Minister for Employment, Senator Michaelia Cash, talks about new anti-corruption laws that would make secret payments between unions and employers illegal
Introduction: Bill Shorten would be in jail under new laws
Ross Greenwood:Let’s go from there. Back to those issues in regards to the anti-corruption laws that have passed our Parliament. Now, do bear in mind, the big one that came out, as I said, Michaelia Cash very strong today and she also, I reckon, backed up the Prime Minister, really pushed him out there. This is about Bill Shorten technically in jail while facing a sentence, if the laws have been passed now.
Do bear remember, this is all about that clean event that Bill Shorten when he was at the AW, did a deal with. That’s the whole point, but do bear in mind, as we’ve always told you, this is not just about the unions, but it’s also about employers who do a deal as well, goes to both sides of this. Let’s now go to Michaelia Cash, the Minister for Employment, who is on the line. Many thanks for your time, Michaelia.
Interview: Hon Michaelia Cash, Australian politician
Michaelia Cash: It’s always to be good with you, Ross. Good afternoon to your listeners.
Ross Greenwood:All right, so does this necessarily improve Australia’s economy, what you have done by passing these anti-corruption laws?
Michaelia Cash: Absolutely, but what it also does is ensure that Australian workers are put first in dealings between employers and unions. This is a significant industrial relations reform, a corrupt payment between employers and unions that are to the detriment of workers are now banned. They are illegal. It’s over.
Ross Greenwood:Okay. From that point of view now, if so, for example, a person acts with an intent to corrupt, either a union official or an organization, a company does something similar there, what’s sort of prison sentence could they face?
Michaelia Cash: Well, look, this is very, very serious. You are right, we have now outlawed corrupt payments. If a payment is made by someone with the intent of improperly influencing the registered organization or the other person, they can now face up to 10 years in jail. For an individual, you can face up to $1,000,000 in a fine and, for a company, up to $5,000,000. This is very, very serious. As far as this government’s concerned, unless the payment is a legitimate payment and is been made for the sole interest of benefiting the workers, the payment should not be made.
Ross Greenwood:Okay. Let’s say, for example, a union would’ve put on a training course for workers or if they would’ve put on safety courses, would it be reasonable for an employer to pay the union to have their staff trained by the union, say, for example, under those circumstances?
Michaelia Cash: Yes. What we’ve done is, we basically banned any form of payment between an employer and a union, except if it’s a legitimate payment. What we’ve done in the legislation is we have clearly set out what legitimate payments can be made between employers and unions because, obviously, legitimate payments can be made.
For example, in relation to what you’ve said, yes, absolutely. An employer can pay a union for goods and services supplied at market value and supplied in the ordinary cause of the organization’s business. But the key there is, at market value, so no inflating the cost, no adding a zero. Again, no giving to someone else for an improper purpose, what could’ve been given to the workers.
Ross Greenwood:I noticed that the Shadow Treasurer, Chris Bowen, today said that the Prime Minister should basically apologize to Bill Shorten for the comments suggesting that he would be facing jail if he were acting as he did at the Australian Workers Union today.
Michaelia Cash: Well, Ross, that’s actually true. The question put to the Prime Minister was, in the example given, so as you know, Cleanevent the employer paid $75,000 to the AWU in Victoria to maintain an enterprise agreement that paid the cleaning workers well below award rates and strip them of penalty rates. Is that now illegal under our legislation? Yes.
If the employer was seeking to improperly influence the union and that can be proven, yes, absolutely. They could face at what Bill Shorten, if it was him, would face up to 10 years jail. That is actually the legitimate answer to the question.
Ross Greenwood:I listened to that. I thought you might have given the Prime Minister a little bit of a nudge to push him along to help him with that opinion as well, Michaelia.
Michaelia Cash: Can I tell you? The Prime Minister is– been absolutely outstanding in terms of saying, as you know. The Heydon Royal Commission brought down its recommendation. What it found, in particular, in Malaysia to the payments that would go in between employers and unions designed to ensure companies got favorable treatment from unions, all to the detriment of the workers, the Prime Minister has been very clear. Stop the corruption, and that’s exactly what we did last night.
Ross Greenwood:Okay. An important one right now, and that is Martin Ferguson, a former Labor Party member, but also a former boss of the ACTU, the Australian Council of Trade Unions, is now calling on your government. In other words, this is right in your space to enact a new round of workplace relations reform, especially in the resource industry to push for employee rights to opt out of collective payments and this type of thing. These are all part of the Fair Work Act and the Fair Work Commission. Are you embolden by those comments from Martin Ferguson?
Michaelia Cash: Well, look, I’ve got to say, Ross, it is absolutely refreshing when someone like Martin Ferguson, who has been an ACTU president, he is a former highly respected cabinet minister in a Labor Government, and I’m very happy to say is a Labor luminary. He comes out and wants to make a sensible and considered contribution to the industrial relations debate.
I am more than happy to sit down and talk to him about what he puts forward. I have to say it is a far cry from the current generation of Labor and the Union leaders. Perhaps, some of them could actually learn from the constructive and considered contribution made by Martin Ferguson.
Ross Greenwood:Always good to have you on the program.
Michaelia Cash: Thank you for– [crosstalk]
Ross Greenwood:Michaelia Cash, she’s our Minister for Employment, and we appreciate your time.
Michaelia Cash: Good on you, Ross.