Bill's Transcripts

Press Conference on HSU East Report


SUBJECT/S:  HSU East report, state owned enterprises

 BILL SHORTEN: The Temby report demonstrates the deplorable state of affairs that has occurred in one part of the Health Services Union East Branch. The findings that the report indicates, that the members trust has been abused, we see excessive wages, not characteristic of the union movement, contracts and conflicts, vindicates the action that the Government took in April and May of this year to seek to put an administrator into the HSU East, and to also change the laws covering registered organisations so that the sort of conflicts and problems we’ve seen emerge from this part of one union cannot be repeated or occur again without them being found out a lot earlier in the process.

I’m happy to take questions.

REPORTER:  Do you think the HSU scandal was harming the Labor brand?

BILL SHORTEN: I truly believe that whilst what we have seen at the HSU east, by some officials, is a completely abysmal state of affairs. I truly believe that the Australian trade union movement, the two million people who belong to unions, who are served by their delegates and officials, I believe the Australian Trade Union movement, the vast majority, are honest, work hard to protect peoples jobs, to get people pay rises, to ensure productive relationships at work, cooperation at work and to ensure people have safe jobs and better conditions.

So I do not believe that the events that we are seeing unfold, the very sad and sordid saga we are seeing unfold, I do not believe that is representative of the trade union movement, the Labor movement at large.

REPORTER:  So what do you think is responsible for the Newspoll results overnight showing that the ALP’s primary vote is down 28 percent.

BILL SHORTEN: Listen, opinion polls have become part of Australian political life, there is an opinion poll every week. What I believe about the opinion polls is that they will tighten up in the next 12 months as we get closer to an election.

For me, the numbers which are most important is not the temporary popularity parade of a weekly poll. It’s numbers such as 160,000 mothers getting paid parental leave, its 1.3 million parents getting extra money to help pay for their school children’s costs, it’s a million people who earn less than $18,000 a year who will be not paying tax this financial year because of the changes we’re making to the tax system. They’re the numbers which count in the long term not the short term.

REPORTER:  What do you say to members who have lost faith in the Health union?

BILL SHORTEN: What I would say to low paid hospital workers is that the Government has their best interests at heart. That is why we took, for the first time ever in Australian industrial relations history, a Government made an application to put an administrator into the union. I’m pleased and I’ve been advised that since an administrator has been appointed to the HSU East branch, one part of that union, he’s terminated all of the contracts or many of the contracts which have now been identified in the Temby report. He’s bought in charted accountants, he’s been co-operating with the police, in fact he co-operated obviously with the Temby investigation and he’s introduced internal financial control policies which were long overdue. 

So what I’d say to the members of that union is trade unions are still a good idea. You’ve got a honest administrator in and he’s determined at the earliest possible point to return control of the union to where it rightly belongs, which is the members of that union, as occurs across trade unions in Australia.

REPORTER:  What should happen to Mr Williamson in light of this report?

 BILL SHORTEN: We’ve got a court process for people to go through. What I believe though is that the Government’s actions have been vindicated by the Temby report. Putting an administrator in, moving people from their elected office, we think the court got that decision right. It was a drastic action which was certainly not I think the way the people may think that unions normally conduct themselves but it had to be done.  In terms of what happens to the senior officers and individuals at that branch, they’ve got a court process to go through and I’m not going to pre-empt that court process. We owe it to the members of that union to have transparent and efficient processes – something which they’ve clearly been denied in previous months and years in the HSU East branch.

 REPORTER:  What do you think about the treatment of Craig Thomson? He seems to get barely a mention in this report.

 BILL SHORTEN: there’s processes which Fair Work Australia, the independent regulator of unions has initiated. The investigation stage has completed on that. Now I understand that these matters are being considered for what legal action can be taken. Again, we owe it to the members of this union, this part of this union – the HSU East – because I stress that there are other parts of the union which are functioning well, and indeed we owe it the members of this part of the union to see the court processes conclude.

 REPORTER:  Do you think he was unfairly targeted by the Opposition?

BILL SHORTEN: My interest in this matter is to make sure that the rank and file members of the HSU East get the union that they deserve, not the one they’ve had.  My interest is to restore confidence which is appropriately held I believe, that unions across Australia are working to promote the interests of their members. We passed tougher regulations on all registered organisations but I also have the deepest respect for the hard work of Australian trade unionists and I don’t think that the actions of a few should smear the reputation of the many.

 REPORTER:  Just on another matter, what are your thoughts on Chinese State owned enterprises controlling Australian companies and property assets?

 BILL SHORTEN: Is there a specific example you’re referring to or is it just a general...

 REPORTER:  No...just general. Tony Abbott came out on the weekend and said that he’s against it; it’s not in the national interest and so I’m just after your opinion on it.

 BILL SHORTEN: I just need to be careful about this, because I need to understand. I haven’t heard what Mr Abbott said, but if Mr Abbott said that state-owned enterprises can’t purchase any... and can’t invest in that what you’re saying he said?

 REPORTER:  Yeah, he’s saying it’s not in the national interest for Chinese state-owned enterprises to buy Australian companies and own their property.

 BILL SHORTEN: If Mr Abbott has said that state owned enterprises can’t invest in Australia, um, that’s a pretty dramatic departure from Liberal Party policy up to now. Foreign investment should always be weighed up in the Australian national interest, we have clear checks and balances, but, in the past, we’ve have had British nobility, buy the Lord Vestey owned most of the northern pastoral stations in Australia. I can’t believe Mr Abbott is saying it’s ok for British royalty to own, to invest in Australia but somehow Government owned enterprises elsewhere it’s not ok. We’ve got to look at the bid not on the identity of the person who is making the proposition but is the proposition in the Australian interest.

Chinachem bought a share of Qenos down on the Altona complex. They’ve reinvested, they’ve created jobs there and maintained jobs there. I think we need to be very careful about singling out particular countries, or governments, and saying that Australia is a no-go zone for them. We want to be careful that we don’t inadvertently trigger a strike of foreign investment in Australia. Australia, we have an open economy, Australians own a fair bit of the rest of the world, we wouldn’t want other countries saying we don’t want Australian money. You just have to look at this on a case by case basis. Let’s not forget under our Foreign Investment Review Board they rejected the takeover by the Singapore Stock Exchange of the Australian Stock Exchange so we’ve got a system that is working reasonably well. The test should be what is in the national interest, not the identity of the particular investor.

REPORTER: When will nominations go out for senior positions at the HSU?

BILL SHORTEN: That is a matter for the administrator.

REPORTER: So you don’t know?

BILL SHORTEN: That’s a matter for the administrator. Under the Deed of Arrangement, which the Federal Court passed, the administrator is to set in place proper practices. I think the initial a period of time was 120 days. I’m sure that the administrator’s intention is to sort out the union and return it to the democratic control of its members.

BILL SHORTEN: Thanks everyone.