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Read all the latest news from Brendan O'Connor MP


May 01, 2019

CATHY O’TOOLE, MEMBER FOR HERBERT: It’s great to be here this morning with our Shadow Minister for Employment Brendan O’Connor and two workers from QNI who are still owed entitlements. This is a major issue for this city. And what a slap in the face it is to see the government preferencing the United Australia Party, Clive Palmer’s party.
And can I say how absolutely gutless the LNP candidate for Herbert is in putting the UAP second on his how to vote card. The two gentlemen behind me have families. Between them they have 11 children. They have families that have gone without because they have not been paid their full entitlements. This is completely unacceptable.
And to think that this government, Scott Morrison and the LNP candidate for Herbert, have sought to put the United Australia Party, Clive Palmer’s party before workers in Townsville, of all cities Townsville. What a slap in the face for this community. But more importantly what a slap in the face for the two gentlemen that are here behind me. This is grossly unfair and this community deserves better. And my challenge to the candidate for Herbert, the LNP candidate for Herbert is you tell us why you have chosen to put Clive Palmer before these working men and their families who have not been paid their full entitlements. And I’ll hand over the Brendan O’Connor.
BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Thanks very much Cathy. This is a very important issue for the community of Townsville. But it’s also a very important issue nationally. We have a situation whereby the current Prime Minister has chosen to formally engage with a business man who is yet to pay money owed to workers in Townsville. The collapse of QNI happened in early 2016. Back then we were complaining because Scott Morrison wanted to abolish the Fair Entitlement Guarantee that provided most of the money owed to these workers.
Today we’re concerned that Scott Morrison is willing to formally make an agreement with Mr Palmer even though the Commonwealth is owed $64 million as a result of the collapse of QNI, and yet it doesn’t seem to worry Scott Morrison that the workers are owed $7 million and that has not been paid to them.
Peter and Jacob and their families are owed money. They worked, they worked hard, they just want what is owed to them. Mr Palmer made a commitment to pay that and yet that has not happened. We’ve heard he’s setting up a particular trust. There’s no evidence of that. I guess it’s fair to say people are sceptical.
But today beyond Mr Palmer’s conduct it’s really important that people understand the desperate nature of the formal agreement and how desperate Scott Morrison must be to want to enter into a formal arrangement with Clive Palmer’s political party.
Now just remember this, firstly Clive Palmer once called Scott Morrison or compared him with Commandant Himmler and said that he was acting like the Gestapo in Germany. That was Mr Palmer’s view not long ago of Mr Morrison.
Mr Morrison said recently that, “people in Australia would say the circus doesn’t need another side show”. That’s what he said about Mr Palmer. And he also said this, and I think this is very appropriate in the circumstances. This is Mr Morrison when he was Treasurer when asked about Mr Palmer: “I mean he’s got to settle up with people in Townsville. He’s left a bitter taste in the mouths of a lot of people up in Townsville and I think it will be a while before people trust him again.”
Really, Scott Morrison? Trust him again. The fact is despite the comments of Mr Morrison on the conduct of Mr Palmer; despite the fact that Mr Morrison’s made clear that it will be a while before people trust Mr Palmer; despite the fact that he said it would be a sideshow if indeed people formally entered into arrangements, Scott Morrison has entered into an arrangement with this political party because he is desperate to cling to power.
Meanwhile we have unresolved, two debts - the Commonwealth is owed $64 million, taxpayers are owed $64 million and that’s yet to be resolved, and workers in Townsville like Peter and like Jacob, are owed money and it hasn’t been paid to them. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Clive Palmer says this morning at a press conference in Bundaberg that now he doesn’t owe any money to a single worker and the money has been paid.
O’CONNOR: Well I believe workers when they say they are owed money. Who would you trust? Would you trust the workers that worked at QNI in Townsville, who worked hard, looked after their families and found themselves victims of a corporate collapse, say that they are owed money? If I have to choose between believing Mr Palmer or the hard working workers of Townsville, I think it’s fair to say that I’d be choosing the latter.
Now what is clear is that money is owed to these workers and what is also clear is Mr Palmer has said he would pay these workers money but that’s yet to happen. Are we supposed to believe that after the election, depending on what happens, that all of a sudden money will be provided to these workers that are owed this money? The point is though it’s not just about Mr Palmer is it? We are in the middle of a national election campaign and we have Mr Morrison ignoring the fact that there is $64 million owed to taxpayers as a result of the collapse of QNI – unpaid. And there is $7 million owed to workers – unpaid. And yet it doesn’t seem to bother Mr Morrison despite him saying that we don’t need another side show and despite him saying there’s still a bad taste in people’s mouths because of the conduct of Mr Palmer.
JOURNALIST:  He’s also framed it as the fact that it’s not him that owes the workers, he’s only a shareholder of QNI driven collapse and therefore it’s actually the company and liquidators that owe the workers instead. How do you interpret that?
O’CONNOR: Well that’s a convenient corporate answer. The reality is that there are creditors as a result of a collapse and there are debtors and of course if the debtors are in a position to pay the creditors then clearly that’s what should happen.
What we do know is the workers are owed $7 million. We also know Mr Palmer says he’s going to pay them that but do we really know that’s going to happen? But it’s not just about Mr Palmer in fact given the stakes of the formal agreement between the United Australia Party, Clive Palmer’s party and the Liberals, the bigger question, if that’s possible is can we now trust Scott Morrison, given the tawdry deal he’s willing to do with a political party that’s led by a business person who has not paid back money that he said he’d pay to workers because of the $7 million debt.
This is a question of character for Mr Morrison and he’s failed the character test. I mean how desperate do you have to be and think of this, the chaos that will ensue if we have Mr Palmer back in the parliament. The chaos that occurred last time, we had a political party that barely turned up to parliament, a part time parliamentarian, from that small party we end up with multiple micro parties in the Senate which led to chaos in the Senate, chaos in the parliament. How can it possibly be the case that Mr Morrison wants to return to the chaos that we saw the last time Mr Palmer was a member of the Senate? Sorry, a member of the parliament.
JOURNALIST: I’ve got a question for Cathy. Cathy, just on the preferences we’ve seen Ted O’Brien in Fairfax put the UAP number four.
JOURNALIST: He said: “It would be an insult to the people of Fairfax if we had Clive Palmer at the top of my how to vote card.”
JOURNALIST: I understand that’s an exception not a rule. But do you think, I guess, it’s poor of the LNP and of the LNP candidate for Herbert not to make a push for that same thing here in Townsville?
O’TOOLE: I think it’s absolutely gutless that he hasn’t done that. He knows the stress that families have been under here. He knows that there are people in this community, families that have not been able to secure work to the standard that they had when they left QNI. If you are going to demonstrate that you can stand up for this community as the elected member, this was the time to do it. What I see is a candidate who will not stand up for the people of this city.
JOURNALIST: You’ve previously said that you had no role to play in your preferences, but do you support the fact that you’re putting Greg Dowling four and Phillip Thompson six, and why?
O’TOOLE: What we did from Labor’s perspective, we said that we would put extreme right parties and racists down the ticket. I am not actually here or concerned and I don’t want to be caught into the discussion around preferences. What is really important for this city is that we have an elected representative who actually will stand up for the city. A representative who is not afraid to speak their mind on issues that are critical for this city. A representative who does not want to see chaos and cuts that have been the experience of nearly the last six years. And also a representative who will put the workers of this city first, that’s the issue that is most important for this city, at this time, in the middle of this election.
JOURNALIST: So you prefer a UAP candidate over-
O’TOOLE: I am saying that I have structured that ticket or the way my ticket was structured was to put the most right wing and extremist parties in order down the ticket. Now there are some people on that ticket I would like to have put all on the last line but I simply couldn’t do that. But my focus is on the people of Townsville. The vast majority of the people in this city are hardworking family people. We are not a city that is made up of extremely wealthy constituents.
O’CONNOR: I just want to add to that if I that’s ok. Just in relation to the broader question of preferences, one thing that no-one can say about Labor is that we’ve done a deal with Clive Palmer with respect to preferences. What we do know is that, for example the Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg has put Clive Palmer second in Victoria. And we do know he is doing it for a reason, because they are swapping preferences. So that is a deal that is going on.
What’s happening in Townsville is they are swapping preferences, what’s happening throughout the country is they’re swapping preferences. I make this other point too, that even the predecessor of this seat, even the former conservative, the former LNP member has already made clear that he finds that formal agreement, wrong. The fact is we have Liberal candidates knowing that it is a wrong decision to enter into an arrangement with Mr Palmer given the chaos that we saw when last in parliament and given, of course the millions of dollars he is willing to spend.
You have Mr Palmer spending tens of millions of dollars in this election campaign and yet a company of which he was associated, collapsed. It owes $64 million to taxpayers and guess what, that’s about as much money as he is likely to spend on himself during this election campaign. I might add, on billboards printed in China, for all of his talk. So the question is firstly, we’re not entering into any formal arrangements and there is no quid pro quo with Mr Palmer, there is with Mr Morrison. Most importantly of all, how can Mr Morrison believe it’s right when there is money owed to the taxpayer and money owed to workers that he enter into such an arrangement? It is a desperate cling to power by Mr Morrison.
JOURNALIST: Just for yourself Brendan, could a potential Labor government actually be able to change any of this? Would it be able to force Clive to pay his workers or anything like that?
O’CONNOR: That is a very good question because a compromised Mr Morrison, if he succeeds in winning this election off the back of Mr Palmer’s preferences, what will happen do you think  to these cases that are outstanding? To the contrary, a government that is not beholden to Mr Palmer will make sure the agencies of government do everything they possibly can to reclaim the $64 million owed to taxpayers and reclaim the money owed to workers.
In fact we’re not the ones conflicted here, Mr Morrison who you think would be responsible as former Treasurer of the coffers of the Commonwealth, is willing to enter into an agreement with a person who is associated with an entity that collapsed and as a result of that collapse, taxpayers are owed that money. So I would suggest to you Mr Morrison is the one that’s compromised if he were to win the election.
JOURNALIST: Cathy, I’ve got a question for you. A similar question the one posed to the Shadow Minister. Just going back to the way Clive is framing this; he’s again saying it’s not him that owes the money, it is shareholders of QNI. And he’s basically (inaudible). What’s your interpretation of the full out of that company and where he’s (inaudible)
O’TOOLE: Look, I would have thought any corporate organisation would do the right thing and ensure that their debts are paid. In this city, we’re talking about $7 million to working people and their families. I would have thought that any corporate organisation with a conscious and a moral obligation and understanding of their moral obligation would pay the money that’s owing to the taxpayers - $64 million. I don’t think it should come down to individuals, this is a corporate structure and any corporate structure should do the morally right thing for their community, pay the debt to the workers and pay the money that’s owed to the taxpayers, it’s that simple.
JOURNALIST: Just some questions to the workers generally, if you would like to have a chat to us.
O’CONNOR: Ask a question of them.
JOURNALIST: Just your name please?
FISHWICK: Jacob Fishwick.
JOURNALIST: Spelling of your surname Jacob?
JOURNALIST: And you’re a former QNI worker.
JOURNALIST: Today Jacob, Clive Palmer said in a press conference in Bundaberg this morning that he doesn’t owe any money to any particular worker and that you’re free to claim your money. What’s your interpretation of that? How do you feel when he says he doesn’t owe you money?
FISHWICK: I reckon it’s a load of bulldust to be honest. I worked for him, I earned that redundancy, I didn’t get paid that redundancy, I didn’t get paid the full redundancy, so I’m owed money.
JOURNALIST: How did it impact you when QNI foreclosed?
FISHWICK: Well I’ve got a mortgage, I’ve got car loans, I’ve got children. Since then, I’ve been a casual employee, I’m still trying to find a permanent job.
JOURNALIST: How much money are you owed?
FISHWICK: Going off the FEG, about $10,000.
JOURNALIST: Have you applied_
FISHWICK: I don’t have a computer, I can’t afford one right now. I’ve basically got to wait for my friends, so they can help me out, which thankfully I’m doing tonight. Going round a friend’s place and they’re going to do it all for me.
JOURNALIST: Have you guys kind of stuck together, the workers who are owed?
FISHWICK: I keep contact with a few lads, yeah. They’re in the same boat as me, bouncing around job to job. You do what you can do.
JOURNALIST: How’s everyone doing, how’s everyone holding up?
FISHWICK: Everyone has their ups and downs as far as I know. I’ve had my good days, I’ve had my bad days.
JOURNALIST: He says he’s going to (inaudible), he says he’s going to pay the workers. Are you clinging onto that oath or are do you just don’t believe it’s (inaudible)?
FISHWICK: I’ll find employment elsewhere to be honest. I’m not going back.
JOURNALIST: If you could tell Mr Palmer anything, what would you say?
FISHWICK: Pay me what I’m owed please. I don’t want any more, I don’t want any less, just the money I’m owed.
JOURNALIST: How will you feel if you do get paid?
FISHWICK: Relieved. I’ll have some money in the bank; I’ll be able to do something with the family, instead of living week by week.
JOURNALIST: When you worked for QNI, did you think you were working for a reputable organisation? Did you ever foresee something like this happening?
FISHWICK: I just left the army prior to working there. Once I got that job, I thought well, you know this is it; I can work here until I retire. You see, a lot of the older guys were there and they were doing the same thing and I thought I could go on forever. Obviously not.
JOURNALIST: So, you’re a veteran. Served the country-
FISHWICK: Been overseas , done everything.
JOURNALIST: And after all that, more people like yourselves are also serving then move to mining?
FISHWICK: I believe so, yes.
JOURNALIST: When Mr Palmer says, he speaks about Australian values, making Australia great and you’re someone who’s served the country. Your reaction?
FISHWICK: He’s a joke.
JOURNALIST: Thanks very much, appreciate the time.
JOURNALIST:  Can I ask you briefly about the sanctions?
JOURNALIST: Want a second crack? Feel free to have a second crack.
KOITKA: I don’t know, I think he summed it up fairly well.
JOURNALIST: He did a great job. First question to you mate, your full name and spelling.
KOITKA: Yeah, sure. Peter Koitka. KOITKA
JOURNALIST: How are you feeling right now, when Mr Palmer says he’s going to pay back his workers?
KOITKA: I’m very sceptical, because when he ran the refinery, he was quite deceitful. How he ran things, he was never honest the entire time I was there. So, what’s happened since the redundancy, how it all went down and what he’s done since then there’s no way I believe anything that comes out of his mouth at this point of time. I’m owed approximately $25,000.
JOURNALIST: It’s been three years since the refinery shut down. He could have paid this money at any point in time (inaudible)?
KOTIKA: He certainly could have. He’s left it until now obviously for political purposes. Self- gain, make himself look good. Make himself look like the knight in shining army by coming forward and going I’m a genuine person, I’ve done nothing wrong, but you know, I’m going to do the right thing and help everyone out. But the fact is that, whilst he might have been a share holder of the company at that the time, he was still involved in all of the board meetings. His family ran the company, so an allegation it may seem but he was involved as a shadow director of the company.
There’s evidence there that will come forward in the court case later on in July so his involvement has been there from day one. He could have and should have paid out everyone from day dot. The company, Queensland Nickel Ltd should have paid out, but the way it was ran, it was ran into the ground and there was no money left to pay any one out. That’s why the first lot, 237 got no money from the administrators because there wasn’t any money there to pay anybody out. If the administrators had the money, they would have done so. So to blame the administrators for something that is not their responsibility, I think is a real cop out. The whole thing was used to cover everything up so it makes himself look good but blame someone else which is what he’s always done.
JOURNALIST: Have you applied to get the money from that $7 million?
KOTIKA: Yes, I’ll be doing that tonight but sceptical, very sceptical.
JOURNALIST:  Do you have access to all those (Inaudible)?
JOURNALIST:  If you’ve got access, do you know of anyone who’s tried to get those (inaudible) to get the money(inaudible)
KOTIKA:  Not that I’m aware of. I know that there are some Facebook sites where people are discussing it at this point in time, I’m trying to get the information but FTI has most of the documentation that is required and then they just have to go to FEG to get the final documentation to meet the criteria for the application process?
JOURNALIST: Do you think Mr Palmer will pay the workers before the May 18 election?
KOTIKA: Well, I believe he’s got the money. I certainly believe he could pay. Yes, but again, sceptical whether he’ll deliver and whether he’ll pay 100 per cent in the dollar and that’s the other question which hasn’t been clarified through statements. At no point has he stated to the media that he will pay 100 per cent of the dollar. So that’s another thing that most people aren’t aware of. You need to be quite wary of even though he said that I’m putting $7 million in doesn’t mean that he’s going to pay hundred percent of the dollar.
JOURNALIST: Can you just tell us a little bit more. You talk about 100 per cent of the dollar whether you believe that cash refund he hasn’t paid the full amount where (inaudible)?
KOTIKA: Well he could do an agreed value. He doesn’t have to necessarily pay the full amount. He can go through the documentation and go well look I’ll pay 50 cents in the dollar so again there’s a lot of grey areas and there’s not a lot of information other than he’s just going fork the money out.
JOURNALIST: Will you personally, what happened once you lost your job?
KOTIKA: I was off for two months but I was lucky enough to pick up a job through Willman Sugar and am very grateful from there to move onto a couple of other companies. now I’m at MNG and I’ve been very fortunate, I’ve been one of the few to be very blessed to be able to pick up a job very quickly but I’ve had to basically relocate from Townsville lived down in MacKay and then go to WA before coming back so I’ve had to make a big move with my family which has been pretty stressful but in the same token, I’ve been very fortunate to land on my feet so I’m very blessed.
JOURNALIST:  You have mates I guess who haven’t been as fortunate?
KOTIKA:  A few have. Yes. They’ve been very unfortunate. Quite a few have and it’s pretty disappointing that a lot of those people haven’t been as lucky or as fortunate as me to be able to move on fairly easily. Most have struggled which has been really unfair and for me it’s been very hard to see me doing ok but a lot of others have not been so fortunate. And I find that quite frustrating personally
JOURNALIST: Does it anger you when you see Clive Palmer’s ads on billboards and TV (inaudible)?.
KOTIKA:  It does. It’s basically just spitting in the face of all of us that were left in very unfortunate circumstances because of the decisions that were made at the time.
JOURNALIST: If you could tell Clive Palmer anything what would you tell him.
KOTIKA: Well, where do I start? I’ve got a list. But I think in all honesty I’d just like him to do the right thing and pay up what he owes. Not just him but the company and do the right thing
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible)
KOTIKA: I’d certainly like to see interest on it for everyone. That would be great but the reality is, is what’s owed is owed and that’s it there’ll be not a cent more. Yes would be nice.
O’CONNOR:  Thanks very much everyone. Thank you.