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March 11, 2016

BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Today Malcolm Turnbull made clear the selfish reason behind considering a double dissolution. Today Malcolm Turnbull, the Prime Minister of the country, indicated that all that had to happen to prevent a double dissolution was for the cross benchers in the Senate to vote in favour of the Government’s industrial relations bills, namely the registered organisation commission bill and the ABCC bill. But what he didn’t say because he’s either incompetent and didn’t know or he’s dishonest is that neither the registered organisations bill exists in a form that reflects the Royal Commission and that the ABCC bill was taken off the Senate business papers and therefore is not listed for debate next week.

We have a situation now that the Prime Minister is desperate to find a reason to cut and run and to go to an election early but indeed the basis upon which he is deciding that does not exist. We have a situation where the partisan trade union Royal Commission made findings at the end of last year that went to some very serious matters and indeed Labor responded to those matters ensuring there are greater laws that protect the interests of members of unions and indeed bought in reforms that, if elected, will respond to any criminal misconduct. However, in the last 8 or so weeks since that happened – indeed 9 or 10 weeks since that’s happened – we’ve not seen any formal response by the Government. There has been no registered organisation bill introduced into the Parliament this year which reflects those findings. On Tuesday the Minister for Employment misled the Australian people by saying that the bill mattered because it went to corrupting benefits and yet the bill that has been before the Senate last year and rejected has no such provision and there has been no other bill that goes to those matters. Of course, last week we saw there was a deal between the Greens and the Government to take the ABCC bill off the business paper so it would not be listed for debate next week. So we have one situation where the bill is not in the Parliament and another where the bill does not exist. The Minister for Employment showed her ignorance when she misled – firstly the entire gallery at the National Press Club on Tuesday by saying corrupting benefits was a provision of the bill and indeed today Malcolm Turnbull has said that all that needs to happen is for two bills to pass. One that does not exist and one that was taken off the list for debate.

This is a desperate Prime Minister who is acting in his own interests. The Former Premier of this State Jeff Kennett was absolutely right to say this man was acting selfishly. He’s thinking of only one job, and that is his own job. He does not have an agenda. There is political expediency but policy paralysis when it comes to this Government. Again they have been exposed not understanding or deliberately misleading the Australian people by suggesting that next week this matter could be resolved by the crossbenchers voting for Bills that do not exist or are not actually on the business papers.

I want to make one other point given the lack of ability of this Prime Minister to date in relation to constitutional matters. He referred to section 57 of the constitution indicating that there would only be the need for the dissolution of the Parliament and then there would be a joint sitting. I’d remind the Prime Minister in fact that would not happen. The Bills would have to be rejected again in the normal course of events in a new parliamentary term by the Senate and the House of Representatives before there would be any question the Governor General would convene a joint sitting for those Bills to be considered.  That is just showing the lack of understanding or the lack of focus on detail this Prime Minister is exhibiting. One of the reasons for that, I would contend, is because he’s not thinking of policy that is needed for this country, he’s thinking of political expediency, he’s seeking to find a motive to cut and run and go to an early election. I’m happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: What do you make of the Queensland Nickel situation at the moment? The workers have been told they have been sacked. Clive Palmer has come in today and said that maybe they won’t be sacked. It’s all a bit in limbo at the moment?

O’CONNOR: We’re most concerned. Thanks for the question it’s an important one for so many workers in far North Queensland. We’re concerned for the plight of those workers and the implications are even less clear as a result of transfer of ownership. As you would know the leader of the opposition is up there and has been speaking to the workers about these matters. Labor just wants to ensure that those workers that have just been terminated are provided support and the best way at this point to do that, given there are grey areas in relation to the future of the company, is for the Government to allow the Minister for Employment the discretion to ensure those workers can access the Fair Entitlements Guarantee. Therefore if required, the Government stand in the shoes of the workers as a creditor and when the matter is resolved receive the money as they should. So the best thing to do right now we would say, given there are some uncertainties about the status of the company. As we’ve got people who have been sacked now for a very long time. We see the effect that is going to have on them and their children and we would like to see the Government step in. The Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten has written to the Prime Minister again asking for him to consider this and allowing his Minister discretion to access that fund in the circumstances that those workers find themselves in.

JOURNALIST: On the ABCC, Labor has come out and said that it is doing everything to try to bust union corruption, so why not allow the ABCC Bill to pass?

O’CONNOR: Well look we’ve opposed the ABCC Bill given the provisions of it. It is not about dealing with matters in a way that we think is reasonable. We think that it’s in breach of our ILO conventions. It is allowing for extreme powers to deal with the civil jurisdiction. But we do agree that there have been isolated, very serious findings in relation to some union officials, and that’s why we believe it would be best that firstly, the ASIC – be it the regulator for unions, it’s a big change I think in our view but it is because we are concerned that there have been some union officials that have been or bring workers of their entitlements or their money. We have of course brought in other reforms too. So we haven’t agreed with the provisions of the Bill but we have responded I think to serious allegations of corruption.

My concern here though, and I think it is a very pertinent one, but today we had the Prime Minister of this nation in an interview say that all the crossbenchers have to do is to actually oppose the Bill, but the Bill has been taken off the business list by the Government. And also, in relation to the registered organisations bill, the Minister for Employment at best was just utterly wrong – or deliberately misled – when she said that there were provisions in that bill that reflect the findings of the Royal Commission. Everyone knows those bills precede the findings of the Royal Commission and everyone knows that there has been no change to the registered organisations bill. There’s been no new revised bill this year. So it is not the case that these bills reflect the findings of the Royal Commission and therefore it is dishonest for the Prime Minister and the Minister for Employment to suggest otherwise. What we would’ve thought was that there might have been a revised bill that went to those matters. But there is not and so we say that the argument being put forward by the Prime Minister in particular is false.

He is either deliberately misleading or he doesn’t even know what is in the Senate and indeed the fact that there is no revised Registered Organisations Bill. If he doesn’t know that then it goes I think to question his focus on policy. I mean, people are questioning his convictions and here is a situation where he is suggesting the cross benchers do something they cannot do because there are no bills in the Senate next week. One does not exist and one was taken off the papers.

Happy to take any other questions. If not, thanks very much.