November 21, 2016

SUBJECTS: 7-Eleven; Registered Organisations Bill; paid parental leave.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Thanks everyone. I just wanted to reflect upon the revelations today in the media that the scandal plagued 7-Eleven still hasn’t got its act together. We’ve seen revelations now that an employee was compelled to pay $11 of her $25 an hour back to her employer because there is clearly an extortion racket going on where she is forced to pay that money, otherwise she is threatened with dismissal.

Now, the 7-Eleven scandal has been going on now for more than two years. The Government has done absolutely nothing. There’s been no response, no new law, no new policy. The only thing the Minister for Employment has sought to do is to set up taskforces, which appear to have no tasks and clearly no force. It’s about time the Turnbull Government turned its attention to the exploitation of workers in this country.

It hasn’t been lost on Labor too that many of these workers are on temporary work visas. They are being exploited because of their vulnerability. And even though this has become a huge national issue, even though it’s calculated that the underpayments of these workers could amount to $100 million the Turnbull Government thinks it ok to turn your backs on these workers. Well it’s about time the Government did something. It’s obsessed about attacking unions. It’s obsessed about making it harder for organisations that represent employees to do their job in this country and yet it turns its back on those workers and on the conduct of employers who do the wrong thing. And they must fix that as soon as possible.

We’ve said to them now for over 18 months they must legislate to increase penalties for employers who deliberately underpay their staff. Well now we’re getting to a point where they’ve been caught on film extorting money from their employees and yet we’ve seen no regard, no attention, no action by the Minister for Employment or by the Prime Minister. And it’s a disgrace quite frankly.

On another matter I just wanted to report on, if I could, the conversation I had with the Minister for Employment in relation to the registered organisations Bill. It was a courteous and quite pleasant conversation we had yesterday in relation to those matters but clearly we are at odds. The Government doesn’t agree that we should have the same regulator for registered organisations as we have for companies.

Now let’s be very clear here, the Government for years has said that companies and registered organisations should be treated the same, and yet when Labor seeks to amend the Bill to make sure that ASIC be the regulator of registered organisations in the same way they are the regulator for companies the Government says they cannot support this. Now I say that’s a real shame because here we have both major parties agreeing there should be regulation for registered organisations comparable to that of companies. That could be a sustainable, long-standing reform and yet the Government has chosen not to support that, nor have they supported our position about reducing the disclosure on donations to Federal candidates as well as union candidates. And nor, would it appear, have they agreed to support our amendments on providing exemptions for volunteers who actually contribute their personal time to these organisations and should not be subject to the same level of culpability if wrongdoing occurred by others in that organisation. So there is a long way to go here.

And I think what I should finally say is what’s really disconcerting, and has been disclosed, is that this Government sees this Bill as only one step of many steps in terms of reforms to registered organisation. So we’re not having a conversation about all of the reforms. And I think it will come as a bit of a shock to the cross-benchers to understand that in the new year the Government is going to start negotiating further changes to registered organisations because they have a set of laws that they want to continue to negotiate in relation to this area. So we’re not dealing with all of the matters, they’re not all on the table for discussion and that’s why I think we need to say to the Government we want to know everything you seek to do in relation to registered organisations so we can negotiate in good faith and settle this matter, and clear the deck so we can get onto other issues including responding to exploitation of workers in this country and dealing with the terrible practices that apply in many cases by rogue employers treating their workforce abysmally. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: The Government’s unlikely to concede all of those points, so what’s it going to take? What are the crucial sticking points for Labor to support the Bill?

O’CONNOR: Well, it’s not up to the Government. If the Government doesn’t have support in the Senate with the crossbenchers, Labor and Greens they won’t have a Bill. There will be no Bill passed. I think it’s fair to say that the crossbenchers are listening to Labor in relation to these amendments. And I think we’ve got a compelling case to make that for example if you wanted to make sure you’ve got long-standing reform in the regulation of registered organisations why would you not support ASIC as the regulator, a long-standing mature regulator that indeed will ensure that companies and registered organisations will be treated the same. I think it’s a very strong argument, and indeed if Labor gets sufficient support of the crossbenchers on these matters, then of course the Government may have to either accede to those amendments or find itself not having the Bill passed. I think Labor’s come a very long way, if you think about Labor for the last few years in some of these areas, and if you want to see long-standing reform, we say to the Government, then certainly join Labor and support these amendments which will provide reform, will provide greater regulation and provide greater protection, if you like, against people acting improperly. And it will last beyond the next election. Because the problem is if the Government ignores Labor then it’s very likely that we’re likely to repeal the legislation if elected at the next election.

JOURNALIST: So you’ve been lobbying the crossbench to support your amendments?

O’CONNOR: We say volunteers should be exempt because it’s unfair that they’re treated the same way when they’re not privy to that information. Secondly, we think that ASIC is the most appropriate regulator, and we also believe that we need a section for whistle blowers, better auditing arrangements. And we also think that if we’re going to have a threshold on disclosure of donations for union candidates then why should it be different for Federal candidates in Federal elections? So yes I have been speaking with the crossbenchers on these matters. But I think the most concerning thing that we need to note today is that the Government sees this as only the first step in many steps in regulating registered organisations. So it’s really asking the crossbenchers to negotiate reform without seeing the full deck, without seeing all of the other secret plans the Government has insofar as changing the way in which these organisations are regulated.

JOURNALIST: Quickly on paid parental leave, the Government this morning said that changes won’t take affect from the start of next year, is that something Labor would welcome?

O’CONNOR: Well, we’ve got concerns even with the compromises they’ve made. It’s very important to recall, this was the Government that got elected on having a Rolls Royce type of parental leave arrangement. Now it may have been too expensive but that’s what they said to the Australian people and I think many women in particular voted for them on the basis of that. Well that’s been trashed and now they’re attacking women for being rorters and double dippers and I think that’s offensive. And Labor still has concerns with the proposition even regardless of the start date because median income earners, women who may take parental leave, will still be up to $5,000 worse off if we supported the legislation as proposed by the Government. Thanks very much.