Subjects: Bill Shorten; Royal Commission; Government’s plan to reintroduce WorkChoices
SYLVIA JEFFREYS: Trouble is the word; it has been a week Bill Shorten would rather forget. Headlines after damaging headline about his time as boss of the AWU. The accusation of course, he traded workers’ rights and conditions in favour of payments made directly to the union. Now the Opposition leader has been forced to bring forward his appearance at the Royal Commission into union corruption after this scathing attack yesterday from the Government. Have a look.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE [Parliament footage] These are matters that are within the knowledge of the Leader of the Opposition. And he needs to answer those questions. He can’t wait till August. The Member for Port Adelaide answered those questions on Wednesday. Why can’t the Leader of the Opposition answer them today?
JEFFREYS: It was a fiery week in Parliament. Education Minister Christopher Pyne joins us now along with Shadow Transport Minister Anthony Albanese. Good morning to you both.
ALBANESE: G’day. Good morning Christopher.
PYNE: Good morning to you Sylvia. Good morning Anthony.
JEFFREYS: Aw, it’s lovely to see you getting along this morning.
PYNE: We always do.
ALBANESE: We’re in separate cities. It’s easier.
JEFFREYS: I know. We’ve given you a safe distance this morning. Bill Shorten, Anthony, I want to start here, will now front the Royal Commission on the 8th of July. Even that seems a very long time away given he is already on the ropes.
ALBANESE: He asked to speak to the Royal Commission as soon as possible. He wants to clear up these issues. He has nothing to hide which is why he initiated writing to the Royal Commission asking for the appearance to be as soon as possible.
JEFFREYS: But he only did that after Christopher Pyne’s attack yesterday. He was supposed to appear in August, maybe even September. Pressure clearly is mounting.
ALBANESE: No. The Royal Commission had said they wanted to speak with Bill and Bill had always made it very clear that he would give full cooperation to the Royal Commission. He’s got nothing to hide here. He’s proud of his background in the trade union movement and he will be very happy to go along on July 8 and to answer any questions that they have.
JEFFREYS: So new details this morning about another deal, this time with a Melbourne cleaning company which stripped workers of penalty rates saving the company tens of millions of dollars somewhere in the order of $70 million. How do you expect union members to feel about these deals and these accusations?
ALBANESE: Well, of course what happens in industrial relations through enterprise bargaining is that trade unions and employers get together to negotiate in the common interest of both. There’s a common interest between people who work for a company and the interests of that company being successful. That is part of the industrial relations system. So unlike Tony Abbott who still believes in WorkChoices and thinks that there is no common interest between employers and employees, the way the system works in practice is for the common good of all and for the economy. It’s that very enterprise bargaining system that Tony Abbott wants to change back to WorkChoices so that workers in fact don’t have an ability to negotiate through their trade union.
JEFFREYS: Well Christopher, over to you. You and your Government obviously have jumped all over this, this week. Bill Shorten does have some support though. Business leader Tony Shepherd says the deal over Melbourne’s East Link road project delivered top pay rates for workers. So is it safe to say perhaps Bill Shorten was an astute negotiator in that case?
PYNE: Well Sylvia, Bill Shorten’s done a complete U-turn on the Royal Commission. For months and months and months he said he wouldn’t have a running commentary on the Royal Commission and then yesterday he demanded to be able to appear as soon as possible to stem the flow of blood that is appearing because of the cyclone, the hailstorm of stories about his time as secretary of the AWU in Victoria. Whether it’s Cleanevent, whether it’s the East Link that you’re talking about, whether it’s the Winslow Constructors, Douglas Site Services. There’s one business after another that Bill Shorten was involved with as the AWU secretary where the claim is that workers’ rights were sold down the river in exchange for payments for the AWU, some of which were disguised as safety training, and as I said in Parliament yesterday, if they were legitimate payments, why were they concealed under the guise of safety training? Now these are very serious concerns. Penalty rates were traded away of Cleanevent workers saving businesses millions of dollars, but actually selling the workers down the river and Bill Shorten needs to explain. He’s come a long way from the Beaconsfield mine disaster. We’re now dealing with the AWU receiving sweetheart deals with businesses and workers missing out because of it.
JEFFREYS: Bill Shorten will answer all of those questions we expect on the 8th of July. Anthony, some of your colleagues have described it within the Labor Party as death by a thousand cuts. Do you expect him to escape this unscathed?
ALBANESE: Look, Bill Shorten will certainly lead us to the next election. Bill Shorten’s doing a great job of holding the Government to account and engaging on the issues that are of concern to people. The issue of defending our pensions. The issue of making sure that we advance education and health without the vicious cuts that the Federal Government want to impose.
JEFFREYS: Well, I want to point out on the front page of the SMH this morning that both Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard were overthrown in the week following the Midwinter Ball. By those calculations, could Bill Shorten’s time be up by Wednesday?
ALBANESE: No, that certainly won’t happen. Bill Shorten has the confidence of the Labor Party as the Leader. He was chosen to lead us to the next election. He certainly will and I hope that we’re successful at that election and that I get to serve in a Shorten Labor Government.
PYNE: Sylvia, Anthony is being very generous; because we know in fact he got more votes than Bill Shorten for the Labor Party leadership. He was the people’s choice. Bill won because of the factional leaders in the Labor Party caucus. The same trade union leaders that were part of Bill Shorten’s brigade that got him into leadership – he wasn’t trusted by Julia Gillard, he wasn’t trusted by Kevin Rudd or Mark Arbib and therefore the Australian people shouldn’t trust him.
JEFFREYS: Alright, we’ve got to leave it there. You have both been generous in saving Anthony the airing of footage of him playing footy in the pollies State of Origin this week but I’m sure we’ll see if we can find a way to put it out there.
PYNE: I think he wanted to show off his legs Sylvia.
JEFFREYS: Great pins in those footy shorts. Anthony and Christopher, thank you for your time this morning, we really appreciate it. Thank you.
ALBANESE: Great to be with you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.