Bill's Transcripts



SUBJECT/S: Call for the Abbott Government to establish an AFP-led taskforce; Proposed Royal Commission.

CHRIS UHLMANN: The Opposition has joined the union movement in calling for a joint police taskforce to investigate allegations of union corruption instead of a Royal Commission. Labor Leader Bill Shorten says it would be a much better use of taxpayer money. He is also calling on unions to do what they can to ban members of outlaw bikie gangs. Bill Shorten, welcome to AM.


UHLMANN: Can you tell us what it is that you propose?

SHORTEN: Well we believe and Labor believes that anyone engaging in corruption or bribery or extortion is a crook, its low-life behaviour and Labor’s going to give it no oxygen. They should feel the full force of the law, they should feel it now. I don’t believe they should feel it two, three, four years after a Royal Commission. That’s why Labor’s calling upon the Government to act in a bi-partisan fashion to tackle serious allegations raised recently, in particular in building and construction sectors, to create an Australian Federal Police taskforce working with all the state police agencies.

UHLMANN: So you believe the problem is serious enough to call for a taskforce?

SHORTEN: I believe the allegations about criminality, criminal behaviour in the building construction sector, certainly do deserve further investigation. The question is what’s the best way to deal with it? It doesn’t matter if you’re an employer or a labour hire company, or a motorcycle gang, or a union rep, no one is above the law. The question is how do you then enforce the law? I don’t believe we need a Abbott Government special political stunt which will cost the taxpayer literally tens and tens of millions of dollars when we’ve got police agencies who could, with further resources and support, do a much better job more efficiently and effectively.

UHLMANN: But just to be clear, you believe the problem is serious enough in the Australian construction industry to warrant a taskforce. That’s a pretty serious concession isn’t it?

SHORTEN: I accept that in light of the recent allegations reported and talking to police people that in the building construction sector there needs to be no place for criminal groups trying to infiltrate it through employers, labour hire companies, phoenix companies and if the police need more support to do it, what they don’t need is a bunch of politicians pontificating for weeks and years and months and a lawyers picnic. What they need is scarce taxpayer dollars given to the people who catch the crooks.

UHLMANN: Do you also believe that parts of the construction industry have been hijacked by outlaw bikie gangs, is that the case?

SHORTEN: No, what I understand from the allegations is that some union representatives have found themselves working with crooks and criminals. What I believe is that the police are the people who catch criminals. You know, with the greatest of respect to Prime Minister Tony Abbott or a Royal Commission they don’t actually catch criminals. What we want to see is the criminals being evicted from the industry, that the building and construction sector in particular, is ensured to be clean of dirty money, of criminal activity, of the infiltration of criminals and outlaw motorcycle gangs.

UHLMANN: How wide spread are outlaw motorcycle gangs in the construction industry?

SHORTEN: I’m not a police expert. What I do know is that the police know these things and it’s the police who should get the resources and support they deserve.

UHLMANN: What do you know beyond Fairfax reports? You’ve been in the union movement for a long time now, in the labour movement, what do you know?

SHORTEN: What I know from talking to police is that they think that there is a challenge around the debt collection industry, people promising to collect debts. Again I’ve read that in the newspapers. What I understand also is that the police want to make sure that they have the best resources and that there is an opportunity for them to catch criminals. What Labor’s proposing is that if you want to catch criminals, that’s a police matter. If you want to have a political debate that’s a politicians matter. We don’t confuse the two. There are some matters which are separate to the day to day hurley burley of politics. I believe that the process of making sure we have a clean building and construction industry, is one which the police are best tasked to do.
UHLMANN: Bill Shorten since the 1990s, I’ve been aware of bikie groups being involved in parts of the construction industry. Why don’t you support the re-booting of the Australian Building and Construction Commission? Surely that would take care of some of these problems?

SHORTEN: Well let’s be really direct here, I believe that what we need to catch criminals is the police. You don’t need to create new structures, what you need to do is support the existing structures to be able to do their job and make sure they’ve got both the legal power and man power and the resources to do the job.
UHLMANN: Why don’t you support the re-booting of a commission which would look into these issues and perhaps isn’t as heavy handed as a police taskforce?

SHORTEN: Well, if you want to catch criminals you get behind your police. It’s a pretty straight forward proposition.

UHLMANN: But if you’re making the argument that you need a police taskforce then surely you should support the re-booting of the Australian Building and Construction Commission?

SHORTEN: Why on earth - there are already specialist agencies working within the Fair Work Commission – but why on earth if you’re going to deal with criminals, and the Crimes Act and state acts do you create new structures? Isn’t the proposition here if you’ve got criminal behaviour, and Labor in the building and construction sector recognises some of the serious allegations which have surfaced in recent weeks as warranting further attention, political hubris has not place in policing. What the police need is to know that they can operate free of politics, free of, you know, Canberra politics but rather have the resources to do their day job properly.

UHLMANN: Labor leader Bill Shorten, and with the submission for the Royal Commission still to go to cabinet no one from the Government was available to comment this morning.