Transcript of Interview, Sky News AM Agenda with Kieran Gilbert

Interview

BPC001/2014

29 January 2014

Kieran Gilbert: Hello and welcome to the programme. The head of the union at the centre of the latest corruption claims has defended his organisation's response to allegations of death threats made by one of his former officials. Union whistleblower Brian Fitzpatrick says he received the threats from a fellow official when he tried to stop union links to a crime figure.

Dave Noonan: Fitzpatrick made an allegation, which was strongly denied by the other person in question, strongly denied. And the investigation was unable to demonstrate that Mr Fitzpatrick's allegation was correct.

Kieran Gilbert: Okay, so let's…

Dave Noonan: [Interrupts] The union acted immediately and called the police so there's no question of inaction here and we had an internal inquiry.

Kieran Gilbert: And with me on the programme this morning, the Assistant Minister for Infrastructure Jamie Briggs and the Shadow Minister for Immigration Richard Marles. Gentlemen, good morning. Richard, does this not these allegations make it necessary, doesn't it build the argument, the government's argument, for a return to the cop on the beat, the Australian Building Construction Commission?

Richard Marles: Well, Kieran. There is a cop on the beat. We have police forces around Australia, who are expert in dealing with crime. And these are the authorities who should be given the responsibility for dealing with this. But let me make it perfectly clear, wherever there has been corruption, it needs to be stamped out and we stand utterly opposed to it. People who have information about corrupt activities ought to come forward to the relevant authorities, the police, and make that information available. And I am pleased that the CFMEU has made exactly that call in relation to any corruption which is occurring within the building industry and indeed within its own ranks. So, that's what needs to happen. But the experts here are the police forces, the Australian Crime Commission, it does nothing to add to the situation, to add another layer of bureaucracy, such as the ABCC, which when it was in place, oversaw a decline in productivity within the building industry and we ought to always remember that. So, this there needs to be a tough cop on the beat, there is a tough cop on the beat and that's where this matter should rest.

Kieran Gilbert: Jamie Briggs, your response to that and I suppose also to Dave Noonan, the head of the CFMEU, saying that when those death threat allegations were put a couple of years ago, they took it to the police then as Richard Marles says they should have.

Jamie Briggs: I think Kieran that most reasonable people would think that this stuff is unacceptable and if it was a one-off and new, you could accept Mr Noonan's explanation but the reality is it's not new. This has been going on for a long time. There was a Royal Commission into the building and construction industry a decade ago and it found an industry rife with this sort of behaviour, this sort of behaviour, which at the end of the day cost ordinary workers, ordinary people, a lot of extra money. It means that building and construction costs are higher than what they should be and that's why the ABCC was so effective.

The Labor Party have a choice here and we hear lots about the Labor Party reinventing themselves and having their divorce agreement with the Greens in Tasmania and apparently in Canberra. This is a real test for Mr Shorten and Mr Marles and all the cohorts in the Labor Party. Step aside from your union mates, do the right thing by the Australian people, support the re-introduction of the ABCC, which saw an uplift of some $6 billion in additional productivity in the building and construction industry when it was operating and get rid of this behaviour for once and for all. Richard's words are very nice about—you know we want to stamp out corruption and so forth but there are no actions. There's a bill in the Senate—they could pass it in the first week of the sitting period in two weeks' time. And we could start to, yet again, get rid of the illegality, these sorts of unacceptable work practices in a very important sector in our country.

Kieran Gilbert: Well, the claim was made by Brian Fitzpatrick. I mentioned his name a bit earlier. Let's play you the relevant grab from the ABC last night.

[Excerpt]

Brian Fitzpatrick: [Indistinct]

Reporter: It called you and threatened you.

Brian Fitzpatrick: Told me he was going to kill me. Yep. Then a fellow official rang me and threatened to kill me twice. I knew it had to be reported in case there was something in it.

Reporter: In case you were killed or bashed or?

Brian Fitzpatrick: In case, something happened yeah.

[End of excerpt]

Kieran Gilbert: Now as Jamie Briggs pointed out, Richard Marles, this is not the first time we have heard these sorts of the allegations in this particular industry. You are both making disputing claims obviously, disputed claims on the productivity in that industry under the ABCC. You think it went down, Jamie says it went up. But regardless, don't you think that there'll be a lot of sympathy in the electorate for Tony Abbott moving on this and reacting to it and putting in another layer of governance in there.

Richard Marles: Well, firstly, Kieran, it is only what you just said, it's putting another layer of bureaucracy. It's politics…

Kieran Gilbert: But don't they need it?

Richard Marles: … it's not actually action.

Kieran Gilbert: But don't they need it, because it looks…

Richard Marles: Well, the unambiguous answer to that…

Kieran Gilbert: … it looks like it's pretty widespread.

Richard Marles: … is it's not needed in the sense of dealing with an issue. Where there is corruption, it needs to be stamped out. We have experts in the field, crime experts, law enforcement officials who spend their life on this, who ought to be seized of this issue, the particular cases involved, to deal with them. It's not a matter of putting another layer of public servants who aren't necessarily expert in this area on top of what we already have to, in a sense, create a political framework which allows Jamie and others to speak to it. I mean, Jamie referred to a Royal Commission…

Kieran Gilbert: But they haven't [indistinct]…

[Both talking, indistinct]

Richard Marles: Jamie referred…

Kieran Gilbert: Why have the police and authorities not been pursuing this, Richard? Because if this has been around, the point is why has there not been any pursuit of this? Have the union leaders been sitting on their hands and not taking the relevant concerns to the authorities that you mention?

Richard Marles: Well, you just—you played a grab from Dave Noonan just before which made it clear that whenever there has been an issue, the CFMEU has referred it to the police. They could not have been clearer, the Labour Party could not have been more clearer about the fact that if people are aware of any criminal activity anywhere, for this matter, but in the building industry or anywhere, they ought to refer it immediately to the police and it ought to be acted on by the police.

But Jamie referred to a Royal Commission a decade ago into the construction industry. It's worth having a look at that Royal Commission. $66 million was spent on that. Not a single prosecution came from it. Not one. Not one. Royal Commissions are about unearthing a plethora of criminal activity, giving rise to a whole range of prosecutions. That's their point. $66 million was spent by the former Howard Government in this industry, which didn't result in a single prosecution at all.

And it speaks to everything about the way in which the Liberal Party seek to politicise what is a very serious issue and what needs to be dealt with by the relevant authorities. The relevant authorities are not politicians, not political forums. The relevant authorities are the police, and that's where this matter ought to lie.

Kieran Gilbert: The Prime Minister signalled, Jamie Briggs, that he would look at a broad-ranging Royal Commission. Is that gratuitous? Is it, you know, given that there was one 10 years ago? Richard says not a prosecution out of it.

Jamie Briggs: Let's just step through the hypocrisy about what Richard Marles has just said. Richard Marles says there doesn't need to be another layer of bureaucracy in this industry because you've already got the so called fair work umpire, and you've also got the police with these accusations.

Righto, well, let's look at the consistency of the Labor Party then. Why is it then in the last Parliament they moved for a specific tribunal for transport workers? If this is just another layer of bureaucracy as Richard Marles says, why was it in the last Parliament they want a special tribunal for one group of workers? Apparently now that's inappropriate, that's just another layer of bureaucracy when it comes to the CFMEU. It wouldn't have anything to do, of course, with CFMEU are one of the biggest donors for the Labor Party. Not at all, of course not. That would just be too much of a link.

Richard Marles: That is…

Jamie Briggs: Well, Richard, let's be honest.

Richard Marles: That is ridiculous.

Jamie Briggs: Well, Richard, you call it a political…

Richard Marles: That is ridiculous.

Jamie Briggs: It's ridiculous, is it? So what's the difference between the transport workers' tribunal and having a cop on the beat to ensure this sort of illegality, this sort of criminal behaviour, in one of our most important sectors…

Richard Marles: Because—well, if you want actually a real answer to that question, we're talking about a different type of employment condition…

Jamie Briggs: Oh, right, okay.

Richard Marles: … which was therefore being regulated by a specific tribunal…

Jamie Briggs: Well, even the building industry…

Richard Marles: … and that—there is a history of…

Jamie Briggs: … aren't they mainly subcontractors, Richard? Aren't they mainly subcontractors?

Richard Marles: There is a history in relation to that.

Jamie Briggs: Of course they are. Absolute hypocrisy from the Labor Party.

Richard Marles: But Jamie, we are talking—the kind of client that we are talking about here…

Jamie Briggs: How much did the CFMEU donate at the last election?

Richard Marles: Are you saying…

Jamie Briggs: How much did the CFMEU donate in the last election?

Richard Marles: … that in relation to every donor…

Kieran Gilbert: Gentlemen, one at a time.

Richard Marles: … to the Liberal Party there has never been any misdoing?

Kieran Gilbert: Richard…

Jamie Briggs: Well, the Labor Party is very…

Kieran Gilbert: No, Jamie, let me bring you back to the—no, I want to bring you back, and just one at a time, please. Jamie, on the issue of the Royal Commission, we got a bit distracted there talking about the bureaucracy. We've had that debate. I want to ask about the Royal Commission. Is it necessary, or would that be gratuitous? Is it going too far?

Jamie Briggs: Well, look, Senator Abetz is the Minister for Workplace Relations, and I'm sure he'll talk about this today and in the coming days, about what the Government will do to implement our agenda. But people are concerned at the ongoing issues associated with some unions. There is no doubt that there are people who work in the union movement who have got the best interest of workers at heart, no doubt. But in the last couple of years, you have seen the HSU debacle, which the Labor Party still has not addressed. You've seen some of the accusations around the AWU, and you see the continued behaviour in relation to elements of the CFMEU, which is costing ordinary Australians more money than they should—than they ought to be paying.

Jamie Briggs: As the Minister for Infrastructure, it is one of the biggest issues that we face, the rising cost of building infrastructure. The CFMEU's the relevant union. Every constructor will tell you that they are having increasing issues on site. The behaviour is appalling in some states, particularly in Victoria and Western Australia.

Kieran Gilbert: Okay.

Jamie Briggs: There is a big problem in this industry and has to be fixed if we want to lift our productivity and ensure we keep our prosperity rising.

Kieran Gilbert: Jamie Briggs mentioned the minister concerned, Minister for Employment Eric Abetz. Last night he had a good crack at companies for being weak-kneed in the face of union pay demands and also signalled that the Government would intervene on behalf of Toyota to over-ride, to change the union- well dictated, as the minister said—enterprise bargaining agreement. He was also on the PVO news hour last night explaining. Let's have a look.

[Pre-recorded interview with employment Minister Eric Abetz].

Eric Abetz: The Federal Court ruled that the workers would not be allowed a say in relation to changing the Toyota enterprise bargaining agreement. We believe, with respect to the judge, that there was an error of law made, so we will be seeking to intervene in that case to, in effect, give Toyota workers the option of actually having a say about their future work prospects and the conditions under which they work.

Kieran Gilbert: Now the minister also expressed concerns about a risk of a wages explosion. Richard Marles, do the unions need to be more cognoscente of the risk to companies and so on. Like in the automotive sector, in this case with Toyota. They want to tighten up the EBA, the union won't let them.

Richard Marles: Eric Abetz is frankly living in the past, in an astonishing way. I mean to talk about a wages explosion of the pre-Accord era, which is what he referred to last night, is to completely ignore that what we saw during the late 80s and early 90s was a deregulation of our labour market. There is absolutely no way you could have a 1970s style wages explosion when you no longer have a centralised wage fixing system, which is what was in place then, and for Eric Abetz to point to that just demonstrates his fundamental lack of understanding about how industrial relations works in this country.

Ultimately this is a matter between each employer and each workplace and that's where this should principally rest. And unions in those workplaces know better than anybody the importance of keeping jobs alive and the very difficult decisions that often need to be taken to deal with questions of wages so that employers can keep in business. Every union official is totally aware of the tension that exists there and that's the basis upon which they conduct their negotiations. And there is no way you're going to see a wages explosion where we don't have a centralised wage fixing system which could give rise to it.

Kieran Gilbert: Okay.

Richard Marles: And was the principle cause of it back in the 70s.

Kieran Gilbert: Jamie Briggs, quickly your response before we take a break.

Jamie Briggs: Well I think what is very clear is that the AMWU in Victoria, the manufacturing branch—vehicle manufacturing branch—has a choice to make in the next little while. They either work with Toyota to reduce costs and to ensure that the productivity levels are lifted, so Toyota's got a chance to survive. It is in their hands. We want Toyota to survive. I think most Australians would like to see Toyota stay in Australia and it really is now up to the AMWU to make that decision.

Kieran Gilbert: Time for a break. We will be right back on AM Agenda, stay with us.

[Commercial break]

Kieran Gilbert: This is AM Agenda, thanks for your company this morning.

With me are Richard Marles and Jamie Briggs. Jamie Briggs, a real debate happening apparently in the Cabinet over the request for assistance from SPC Ardmona in the Goulburn Valley in Victoria. It is a tough one this because obviously Joe Hockey's against industry assistance, but this sounds like the company is not seeking a bailout as much as an investment in what is a growth plan. They're going to invest $150 million themselves in it, new equipment, product lines and so on.

Jamie Briggs: Ultimately this issue will be discussed no doubt in Cabinet at the appropriate time and I'm sure the results of that will be known quite soon. But the choice here, as Martin Parkinson, the Treasury Secretary, put it I think brilliantly a couple of years ago, if you subsidise business it is the poor that pay the highest price. Because you are basically choosing one industry over another, so you have to be very, very careful when making that decision.

Now the Labor Party are happy to chuck money around like confetti—and that's why we've got half a trillion dollars worth of debt, thanks to their six years in government—but what we want to do, and what the Prime Minister has outlined, is we want to cut the cost of running business in Australia, so we can give every business an opportunity to succeed. Not just pick the chosen few that the Labor Party has its support base around. We think that if you give small business the opportunity to grow, by cutting costs, you will grow the economy much faster, you will give people much more of an opportunity to make the most of their own God-given talents and that is exactly what we will do—we will seek to do.

We will seek to reduce the cost of doing business in Australia so all Australian businesses can prosper, not just the chosen few where the Labor Party think they've got special interests.

Kieran Gilbert: It looks like the Prime Minister is leaning towards the view articulated by Jamie Briggs this morning Richard, yesterday saying in his news conference that businesses have got to put their own houses in order. That is—it's a fair argument isn't it? Otherwise where do we stop picking winners, as Jamie Briggs put it?

Richard Marles: Well there is a decision that every country in the world makes about whether or not it wants to make things. Whether or not it wants to have a manufacturing sector. And this Government, the Abbott Government have very, very clearly made a decision that they don't care for a manufacturing sector and they do not mind if it leaves. Now to describe SPC as a company which has a particular interest for Labor, a company which is in Shepparton in the seat of Murray is utterly ridiculous. But what it is, is a manufacturing company which is looking to co-invest many, many more dollars than what was being proposed to be put forward by the Federal Government and this would be an investment that would build manufacturing in a particular place and see jobs as a result. And governments have a clear decision, a conscious decision, about whether to have manufacturing in a country.

Now, we saw what the Government did last year in goading Holden to leave Australia, and we will see the cost of that in terms of the tens of thousands of jobs lost as a result and the impact that that has on the economies of South Australia and Victoria. We will watch, during the course of this year, this government do the same to a whole lot of manufacturers, large manufacturers who currently have concerns in Australia. And when it's all said and done, we will have a much-reduced manufacturing sector and our economy will have been dealt an enormous blow, and this government will have presided upon it and it will be on their head that it has occurred. And what we are seeing in SPC is a perfect example of this.

Kieran Gilbert: The local member Sharman Stone is certainly of the view that the money needs to be spent, Jamie Briggs, and she's been, well, receiving support, it seems, from Ian Macfarlane as well, the minister—well, the relevant minister.

Jamie Briggs: Well, she's entitled to her views. But just on Richard Marles's comment there, they were in government for six years, Kieran. Six years. They oversaw Mitsubishi leaving Australia, they oversaw the Olympic Dam investment in my state disappear, they oversaw Holden come to its end of its operations, in effect. It was three months after…

Richard Marles: Well, that's not true.

Jamie Briggs: It was actually, Richard.

Richard Marles: We never goaded anyone offshore.

Jamie Briggs: Let me refer to the managing director of Holden's international relations from two weeks ago, who said that they made the decision some time ago, you know, and there was nothing the Government could do. The Labor Party don't like the facts when it comes to these issues. What they like to do is spend taxpayers' money on their own special interests, and that's what we won't do.

Richard Marles: Manufacturing's not a special interest.

Jamie Briggs: Well, we think that all businesses should be given the opportunity. They should have less tax, and that's why we're abolishing the carbon tax, because it has damaged manufacturing much more than anything—any government has done for a very long time.

Richard Marles: What about paid parental leave? You're putting tax up.

Jamie Briggs: If you want to keep interrupting while I'm speaking that's fine, but we are reducing taxation on business. We are reducing the red tape around their operations. We are giving them the best chance to survive on their own wit. We are not going to pick winners, like the Labor Party did, and put up taxes on other businesses to pay for that indulgence.

It is just not the way that is the best way to run the economy and, as the Prime Minister rightly said yesterday, businesses need to make their own decisions in this respect. Governments cannot pick the winners of tomorrow. The private sector does that. The private sector does that with the best conditions that a government can provide for it, and it is not taxing someone more to give it to someone else.

Kieran Gilbert: Gentlemen, we've got to go. Jamie Briggs, Richard Marles, good to see you. Thank you.