELLY: Union leaders – and we heard Michele O’Neil there – say this will restore some of the balance and fairness when it comes to pay and job security. What’s your concern about this merger of these unions?
MINISTER LAUNDY: Their recent history of how they conduct themselves in the industrial disputes.
FRAN KELLY: All of them?
MINISTER LAUNDY: Especially the CFMEU, you have – still, as of 31 December – 77 individuals in front of federal courts in this country, $13 million worth of fines over the past two or three years for that union alone. And now this union has $150 million a year in revenue. The real risk you run here is they say: bugger the law; these fines are a cost of doing the business.
FRAN KELLY: So, the CFMEU – you’re right – has all those people before the courts. But that’s the point, they are before the courts. We do have laws dealing with this.
MINISTER LAUNDY: Yes, but what I’m calling on people like Michele and others, to change the way they behave, especially with the increase in power that comes as a result of this merger. That’s been my consistent position in the last 24 hours. They need to do a 180 degree turn on how they’ve acted historically, moving past it. Why? Because they now – think about this, Fran – if there is anything in any supply chain in this country that is imported and comes through our ports, they have the ability to disrupt it. You are talking about potentially massive economic impacts from industrial action here.
FRAN KELLY: But that’s what the union withdrawal of labour is. It’s about disruption to make a gain for the workforce.
MINISTER LAUNDY: Yeah, but Fran, the system then orders you- they come in if it’s of national consequence, and they make a decision …
FRAN KELLY: They intervene.
MINISTER LAUNDY: They intervene and they find if your conduct is lawful or unlawful. And the recent past of the CFMEU is a truckload of unlawful conduct and fines that result and orders that result. And a lot of times those orders are ignored and then further fines are racked up.
This is the problem that I’m trying to take this down to the lowest level to explain to everyday Australians out there that they stand behind the fact- you know, we’ll come together and we’ll make things better for workers. But they could actually – if they continue their most recent behaviour – have a massive impact upon the 91 per cent of Australians in the private sector that aren’t members of a union.
FRAN KELLY: Let’s look at everyday Australians. Because workers undeniably have lost bargaining power over the past couple of decades, wages growth is barely keeping up with inflation at the moment, job insecurity is on the rise, about 2.5 million workers are in casual employment in this country. Would the super union have been necessary, do you think, if the pendulum hadn’t swung so far in favour of employers over recent years?
MINISTER LAUNDY: Fran, I reject the premise of the question. The system that we are operating in – this is the rank hypocrisy of the Labor Party – it is their system. The Fair Work Act and The Fair Work Commission …
FRAN KELLY: I’m not talking about Labor, I’m talking about low wages growth and high casual employment.
MINISTER LAUNDY: Fran, the decision on wages is made by the Fair Work Commission. It’s an independent arms-length body from government set up …
FRAN KELLY: No, no that’s the minimum wage, that’s not the wages growth across the board.
MINISTER LAUNDY: But Fran, off the minimum wage comes every award. There are 2.4 million Australians in this country on awards based off the back of minimum wages. The bargaining agreements, another 3.1 million people. Where the award rates are, are taken directly into account.
FRAN KELLY: But the Government’s not going to the Fair Work Commission and arguing for higher award wages- higher basic wages, are you?
MINISTER LAUNDY: We are going to the Fair Work Commission- we go to the Fair Work Commission and we ask them to consider – as they have done since 2009 when set up by the Labor Party – a range of issues, both socioeconomic and economic, and that’s how it should be. It should be independent and free of government because the risk- and why has it always been that way, Fran? The risk is that a populist lunatic would come in and say: we’ll raise your wages irrespective of that independent oversight and with no respect for economic harm.
FRAN KELLY: Are you urging employer groups, like the Masters Builders and others, to appeal this decision through the courts?
MINISTER LAUNDY: Look, that’s a matter for them, Fran. What I’m urging …
FRAN KELLY: You’re not talking to them about that?
MINISTER LAUNDY: No. What I’m urging today is the union leaders of this new merged union to do a 180 on the way they’ve behaved historically and understand the potential impact they could have on all Australians.
FRAN KELLY: You’re listening to RN Breakfast. It’s 7.45. Our guest is the Workplace Relations Minister Craig Laundy. Minister, you’re in the government now, but you and your family have had a long association with hotels – the industry. We’re seen moves in Tasmania and South Australia at the moment to either ban or limit the number of pokies in pubs and clubs. The Liberal Government of New South Wales has actually just moved to put a cap on new poker machines in high-risk areas of Sydney – areas like Fairfield, for instance. The drums do seem to be beating against pokies, or at least a high number of them, in pubs and clubs. Polls continue to say that the voters want some change here. Do you think it’s time to have a sensible discussion about the contribution of poker machines and what needs to be done about it?
MINISTER LAUNDY: Fran look, obviously I’m a member of the Federal Government and as you say …
FRAN KELLY: I’m not saying you’re a representative from the pubs and clubs at all.
MINISTER LAUNDY: Pokie machines are regulated at state levels. But what I will say about- and obviously my knowledge historically has been of the New South Wales jurisdiction. I couldn’t make any meaningful comments on Tasmania or South Australia. But what I will say is this, the amount of poker machines in New South Wales – due to the work of the Government – has decreased by around 10 per cent in the last 10 to 15 years. You are looking at problem gambling rates, that were measured around by the Productivity Commission, 2 per cent in 1999, and 0.4 per cent today, which is, quite frankly, Fran, 0.4 per cent of Australians too many. But it is the State Government and these harm minimisation measures, like those announced yesterday, that are driving that result continuing downwards. As it should.
FRAN KELLY: So you support them?
MINISTER LAUNDY: I support them. Yes.
FRAN KELLY: And just finally, you represent one of the most multicultural electorates in New South Wales, perhaps in the country. You are a former Multicultural Affairs Minister, I think. Do you agree with the Citizenship Minister, Alan Tudge, that we are at risk of multiculturalism failing because of, effectively, creeping ethnic separatism? Do you agree we’re not integrating as well as we have?
MINISTER LAUNDY: Look, in parts of- obviously Minister Tudge is a Victorian and I have no doubts with the recent Sudanese gang violence down there- you know, you could very easily, and correctly, draw that comparison. What do I see in my electorate? My electorate is a very different place. Integrate- people coming in to the area, predominantly on skilled visas in my neck of the woods, and you know, with strong English skills and employment already lined up, and that’s the key here. What Minister Tudge is correctly saying, the best form of integration is someone coming into Australia and getting a job, and the best way that we can facilitate and improve the results on that side, especially on the humanitarian intake side, is to work hard on English skills.
FRAN KELLY: So change the citizenship test, do you support that?
MINISTER LAUNDY: If that’s- whatever it does, whatever we need to do- and having English under your belt is a- you have a far superior chance of getting a job than without it, and it is the getting of a job that I think is the most important part of that integration.
FRAN KELLY: Craig Laundy, thank you very much for joining us.
MINISTER LAUNDY: Thanks, Fran.
FRAN KELLY: Craig Laundy is the Minister for Workplace Relations, Deregulation and Small and Family Businesses.