Bill's Media Releases

Doorstop: Melbourne





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


BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good afternoon everyone. Today Labor is calling upon the Abbott Government to set up an AFP-led taskforce to deal with both the serious allegations of corruption and bribery in particular, in the building and construction industry. Labor does not believe there is any place in the union movement, or the construction sector for criminals, for bribery, for extortion, and for some of the other activities that we’ve seen alleged in recent days. No one is welcome in the labour movement if they are engaging in any form of criminal behaviour. Furthermore, we believe that the police should receive full cooperation.


That’s why Labor is proposing to set up, and asking the Government to set up, a police-led taskforce to deal with these issues. We believe that a $100 million plus Royal Commission is a political stunt which doesn’t do anything to assist with law and order. The issue here, particularly in the building and construction industry, is that no one is above the law. If you are a union representative, or if you are an employer, you have no special rules applying to you and you do deserve to feel the full force of the law. That’s Labor’s view.


But we also believe that in order to tackle criminality, you need to get the police to do the work. This is a job for police, not politicians. This is a job for prosecutions, not political stunts. Labor will continue to campaign for the highest possible standards of integrity in our unions, but also in our building and construction sector. We fundamentally believe that the Abbott Government, rather than wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on Royal Commissions, they need to focus on supporting our police to let them get on to do the job that they do best, which is to catch crooks. Happy to take questions.


REPORTER: Will you pledge to give your personal cooperation to the Royal Commission if asked to give evidence about your time at the AWU?


SHORTEN: Whoah, first of all here, let’s deal with the issues which are being raised. In recent days and weeks, we’ve seen issues of corruption, of bribery, extortion, of outlawed motorcycle gangs in the construction sector. The best way to deal with these issues without a doubt is to support our police to do their job. This is a job for the police, not a job for the politicians.


In terms of the Royal Commission, and what we are concerned about there, let me repeat our concerns. Why is it that Tony Abbott would give tens of millions of dollars, well north I suspect of a hundred million dollars, to engage in a Royal Commission which is all about politics and not about policing? What Australians want is they want to know their money is not being wasted, they want to know that the building and construction and indeed anywhere in public life or in workplaces, that they are free from criminality, free from bribery, free from extortion.


The issue here is what’s the best way to deal with the crooks? The best way to deal with crooks and criminals in our community, whoever they are – employers, or if they’re union reps, or indeed anyone else – is to help the police do their job. The politicians should get out of the way and let the police get on and do their job, and we’re advocating that the federal government be part of the solution, not part of the problem. We’re advocating that they provide extra resources to our police, not to a lawyers’ picnic which could take a very long period of time and indeed is taking scarce taxpayer dollars away from a real issue. People in Australia in 2014, they want law and order, they want the police to be supported, they don’t want political stunts.


REPORTER: [inaudible] will you give your cooperation?


SHORTEN: Everything that the labour movement does should at every level involve cooperation with the relevant authorities. Always has, always will.


REPORTER: [inaudible]


SHORTEN: So what the government is saying is that they haven’t announced their terms of Commission but they’re already starting on their political games. Let’s be really clear here, the problem that we want to solve is making sure that no one is above the law. No one. Employers, union reps, members of our community. I think all of us have been deeply disturbed by reports in recent days of some of the allegations of the building and construction sector. These problems call for a police response, not a politicians’ stunt response.


REPORTER: Will you support unions like the CFMEU if they try to challenge the Royal Commission in the courts, as happened before the Cole Royal Commission?


SHORTEN: I think that most Australians realise that the Abbott Government doesn’t have an agenda on jobs, that they are concerned with trying to reduce people’s working conditions. Why else would they justify as abandoning 3000 jobs at SPC, direct and indirect, and attack people on $50 000 as being overpaid?


Today is about federal Labor saying let’s support our police, let’s set up a multi-police agency taskforce. There is no tolerance for low-lifes who might claim to use the union tag to carry out criminal activities. There is no tolerance, those people are not welcome, never have been, never will. But what we need to do is have a police response, have a response which is designed for catching crooks, not trying to play political games. This nation does not have time to waste, or taxpayer dollars to waste, with the Government pursuing political stunts, when in fact we’ve got police forces, the Australian Crime Commission, who already have those powers.


I think the question to ask is, if you’ve already got the Australian Crime Commission with significant powers, if you’ve already got the Federal Police force, if you’ve already got hard working state and territory agencies, why do you create a talkfest costing tens and tens of millions of dollars, no doubt running into the hundreds of millions of dollars, when in fact you’ve already got the resources. And if they need more resources, let’s give it to the people who actually do the day job of catching crooks, not politicians seeking to take away from the efforts of our police.


REPORTER: If a Royal Commission is what we get, will you tell your unions to cooperate?


SHORTEN: Royal Commissions and the path of them are well set out, there’s a whole lot of rules and laws that set out to people how to conduct themselves by in a Royal Commission. But what we’re saying is that we don’t accept the premise that a Royal Commission is a good use of taxpayers’ money.


What people want is that they want to know that their workplaces are safe from criminality. In particular, there’s been allegations in recent days, disturbing allegations about what’s going on in parts of the building and construction sector. That is where we need to have our police resources. For Tony Abbott to distract people from real issues of law and order, to distract from the lack of their positive plan for jobs, and instead to play a political witch-hunt game, is showing that we have an Opposition Leader in Australia called Tony Abbott, we just don’t have a Prime Minister.


REPORTER: If the Royal Commission is looking at union officials, do you think it should be looking a chief executives and business activities as well?


SHORTEN: I’ve got no doubt that if there’s a Royal Commission everyone would get looked at, employers and union reps. The Government just wants to say that if there is any problems in building and construction, it’s a union issue.


Let me be clear, to the extent that there are union people involved in dealing with outlaw motorcycle gangs or other criminal elements, that is completely unacceptable; they should be prosecuted, they deserve to be caught. But what we also recognise is that the last time there was a Royal Commission targeting unions under a Liberal Government, there were a lot of employers who got caught out at the bottom of the harbour tax schemes. My concern here is that if you want to catch crooks, you get the police to do it. If you want to have a long-winded committee wasting taxpayers’ money, you get the Abbott Government to have a look at it.


REPORTER: If you’re so supportive of the police investigating these things, how would you clear legal roadblocks, for example that AWU slush fund is being held up in the courts and the police can’t get the documents they need because of court challenges?


SHORTEN: Well first of all, you’re talking about matters which have already been into the courts for a number of years. You know, what we’re seeing here is the Abbott Government pursuing a political agenda. They are desperate to smear their opponents and to attack people using taxpayers’ money.


What Labor stands for is we want to have a crime-free building and construction sector. We believe that union representatives and employers should not be engaged in unlawful debt collection, extortion, bribery, some of the dreadful stuff we’ve seen reported in recent days and weeks. So the question is if you’ve got a problem, what’s the best way to deal with it? Is it to waste tens of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money, is it to have a Royal Commission which would delay criminal prosecutions? Or is it to use the existing resources, and if they’re under-funded or if they need new assistance, provide it to the people who do the day job.


Why is it that Tony Abbott and his conservatives want to engage in politics when your police forces just want to get the resources to catch the crooks? We’re on the side of catching the crooks, we’re not on the side of political witch-hunts and wasting taxpayers’ money, especially when you’ve got thousands of jobs at risk in places such as the Goulburn Valley and SPC. What must those food cannery workers think, when they can’t get job security partly because of the federal government, yet they see scarce taxes being used to engage in other political exercises which won’t indeed assist in catching crooks.


REPORTER: Just to clarify, will you not tell unions that they should cooperate with the Royal Commission?


SHORTEN: Our position is fundamentally clear, but I’m happy to keep stating it again. We have zero tolerance for crooks. Crooks are not welcome – never have been, in the union movement. Nor is anyone above the law, doesn’t matter if you’re a union rep or an employer. We believe that people should cooperate with the authorities.


What we don’t understand and accept is why you need to spend tens of millions of dollars engaging in some political red herring chase, when in fact what police need is greater resources and greater support. Why don’t we in Australia let the police get on with doing their job and why don’t the Tony Abbott Government get on with actually trying to save some jobs in Australia other than their own.


REPORTER: When you say cooperate with the authorities, you’re including the Royal Commission?


SHORTEN: I’m saying that people should obey the law, absolutely.


REPORTER: [inaudible]


SHORTEN: No questions on the by-election?


REPORTER: Griffith, yeah.


SHORTEN: Let me just say that whilst the final result hasn’t been declared, we’re confident that Terri Butler, Labor’s hard working candidate, will be the next Member for Griffith. We thank the gracious comments of Bill Glasson congratulating the successful Labor candidate. This by-election was fought by Labor on national issues to do with health and education cuts, and strong local representation.


The Abbott Government was desperate to turn it into a local council election and pretend there were no national issues. The voters of Griffith look like they’ve returned another Labor Member of Parliament, and I think that’s good for Griffith and I think it’s a healthy sign in our democracy that people aren’t standing for Tony Abbott’s ruthless agenda of health and education cuts.


REPORTER: Did you tell Kevin Rudd to stay away?


SHORTEN: No, the only thing that stayed away in this election was Tony Abbott. I think he only made one sighting during the whole campaign. I noticed that Tony Abbott wasn’t on any Liberal literature at all on the campaign. I think four and a half months into this Government, to be airbrushed by the Liberal Party from your own party’s election material is probably a new record in Australia.


And the only other thing which stayed away was the Commission of Audit’s cuts. It was scheduled to be released before the by-election. The Liberal hard-heads at party head office for the Abbott Government said ‘for goodness sake, don’t tell the voters of Griffith about our Commission of Audit because we might even have a bigger loss than we’re already likely to have in the Griffith by-election’.


Thanks everyone.