October 12, 2016

SUBJECT/S: CFA Bill; Same Sex Marriage; Trump.

KIERAN GILBERT: This is AM Agenda. With me now, the Shadow Employment Minister Brendan O’Connor. First, let’s look at this issue relevant to your area of responsibility – the CFA changes, the volunteer Bill, has gone through. This is a significant win for the Government with the help of the cross-bench.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Well we didn’t support the Bill. It’s a bad Bill. We don’t believe it’s going to resolve the differences in Victoria. In fact, if anything, it might inflame the tensions between -

GILBERT: Why is that? 

O’CONNOR: Because I think firstly, it will still require the Fair Work Commission to decide what is in and outside an Enterprise Agreement. Once that decision is made, it’s likely to go to a full bench of the Commission. If that’s then not agreed by either of the parties, that will go to the federal court. I don’t think this was the way to ever resolve the differences. I think the way to resolve the differences certainly should be confined to Victoria, would be sitting down and working it through so that you can rebuild trust. Imposing legislation from Canberra upon Victoria I don’t think was ever going to be – but we’ll find out. I guess we’ll see now what will happen. But what happens from this day forward in relation to those parties is now at the feet of the Government, the Federal Government, because they’ve chosen to make a State issue a Federal issue. They’ve enacted legislation that we think is faulty. It could even inflame –

GILBERT: But very popular? Well certainly among the volunteers of the CFA, it’s popular?

O’CONNOR: I don’t think the CFA volunteers, with respect, have sat down and read the provisions of the legislation. We’ve said that there are issues because it doesn’t go to the real heart of the issue which has been a breakdown in relationships between the CFA, volunteers, the UFU and the paid firefighters. The best way to resolve things, as always, is really sitting down, working through issues and rebuilding trust. Not imposing legislation from Canberra. But the Prime Minister wanted to politicise this issue. He did so during the campaign. He’s enacted legislation. Let’s see now how that – 

GILBERT: With the help of Daniel Andrews. It was pretty easy to politicise. 

O’CONNOR: Let’s see how that legislation plays out. 

GILBERT: How poorly handled has it been by the Victorian Premier?

O’CONNOR: I think the matter did get away from the State Government and they need to still deal with this. Again, I make the point. I don’t believe, Kieran, the legislation is going to benefit the parties or resolve the dispute, so it’s still really up to the State Government and other parties to sit down –

GILBERT: Did it cost you the election?

O’CONNOR: Oh look it certainly was an issue that distracted from the main campaign that Labor had and didn’t help us. But really, just because – in the end, we said it was a matter confined to Victoria. The legislation has now gone through the Federal Parliament. It’s now become, because of Malcolm Turnbull’s intervention, a federal issue. So what now flows in Victoria from this legislation, what occurs in terms of the parties’ relationships and what goes on beyond into the fire season, now lays at the feet of Malcolm Turnbull.   

GILBERT: Are you worried about, on another issue, the same sex marriage matter - you support legalising marriage equality - that if it isn’t some move this year, that it’s delayed a few years,  and then how does Labor argue once you’ve locked in a binding vote in a couple of years from now, but you will then be arguing that we should have a free vote in the parliament for the Coalition but you’ve locked yourself into a binding vote in favour? 

O’CONNOR: Well let’s see what happens. I mean caucus has to determine whether we support or don’t support the plebiscite. 

GILBERT: Well you’re not going to support it. 

O’CONNOR: Well you understand we have very strong reservations – it’s costly, it’s not binding, it’s harmful -

GILBERT: But it could legalise same sex marriage by February.

O’CONNOR: It will have a tax payer paid campaign for the next four to five months to vilify - 

GILBERT: For and against. 


GILBERT: But for as well. 

O’CONNOR: But you can imagine what the negative campaign will be saying. It will be vilifying and offending Australians. You saw Kieran those experts come out, Professor McGorry a highly eminent person and former Australian of the Year said this is going to be very harmful particularly on young people – 
GILBERT: The fundamental problem is though, and of course Patrick McGorry is a very respected individual but they compared the plebiscite option versus maybe six/seven you know indefinite limbo for the same individuals - 

O’CONNOR: We’ve taken soundings and listened to the gay and lesbian community and they have been very concerned about what is going to happen through the process of this plebiscite. In the end though the parliament can have a free vote. Malcolm Turnbull once believed in it. If the Liberal Party, the party of conscience allows a conscience vote, we could actually have marriage equality this week. 

GILBERT: The last issue I have to ask you about, Mr Shorten as we speak doubling down in terms of this criticism of Trump says that with every passing day, every disgusting demeaning comment it makes the possibility of him becoming president fade. Slamming him as the worst fears of millions of the US and beyond its borders. Is this appropriate language for an Opposition Leader who might feasibly have to work with Trump in the White House if he does win?  

O’CONNOR: Let’s hope not. Malcolm Turnbull, sorry Donald Trump is no standard candidate out of central casting from the Republicans. Almost every Republican leader and person has come out and attacked Donald Trump. In fact his own party is deserting him and understandably given the gross language he has used to demean women and effectively say he was sanctioning sexual abuse. What else can you say other than to be completely offended by the language and repudiate his commentary, and of course Bill should say that. However we must remember our relationship with the United States is so strong it will certainly be strong enough to withstand any criticism we might have of Donald Trump. 

GILBERT: Mr O’Connor, thanks for your time.