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Read all the latest news from Brendan O'Connor MP


August 31, 2016

SUBJECT/S: ABCC; CFA; Disclosure.

GREG JENNETT: Brendan O'Connor, you've made it here from the Chamber where there's been a fair bit happening in the industrial relations and employment front. If we start talking about the whole reason for having the double dissolution election, that's the Building and Construction Commission. The Government is obviously signalling that it is up for some changes to be negotiated. Can it be put in any form acceptable to Labor?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR, SHADOW MINSITER FOR EMPLYOMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: That is hard to see, really. You say reason for the double dissolution election, I think it was the ostensible reason. The Prime Minister barely mentioned it during the eight week election campaign. But we'll look at the Bill. I listened to the Prime Minister in a Second Reading this morning. We’ve got grave concerns about infringement on civil rights, the endangering of workers by undermining health and safety. And we also believe that the economic arguments that have been put by the Government don’t ring true. In fact, they’ve been repudiated by the Productivity Commission. 

JENNETT: Alight well Nick Xenophon is addressing at least some of those concerns, he says, in amendments being drafted, they would make the Administrative Appeals Tribunal responsible for those compulsive orders to give evidence. Would that be acceptable?

O’CONNOR: Well certainly that would be an improvement to the Bill. I mean, you have to start to question what’s the point if they end up with the same beast, the same body, they have now. Remember Greg, they do have an industry specific regulator that has coercive powers, and they have to go to the AAT. Now if they’re going to end up amending the differences between the current regulator and the proposed regulator, what was the whole thing about?

JENNETT: Does that also mean you wouldn’t have objections? If this ended up looking like the current regulator, what Labor’s bottom line on that?

O’CONNOR: We had some reservations about it insofar as there wasn’t a proper enquiry as to whether we should extend it. But the Senate extended the current regulator. My point is that the old Senate did support its extension. But it would be remarkable if the Government were to just accede on all of these things. And look it’s not just on the regulator itself, the Government is also looking to make it impossible to for example insist on apprentices on building sites. The concern about the overuse of temporary worker visa applicants on building sites. So there are a whole range of other employment matters that the Government is seeking to prevent being discussed by industrial parties. 

JENNETT: Right. You’ve reached a point now, I assume, where you’re concluding that there will never be a joint sitting on this Construction Commission, to present it as it was presented to the last Parliament. You actually think the more likely path is a regular passage of the Bill with negotiations?

O’CONNOR: Look that may well be. I wouldn’t assume there’s no joint Sitting. That may happen. Certainly the crossbenches are open to the Federal Opposition’s views and they’re open to negotiations, so we’re going to present in good faith our concerns about the Bill and look we’ll be involved in the discussions, we want to get the best outcome. We don’t agree with the Bill but we’ll be aiming to ensure that workers are not worse off, that workers are not endangered by the introduction of this Bill. So, we want to test that with the Senators, particularly those who have been recently elected.

JENNETT: Alright, well the very first Bill, even before we got to the building and construction commission to enter the house of reps in this parliament was also in your portfolio area this is the Country Fire Authority Bill for the want of a better description. Does it make it harder for you to rail against this when you’ve got people like the former Minister, Jane Garrett, in Victoria at daggers drawn with the Daniel Andrews Government. It’s getting ugly down there?

O’CONNOR: It’s unfortunate that this matter hasn’t been handled as well as it should have been in Victoria. We’ve always said it’s a Victorian matter. I haven’t heard people in the Victorian Government, including the former Minister, say that the best way to fix this is through federal legislation. We’re examining the legislation, I only received the explanatory memorandum today. We’ve got concerns – how far this legislation will go, its unintended consequences. There are questions about its constitutionality and most importantly Greg there are concerns that if this is not looked at closely this may intrude on the Royal Commission’s recommendations into interoperability and resources of firefighting that came out of the Black Saturday Royal Commission. We believe that we need to examine those matters and we’ll look to refer this matter to a Senate Committee.

JENNETT: Should we assume that Labor is likely to oppose it?

O’CONNOR: We have reservations now because it is a defective Bill. It could go well beyond what the stated intention of the Government is and our other concern is, as I say, it may impact adversely on the recommendations of the Black Saturday Royal Commission. That’s very serious issue we’ll have to examine. Some lawyers are arguing it is unconstitutional – we’ll have to examine that. We believe from the outset that a leader who wants to be involved in this should be looking to reconcile two remarkable sets of people, career fire fighters, paid fire fighters and those remarkable volunteers and we don’t want to inflame tensions. Now, we think the Government has been politically opportunistic. We want to just cool the temperature and just examine the matter and see if we can improve on what’s going on remembering that there’s a Supreme Court case, Greg, on the 22nd of September that’s going to look at this matter and quite possibly resolve the matter in three weeks.

JENNETT: Sure but even if you were able to improve it to use your words and then support it would that be an admission politically that this has caused enough damage and you want to get out of that space? 

O’CONNOR: Well, we’ve never believed it’s something that should be dealt with by the federal parliament, and we believe the State Government and other parties to this matter in Victoria should resolve it. I think what should happen at this point is because we’ve got serious questions, we’ll refer the bill off to a Senate committee, we hope we can do that,  in the meantime, in three weeks’ time, the Supreme Court is hearing the case by the Volunteers, it may well be that the most superior court, the highest court of Victoria could determine and resolve this matter well before this matter is enacted. 

JENNETT: Just finally Sam Dastyari, the Senator copping some stick today for third party interests, picking up what in effect are his own expenses for staff travel etc. How widespread is this? Have you ever had that experience yourself? 

O’CONNOR: Not that I’m aware of, I don’t recall doing that. As I understand it Sam disclosed this but on reflection he has chosen to donate an equivalent amount to a charity so that there is no perception of anything improper. I think that is the right decision made by the Senator. 

JENNETT: There are foreign interests involved here. For the brief period of time when you had that responsibility for Labor I think the position was that Labor would prohibit the receipt of foreign donations, is that still something that you favour? That’s it’s not healthy to the democracy to have foreigners making payments? 

O’CONNOR: Let’s make sure we define our term as to foreigners. I’m not exactly sure as the identity of the donor in this regard, but I think it is fair to say we would expect donations to come from inside Australia for election matters and there should be better disclosure. One of the things we’d like to do in terms of the Registered Organisations Bill is to reduce the disclosure threshold for Federal members of Parliament down to $1000, currently being blocked by the Prime Minister. So I think there is some room to improve and I hope the Government listens to Labor on this. 

JENNETT: Put it on the work list for this parliament. Brendan O’Connor, thank you. 

O’CONNOR: Thanks Greg.