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November 28, 2019

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Brendan O'Connor, welcome.

KARVELAS: This was a bill that was widely expected to pass today because One Nation had put forward amendments and the government had accepted them, where you surprised by this outcome?
O'CONNOR: Look we didn’t know what would happen but we knew the bill was fundamentally flawed and unfair and the Senate has agreed with Labor and I pay tribute to those crossbench senators that listened to the arguments that were put and voted accordingly.
KARVELAS: What's your understanding then of what changed?
O’CONNOR: Well I don’t know if it's a question of change. I understand crossbenchers were listening to all sides, they were listening to all arguments. I don't think decisions had been made as far as I am advised. This bill is entitled "Integrity", but the fact is the only integrity that was questioned this week was a minister of the government and it's been a shocker of a week for the Prime Minister who has misled the Parliament on four occasions. With respect to this bill, we just put the arguments that this would diminish the ability for organisations to represent working people, particularly at a time of the lowest wage growth on record and the next step would then be to go after the conditions of employment in our view and I think our arguments were considered and were listened to carefully and for that reason the Senate chose not to support the government's legislation and I think that's the right decision.
KARVELAS: Pauline Hanson has just delivered a press conference explaining her reasons and she says this is still a warning to the union movement. She hasn't supported the bill because she says she doesn't think it is right, but that the union movement needs to clean up its act. So she is warning the union movement, it's almost a veiled warning that she will perhaps support legislation if the union movement doesn't deal with issues, particularly militancy in the militant unions. Is it a warning and should the union movement clean up its act?
O’CONNOR: Well look, any sector of our economy, any group of organisations can always improve and of course there are always transgressions whether it's in the corporate sector or in the unions. Let's remember, this week started with the revelations that there were 23 million transgressions by Westpac and yet the government seemed to think that was not as important as going after, not only one union, but this bill was targeting every union, whether they represented nurses, construction workers, police, everyone that is within the boundaries of the Fair Work jurisdiction. That overreach and the provisions in it are so fundamentally at odds with the democratic right of working people to organise, the crossbench, quite rightly, repudiated it.
And it wasn’t just Pauline Hanson, it was Jacqui Lambie, and it was the Greens. And my point is when you get the Greens Party, and Pauline Hanson and Jacqui Lambie and Labor supporting something, then quite often I think it’s fair to say, you’d have to look at the merits of the bill and the motives of the government in trying to bring this in and go after organisations of working people.
KARVELAS: If you’re just tuning in this is RN Drive and my guest is the Shadow Minister for Employment and Industry Brendan O’Connor. Are unions now on notice to reform their breaking of the law particularly in the case of the CFMEU or Pauline Hanson may support this bill at a later stage, what’s your message to the union movement? 
O’CONNOR: Well my message is the same as to anyone and any organisation, you must – 
KARVELAS: And what is that? Don’t break the law?
O’CONNOR: Of course. Of course comply with the law. But I’m saying, having said that, it’s not like there are equivalent provisions in any legislation proposed by the government to deal with,for example things that are far more onerous and unfair as for example as we witnessed with the conduct of Westpac.
Now the problem is, many of the provisions in this proposed bill, Patricia, do not have any equivalent in the corporate sector. It was not about trying to find some equivalence or an accountability and transparency, say corporations vis-à-vis unions, even if they’re not the same type of entity anyway. This was an assault on the basic rights of organised labour to represent working people and I think for that reason the majority of Senators said no to it. And this tops off what has been a shocking week for Scott Morrison and this government.
KARVELAS: It’s certainly been an untidy week for the government. But ultimately this could come up for a vote, this isn’t over is it, the government could reintroduce this bill and make more deals and get this through still?
O’CONNOR: Well anything can happen in parliament, but this has been, you think about it, this has been considered for a very long time. The question you’d have to ask is what has changed, if it were to come up again? You’ve had senior minister’s and the Prime Minister’s office working very hard to convince Senators about the merits of this bill. Labor has put its case, so too I’m sure has the ACTU and other organisations of labour and the Senate has spoken. Of course there is a chance things could come up, but the fact is you’d have to ask what has changed next week compared to this week. I think the fact is this was put up, it’s been repudiated and it really has exposed the motives of the government to attack working people yet again unfairly at a time when job insecurity and wage growth are at their worst.
KARVELAS: Brendan O’Connor, thanks for coming on the show. 
O’CONNOR: Thanks Patricia.