Bill's Transcripts

Transcript: ABC Radio National - Fran Kelly

ABC Radio National, Fran Kelly
29 May 2012

FRAN KELLY:      The Gillard Government says it will do what it can to help the 2700 workers whose jobs are at risk after the Hastie group was placed into voluntary administration.  The engineering firm which provides services to construction sites is the latest big manufacturing company to run into trouble.

The administrators are hopeful some jobs will be saved. The workers, plumbers, electricians and mechanics have been stood down without pay which means they have no access to unemployment benefits yet or redundancy entitlements.

Workplace relations Minister Bill Shorten, Bill Shorten has held talks with the administrators and with union leaders to see what can be done to help the workers.

Bill Shorten is in our Parliament House studios.

Minister, good morning welcome to breakfast

BILL SHORTEN:  Good morning Fran

FRAN KELLY:      You’ve been in contact with the administrators can the Hastie group, or at least some of it, trade its way out of trouble here?

BILL SHORTEN:  I believe that some of the jobs at the Hastie group will continue on.  I’ve spoken both with Peter Anderson and McGrath Nicol and Craig Crosbie who is the administrator for other parts of the business.  The Hastie group is made up of 44 separate companies. It employs about 4000 people across mechanical engineer, electrical plumbing work on construction also services such as refrigeration, mechanical services.

In terms of the mechanical engineering plumbing process I think it will be a business by business analysis. I believe that on some of the jobs, quite a lot of the jobs where electricians, plumbers, metal trades people are working, that because the jobs need to go on there will be cover, and that while some won’t continue I think quite a few will.  Now I can’t put a number on that but I know that the administrators are working hard with the relevant unions.  I should say the electricians union the plumbers union and others have been in touch with me to stand up for their members. In terms of the refrigeration area, the picture is less clear to me.  But I also know that the administrators have been working pretty hard on that matter.

FRAN KELLY:      And as you say I know you’ve been meeting with union leaders like electrician union Dean Mild last night.  The concern is that it’s all very well while the administrators work this out, the workers don’t have access to their termination pays or anything like that.  Can anything be done to help these people in the short term, if they’re looking at 28 days now, at least, without pay many of them.

BILL SHORTEN:  Well certainly I don’t want people to be waiting 28 days. I think there will be further discussions today between the administrator and relevant unions.  I’ve also had the plumbers union Bill Setchers in touch with me overnight.

FRAN KELLY:      What can you do to help?

BILL SHORTEN:  Well first thing I can do is...dare I say it, soft diplomacy.  The unions have got a clear position what they want. The administrators are trying to work for what they want. I want to make sure there is no translation or misunderstandings between them, they all want to do the right thing, they just might have a different timetable to do it.  So the first thing I can do is just make sure that in this period of confusion people don’t go off in different directions so we’ve been doing that overnight.

FRAN KELLY:      What about in the short term though of getting dollars to the workers? Can the government give workers immediate access to some financial support?

BILL SHORTEN: Yes and no. I know, Fran and answer like yes and no probably drives you crazy but that’s just the fact of the matter. What it is, is that in order to get the GEERS or the Government funded scheme for redundancies, a company has to actually be in liquidation or have a very strong possibility of liquidation, it’s just not possible to know that this morning.

What I do know is that we’ve been asking and we’ll be meeting with the administrator and others during the week. If they think they are going to liquidate they should tell us so that can allow me to use a discretion, but if they are not, then we are keen to see who is going to buy the businesses and what’s going to happen to the jobs this week. It is certainly my aim to make sure people are not kept in purgatory for 28 days. But it’s moving quite fast and I know that there’s a lot of people trying to work on this. At the end of the day, these workers are skilled, they’re caught up in circumstances beyond their control and I know that the jobs they do in many cases are still necessary for construction projects to get completed.

FRAN KELLY:      Minister, a number of issues to get through this morning. This Hastie collapse comes just days after the Federal Government approved the first EMA enterprise migration agreement. Business has applauded the decision but a lot of Labor MPs aren’t too happy with it, nor union leaders. Does the EMA for the Rinehart project need to be...that is the Roy Hill iron ore project, need to be changed in any shape or form to protect Australian jobs?

 BILL SHORTEN: When you said there is a lot of issues to get through the final point I need to make about Hastie is that yesterday in parliament Mr Abbott played a low blow and he is trying to imply that the carbon tax is to blame for the Hastie group. You’d want to be careful; I am surprised that he hasn’t blamed the death of Pharlap on the carbon tax. It just isn’t correct. This has been a question about a business and how it’s run, it’s not anything to do with the carbon tax.

In terms of the issue you are raising about Roy Hill.

FRAN KELLY:     Well the EMA’s more broadly really. Does the... caucus members want the EMA changed, does it need to be changed? In your view?

BILL SHORTEN: Well I haven’t seen all the papers this morning but I hope the Australian ran something which Minister Bowen and I, a statement we provided last night. This is the simple proposition about EMAs. First of all the governments view is that whether a job is in Australia we would like them to be first filled by Australians. That is our view.

We want mining companies to make genuine efforts, their best endeavours, to search the Australian job market before they put their hand up to employ guest labour.

Now that is the first point – Australians first.

But the second point is that periodically there will not be enough, potentially Australians to fill the job and yet we still want the project to go ahead because that generates those jobs that will be employing Australians and we don’t want to miss the opportunities of the mining boom.

So an EMA in principal is a good idea. But it should be done once we have established that there’s no Australians who are available to do the work at the time that the project is coming online.

FRAN KELLY:      Ok so here we have one done, in your terms for the Roy Hill iron ore project allowing the company, mostly owned by Gina Rinehart to bring in 1700 foreign workers. In your view has everything been done, before that’s been allowed, to ensure there’s not Australians to fill those last 1700 jobs.

BILL SHORTEN: Well the EMA provides the framework, but a lot of the work hasn’t even begun. I am more than confident that with the arrangements that have been put in place, that Australians will get first opportunity to do the work.

FRAN KELLY:      So the Prime Minister who took the better part of question time yesterday to voice her support for this EMA for the Roy Hill project. Let me ask you, do you support the EMA for the Roy Hill iron ore project?

 BILL SHORTEN: I support EMAs which having satisfied the requirement of trying to find Australians first, if there is an overflow of work then I do support the principal of utilising temporary labour where there aren’t Australians to do the work. So the answer is yes. And I think you will find, if you read the PM’s transcript, Minister Ferguson’s transcript to question time, my own transcript of question time and importantly Minister Bowen’s transcript of question time, that’s the position.

FRAN KELLY:      The position is, the question is, do you support the EMA as written for the Roy Hill iron ore project. Do you?

BILL SHORTEN: I support the EMA which ensures that Australians get first crack at the jobs and where that is not possible, I support the EMA which then says that we will use temporary labour to utilise the benefits of a successful project which will employ thousands and thousands of Australian construction workers and thousands and thousands of Australians in production.

Periodically it will be necessary to utilise guest labour. We just want to make sure that the mining companies have done what they can do to ensure that Australians get first go.

FRAN KELLY:      Did you ring union leaders the night before this was announced by Minister Bowen to tell them this was coming and did you do that because you weren’t happy with it or because you couldn’t believe that they hadn’t been told anyway?

BILL SHORTEN:  Oh, Fran, the Libs were trying to make the same point in question time and in question time I gave my answer. Ministers work together on projects and ideas, I do consult, we do consult stakeholders, employers and unions. I think the proposition which has been about Roy Hill has been a good proposition, because it is achieving two aims. One is, it’s emphasising the importance of Australian jobs for Australians first, and it’s also recognising  that in a mining boom we don’t want to miss the opportunities of generating jobs in Australia and sharing the mining boom, so that will require the use of some temporary labour.

FRAN KELLY:      Bill Shorten, there will be a motion on EMAs in caucus, do you accept some changes need to be made?

BILL SHORTEN:  Well, let’s have the debate in caucus first, Fran. I am one of those people who would rather have the debate in caucus then let the world know how we’ve gone, rather than trailing our coat in public and then having the debate in caucus. I am confident, Fran, that we will see a united position from the government on this matter.

FRAN KELLY:      A couple of other issues – in his address to parliament last week, Craig Thomson said questions need to be asked in parliament about the Deputy President of Fair Work Australia Michael Lawler and his role in events at the HSU. The Head of the FWA Ian Ross says he will not investigate any allegations of a conflict of interest by Michael Lawler. Will you?

BILL SHORTEN:  Well, I think if you look at the whole of the evidence by President Ross, he was very clear, as in fact, I was very clear in question time last week, there’s been no specific behaviour put forward which would warrant an investigation. Full stop.

FRAN KELLY:      So the allegation is and it was aired again on 7:30 last night that Michael Lawler wrote to the police, contacted the police about the behaviour of a couple of members of HSU. Should that be investigated?

BILL SHORTEN:  I understand that came up very late in the evening yesterday on an ABC show Fran, so I will have to take advice on that matter.

FRAN KELLY:      Well, that’s not news. It was reported a couple of months ago. This is not news.

BILL SHORTEN:  I’ve got to say, I operate on people making specific behaviour, specific allegations about misbehaving when they have been put to me.

FRAN KELLY:      Minister, you are going to introduce legislation as well this week to improve financial disclosure of unions in the wake of the HSU scandal. What is the key change you will make that can ensure nothing like the accounting practice of the HSU and the corruption and the fraud that appears to have gone on there can happen again in the union?


BILL SHORTEN:  Greater disclosure of what people get paid in unions and in employer associations, secondly, tougher penalties, thirdly, better education for people who have financial oversight of financial decisions in unions and in employer associations and finally greater powers for the Fair Work Australia General Manager to be able to conduct their investigations more efficiently and speedily.


FRAN KELLY:      And just finally Minister, news polls show some slight relief for the Government, Labor’s vote up slightly. Tony Abbott’s popularity would seem heading downwards, but it comes at a time when really the government looks to be in trouble on a range of fronts, and there is talk again of leadership speculation. Has the government bungled the politics of the AMEA last week and is the government struggling, in your view at this point? How do you make sense of all of this bad news surrounding the government?


BILL SHORTEN: Oh, well, just to show you I can answer the question succinctly, the answer to questions is no and no. The longer answer is that I believe that being positive will always in the long run trump being negative. I think that what Australians want in parliament is a debate about the issues, a debate about the future. What is going to be is going to be in terms of the investigation around Mr Thomson and the findings of the Fair Work report were very serious. The Government has taken the difficult - but I think long-term and sustainable position - that these matters have to be tried in court, tested in court. In the meantime, I think it is time to move on from the personal destruction.


Let’s have a debate about industrial relations. You know the Liberals have asked, and I am the Minister for Workplace Relations, the Liberals have asked 20-30 questions about what has gone on in HSU, but I have not had them ask me one question about what is the pay rate for a low paid hospital worker, why they vote against superannuation increase for low paid workers. You know, there is a lot to go on with the future of work, there are a lot of positive things to talk about in workplace relations, but given the chance to always look at the positive, at the moment, with Mr Abbott, they will always find a chance to look at the negative.


FRAN KELLY:      Bill Shorten, thank you very much for joining us on Breakfast.

BILL SHORTEN:  Thank you.


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