Bill's Transcripts

Interview with 2GB- Ben Fordham

BEN FORDHAM:     Thank you very much for talking to us.  You’ve got some news for us.  A thousand jobs were cut when the national trucking company, 1st Fleet, went under last week.  We broke the story here on this program.  Now, a thousand jobs, many of them in Sydney - places like Smithfield, Milperra - also Newcastle, a lot of these workers, you’ve got some news for them this afternoon?

BILL SHORTEN:     I have and you certainly have been campaigning on what happened with the 1st Fleet workers.  What I can say is that, as a Minister I can exercise the discretion to access the general Government scheme for staff who have been made redundant where it looks likely the company will go into liquidation but liquidation hasn’t actually occurred.  Normally you’d get it when liquidation occurs. 

It’s clear that - by all the signals we’re getting that liquidation is likely to occur.  The problem for the 1st Fleet workers is they could have gone a month with no pay, no ability to access anything else, not getting their entitlements.

So for workers who have been affected at Wetherill Park, Smithfield, Newcastle and indeed Queensland and Victoria, the Government’s just cut the red tape.  We can see where the picture’s going so we’re just getting on to make sure that drivers, warehouse workers, others affected by this are able to say to their families, you know, next week - by the end of next week and ideally before then there’ll be some money coming in.

BEN FORDHAM:     That was going to be my next question: what’s the timing on this - obviously good news for them but what’s the timing?

BILL SHORTEN:     Well we’ve got to get the paperwork right.  You know, you don’t want to pay the wrong person the wrong amount.  So there’s inevitably some number crunching to go into computers and what have you.  I asked my Department, how quickly can we do it?  They’ve said by the end of next week.

But I’d rather be conservative in the estimate.  So if people plan around that - but if they get it before then that’s good.  Rather than promise they’d get the money Tuesday and then every day from Tuesday it doesn’t come they get irritated.

BEN FORDHAM:     Okay, you’ve obviously made this decision regarding 1st Fleet workers. That therefore lends the idea there must be other times where you have to say no, is that right?  Where you just have to say, well, we’re not going to help them out.

BILL SHORTEN:     Well with CMI I’ve exercised discretion.  I’ve only been the Minister for Industrial Relations just over four months so I haven’t had to look at these issues with this sort of fact circumstance before.  Or, in other words, the company goes in liquidation so they get the money. 

But there’s a bit of a loophole.  I’m not saying it’s anyone’s fault but a company goes into administration.  In administration a company can either - the administrator who is appointed by one of the interests can either say we’ve got to rearrange the business or we just trade out, it’s okay, or they go into liquidation.  But that process can sometimes take weeks and months.

But as the administrator’s operating they chop people from the headcount so that they can get the company and make an assessment, well, is it really salvageable or not?

BEN FORDHAM:     Okay.

BILL SHORTEN:     But if you’re made redundant you’re in limbo till liquidation.  We can’t just give the money until we’re confident that liquidation is the direction.  Because we don’t want companies using tax payer funds just to subsidise the management of their business.

BEN FORDHAM:     You mentioned those families in those conversations that will be taking place over dinner tables tonight, you can give an iron clad guarantee that all entitlements are going to be paid and received.

BILL SHORTEN:     Yes.

BEN FORDHAM:     Okay.

BILL SHORTEN:     The entitlement is up to three weeks unpaid - three months unpaid wages, long service leave, redundancy pay capped at four weeks for every year of service, unpaid annual leave, unpaid long service leave up to five weeks in lieu of notice.

BEN FORDHAM:     There’s a concern that workers also have, in regards to sub-contractors who were paying off their trucks to 1st Fleet before the company went into liquidation.  And I’m reading here a quote from Michael Aird from the Transport Workers Union. 

He says, a good number of these subcontractors at 1st Fleet had entered into unusual agreements with 1st Fleet whereby they were paying off their trucks.  And when they arrived at the depots on Thursday they were not allowed access to their trucks.  A significant number of subcontractors were from non-English speaking backgrounds. 

So we’ve got serious concern over whether they were fully aware of what they’d signed up to.

BILL SHORTEN:     That’s terrible to hear that because the subcontractors’ situation is different to the direct GEER scheme.  I’ll have to take that under advice and I’ll follow up with the union.  But people on those sort of contracts, the situation gets very messy.  So I’ll have to take that on notice.

BEN FORDHAM:     Okay.  On another issue thirty-six million dollars of our money you’re about to spend to advertise the carbon tax, can you just - do we really need to do that?

BILL SHORTEN:     There’s been so much myth-making about the price on carbon.  It is appropriate to explain to people what’s happening, what they’re getting, what it means. 

BEN FORDHAM:     Yeah but we’ve had - you know we’ve had Prime Ministerial address this to the nation on a Sunday night, we’ve had advertising campaigns, we’ve had, you know, countless media interviews, your newspapers and radio and television.  It’s not enough?  

BILL SHORTEN:     Just to reassure people, we’ve cut back on Government advertising compared to what we got out of the Howard Government.  When they brought in Work Choices it was north of a hundred-million dollars.  So there’s just no comparison.  Governments still have to explain things though.

BEN FORDHAM:     Mm, thirty-six million?

BILL SHORTEN:     It costs a bit to advertise on radio and TV, Ben.  The TV stations could - you’re radio so I’ll talk about TV.  You know, advertising money…

BEN FORDHAM:     Okay.  Why couldn’t Julia Gillard just give a clear answer today when she was asked in Parliament about Craig Thomson and about the New South Wales Labor Party paying his legal bills and whether anyone from her office was across the detail of that? Why couldn’t she just give a straight answer?

BILL SHORTEN:     Because that matter - she did give a straight answer.  That matters between the New South Wales Labor Party and Mr Thomson.  And since you’re raising that whole issue, as Industrial Relations Minister for the last few months and now I’ve got this report, let me be crystal clear. 

The behaviours outlined in that about parts of the HSU are unacceptable certainly from the findings.  The investigation stage is now over.  It’s now appropriate that the matters are tested in Court.  The members of the union are owed in my opinion that this process is finished and that people who are either guilty or they’re not, I’m not here on radio to defend individuals. 

By the same token when you talk about - Mr Thomson now sits on the cross bench.  He’s been suspended from the Labor Party.  The Labor Party, I understand, is no longer having anything to do with his fees.  It’s not unprecedented though for political parties to support their MPs with legal fees.  In Victoria South, us Mexicans down south the Victorian Government, Liberal Government, Liberal Party paid the fees for one of their fellas who was caught up in legal matters. It’s not unprecedented.

BEN FORDHAM:     Okay.  You’re an old union man.  When you were in the union movement…

BILL SHORTEN:     Young to middle aged.

BEN FORDHAM:     Did you see any rorting going on?

BILL SHORTEN:     No, listen, the discussion of some of the findings - as a proud member of a union, the thing - the practices which have been reported on which - would not be tolerated in the union I came from.

BEN FORDHAM:     Okay.

BILL SHORTEN:     Full stop.

BEN FORDHAM:     But did you witness any rorting going on or…

BILL SHORTEN:     No.

BEN FORDHAM:     No?

BILL SHORTEN:     For what it’s worth, I’m not named in that report so…

BEN FORDHAM:     No, no, no I’m not suggesting that.  I’m just wondering because it seems like it was a…

BILL SHORTEN:     I’ll tell you what I did see though…

BEN FORDHAM:     It seems like it was a culture of the HSU.

BILL SHORTEN:     Well parts of it.  There’s some good branches out there who’ve just been caught up in it.  But I’ll tell you what I did see as a union rep.  First of all, I did see, every day, a lot of officials and delegates working very hard.

BEN FORDHAM:     Sure.

BILL SHORTEN:     I did also see that, for instance, like when companies go broke people chasing up their entitlements.  I did see safety.  I know when the Cross City Tunnel was being built I went down and addressed the blokes when a tunnel worker was killed.  Like, what has happened here is unacceptable. 

BEN FORDHAM:     Okay.

BILL SHORTEN:     The process has taken too long.  But just when people are driving home, and there’s a lot of good people working in unions…

BEN FORDHAM:     Understood.

BILL SHORTEN:     …I regret they have to be caught up in this.

BEN FORDHAM:     Understood.  Thank you for the news on 1st Fleet and we’ll hear back on the issue of subcontractors.

BILL SHORTEN:     I appreciate your interest; it all helps.

BEN FORDHAM:     Thank you so much.

BILL SHORTEN:     Thanks.

BEN FORDHAM:     Bill Shorten on the line from Canberra, the Employment and Workplace Relations Minister.  So some encouraging news for those staff members from 1st Fleet; a guarantee from Bill Shorten you will be receiving all of those entitlements.