SUBJECTS: John Setka; Israel Folau.
NEIL MITCHELL: John Setka in court yesterday. The magistrate said there was no sign of contrition despite the fact he stood on the steps and said he was sorry. His wife Emma Walters stood by him. She also for the first time, this was well-known around town but not made public, she was the subject of the texts and the harassment that he was charged with after – well it’s a form of domestic violence. John Setka said that himself, even though she says there was no violence in the marriage. This is a form of domestic violence. Anthony Albanese, the Opposition Leader has made it clear he wanted to get John Setka out of the Labor Party. He said that was based on his reported comments about Rosie Batty in a private meeting. Those comments are now up for debate. So Setka says he didn’t say it and someone supported him on the line now is the Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good morning, Neil.
MITCHELL: Is he gone?
ALBANESE: He will be gone on July 5th. I think people will draw their own conclusions about whether it is in the interests of the Labor Party for John Setka to continue to be a prominent member of it. And I think the answer to that is very clear. Every time he gets a run in the media it isn’t over defending workers conditions, it’s over issues like this latest one where the judge has made some very strong statements and it’s not surprising given the quite extraordinary 45 text messages and dozens of phone calls and the nature of those messages clearly does constitute harassment which is why he pleaded guilty not just to harassment, but to also breaching the conditions that had already been put on him through the AVO or Victorian equivalent of it.
MITCHELL: So you now want him out on the basis of what happened, what was revealed in court yesterday rather than the comments about Rosie Batty?
ALBANESE: No I want him out due to a history of many years of bringing the party into disrepute and I’ve made that clear. It isn’t one thing people can make mistakes in life. Domestic violence though is a very serious issue and that quite clearly the fact that he pleaded guilty and the nature of the charges, the details that were out there you know even the details such as outlined in the newspaper today about him throwing an iPad which according to Emma Walters to quote her, “it actually skimmed my head.”
MITCHELL: Yes she said he wasn’t throwing it at her.
ALBANESE: He didn’t throw it at her but it did skim her head. If you look at the statements that were put in the text messages and indeed some of the graphics as well that were done, were clearly designed to be behaviour that is just unacceptable from anyone in 2019. Just as the statements that he’d made about people who are working for the ABCC and their families at a rally were unacceptable just as the use of his own kids to send a message as well.
MITCHELL: Got a few other convictions too for indecent language and things like that. Does that worry you?
ALBANESE: Well I think quite clearly this ongoing pattern which is there is why his ongoing membership of the Labor Party – you’ve got to assess – is it a plus for the party or is it a negative for the party. Now it would be a brave person, he will be able to of course the National Secretary has written to him and advised that these matters will be considered at the National Executive meeting on July the 5th. He’ll have an opportunity if he wishes to present his case. But I think it is completely open and shut. We are an organisation that has the capacity to determine our own membership. And as far as I’m concerned we’ll be doing that on July 5th and I would think that there’ll be a very clear majority to do just that.
MITCHELL: Well you’re putting yourself on the line if he isn’t thrown out, it makes you look pretty silly as leader.
ALBANESE: Well that’s right. And it was a risk I guess according to some, me taking the stance that I did. But that’s what leadership looks like. You have to be prepared to act in the interests of the Labor Party. And I’ve been prepared to do that and we’ll see whether the National Executive agrees with me next week but I’m very confident that they will.
MITCHELL: But does this worry you more, over 14 years the union not just the Victorian Branch, the union has had $16.5 million in penalties, 2,162 contraventions of civil law. Now isn’t that a bigger issue than John Setka’s personal life, the fact you’ve got a rebel rogue union that’s causing havoc? Now what about disassociating yourself from the union?
ALBANESE: Well it’s a tough industry of course. And the union has had those issues. But employers have also had issues of employing foreign labour, underpaying of wages, occupational health and safety issues.
MITCHELL: $16.5 million in penalties, 2,162 convictions for the CFMEU.
ALBANESE: That’s right. And people dying on work sites because employers haven’t put in appropriate safeguards so that when there is an issue I’m prepared to say -you know – what I say is when employers do the wrong thing it should be called out, when unions do the wrong thing it should be called out, when individuals do the wrong thing it should be called out …
MITCHELL: … are you calling out this union for doing the wrong thing?
ALBANESE: Well where they’ve been found to be in breach of the law then that’s a finding against them.
MITCHELL: Well are you criticising that, 2,162 times, are you calling out the union for doing the wrong thing?
ALBANESE: Well of course when they do the wrong thing, yes I do. And when employers do the wrong thing, yes I do. So in terms of the construction union though, were it not for the union being present on worksites, I’ll tell you what we would say a lot more fatalities and a lot more families where dad or mum in some cases wouldn’t get to come home after a hard day’s work building things for the nation and making sure they can put food on the table of their families.
MITCHELL: As you say it’s up to the union whether he and the members whether John Setka stays as secretary, will the Labor Party, should the Labor Party still take the millions of dollars from the union if he stays or do you disassociate yourselves totally?
ALBANESE: Well I don’t dissociate myself or nor does the Labor Party from the trade union movement.
MITCHELL: Well no, but the CFMEU if he stays as Secretary, do you cop their money or not?
ALBANESE: Well that is a decision for them and the Victorian branch.
MITCHELL: Oh come on.
ALBANESE: Well that’s a matter for the Victorian Branch, it is a matter for them. But do I support ongoing engagement with the construction union? Yes I do.
MITCHELL: Even if he’s there?
ALBANESE: Well he’s not the union. Tell you who the union is –
MITCHELL: He’s the Secretary in Victoria. Do you support that continued contact between the Labor Party and the union if he’s still there?
ALBANESE: The union movement will deal with those issues. They’re a democratic organisation, that’s up to them.
MITCHELL: So you’ll cop their decision, if he stays you’ll still deal with them?
ALBANESE: It’s a matter for them.
MITCHELL: I know that, but if he stays will you still deal with him?
ALBANESE: Well quite clearly it’s a matter for them.
MITCHELL: That’s no answering it.
ALBANESE: Yes I am Neil. How I’m answering it is this: that it is not my job to interfere in the internal affairs of trade unions. The trade union movement is dealing with this. Sally McManus has made a very clear position as have other senior members. Just last week Shaun Riordan the Assistant Secretary of the union made his views clear by resigning from the union. These issues will be worked out internally. And the last thing that anyone would want because it won’t assist the process of sorting it out, would be intervention from a politician in Sydney. What they want to know is that this politician from Sydney will stand up for the interests of individual construction workers in terms of safety issues, in terms of wages and conditions, in terms of superannuation. And I will do that. I respect people who work in blue collar jobs who are doing a tough job. And I think that it is important that unions exist in the construction industry because if they didn’t the consequences would be catastrophic in my view.
MITCHELL: Okay look thank you for speaking to us, just one quick one I’m asking all politicians this. Israel Folau, should he have lost his job?
ALBANESE: Well I think that people should be allowed to say what their religious views are. They should be able to say that, whether I agree with them or not. In this case I certainly don’t because the views that he expressed would see 95 per cent of your listeners going to hell.
MITCHELL: I agree, but should he have lost his job.
ALBANESE: Well the issue there is one of whether he breached his contract not over his views. Should contracts include provisions such as that, well that’s a matter between the players and and Rugby Australia. But I certainly support people’s right to express views. I also support people’s right to oppose those views when they’re put forward and I certainly do that.
MITCHELL: Thank you very much for your time.
ALBANESE: Thanks, Neil.