31 May 2018

SPEERS: The Shadow Minister for Employment Brendan O’Connor joins me now. Thank you for your time this afternoon.


SPEERS: So are you arguing Michaelia Cash should go? Should she be sacked

O’CONNOR: We’ve said she should account for her conduct and that of her office in detail to the parliament, and if she fails to do that she should resign.

SPEERS: What does she need to detail?

O’CONNOR: I think there’s a whole range of questions about the extent and nature of the role of her office in relation to unlawfully leaking information to the media about the AFP raids. 
For the last seven months she has sought public interest immunity - so she won’t answer questions that have been put to her in Senate Estimates and the Senate. Quite frankly, she’s avoided a lot of media scrutiny, if you look at the amount of times she’s done press conferences in Canberra.

SPEERS: But her media adviser - then media adviser David De Garis - admits he was the one who leaked it to the media. She has maintained she knew nothing of it.

O’CONNOR: Firstly, let’s hear the account. I mean we’ve not once heard her explain, other than a question that there were admissions made by a former staffer that he broke the law. And yes, she’s made a denial that she was involved. There are other questions about other staff.

SPEERS: What questions?

O’CONNOR: How many other staff may be involved? She has not answered questions. We asked just a few questions on the 25th of October, the day after it was discovered that in fact what she said to the parliament five times was wrong. Then, you might remember, the former Attorney General then sought to argue that she had public interest immunity. 
So on one hand she says I can’t do anything because there’s an investigation ongoing - on the other hand she spends taxpayers’ money avoiding attending the court proceedings, as you know.

SPEERS: OK, but as you acknowledge, she says she knew nothing about tipping off the media. Is there any evidence to suggest that she did?

O’CONNOR: Well, if we wanted to be quite strict in relation to ministerial responsibility, the fact that her office acted in such a way-

SPEERS: That’s a separate argument, ministerial responsibility. Her personal knowledge-

O’CONNOR: I think it’s very important. The Westminster principal is that you take responsibility for the actions of your office - particularly when it is unlawful, and particularly when it arises from the actions of the Minister. 
Let’s remember she referred this matter to the Registered Organisation Commission herself - leaked information to the media about it, and then of course her office unlawfully leaked-

SPEERS: Ministerial responsibility is of course a governance question. The legal question though is to whether she knew. Is there any evidence to say that she knew?

O’CONNOR: She refuses to answer questions. If you look back at Senate Estimates, David, you will see a whole series of questions put by Opposition Senators where she just invokes public interest immunity and says she refuses to answer. We’ve got a situation now that she represents Minister Laundy in the Senate, refuses to turn up -


O’CONNOR: - refuses to turn up in the Senate Estimates-

SPEERS: I’m still a little confused. What document is the AWU after? What is the subpoena actually requesting?

O’CONNOR: You might have to talk to the principal of the court matter.

SPEERS: Is there anything you would like to see? What document would you like to see?

O’CONNOR: Look, can I just say – there’s a government agency that sought to establish whether there is any administrative breech about a donation of the AWU. The AWU denies that. That’s really for the agency of the Government - an independent body, even if it has acted at least on the face of it not entirely proper – and the AWU to deal with.
We are not seeking to intervene on that matter. But for us, as the Opposition, our job is to hold the Ministers to account for their conduct. What has happened is the Minister has made admissions that she received a confession from a former staffer, but then has refused any other question, or to answer any other question put to her in the Senate by invoking the PII. I just think that’s unacceptable.

SPEERS: The Government says this is a fishing expedition, there’s really no-

O’CONNOR: We caught a big fish. And now the fact is, will there be a bigger fish? I don’t know the answer to that.

SPEERS: She has not been ‘caught’ in the sense that any evidence has emerged to show she knew about the tip-off.

O’CONNOR: I said at the time – seven months ago – it beggars belief that no-one else in the office – I don’t want to mention the staffer’s name – but they were the lone wolf? It beggars belief. As a former Minister it is hard for us to accept that an advisor has gone out - on his own – knowingly putting himself at risk, providing information to the media.
I agree there are questions to be answered, and I am trying to be very careful about being prejudicial – but quite frankly she has not accounted for the conduct of her office in full, and nor herself, other than to say she denies her knowing of it. 
We would like to know more, and we have put that on notice.

SPEERS: As the Prime Minister pointed out today this is not the first time a subpoena has been issued. The last one was largely set aside before, and this one could be too.

O’CONNOR: There are several subpoenas – one has been set aside, there is one that was qualified and there was some information sort and provided to the court-

SPEERS: So is this really your big fish today? It’s the third subpoena- 

O’CONNOR: It underlines that the Government will do anything, and spend tax-payers money to avoid the Minister being compelled to give evidence.
So far, being able to avoid parliamentary scrutiny, now of course wants to avoid court proceedings – quite frankly in combination it does look like, David, obfuscation and cover-up. 
Whether she wants to stand up in the parliament, provide the right detail in this matter- well of course when they change our position, but up until that point it’s untenable. She can’t do her day job – she shouldn’t be there if she can’t.

SPEERS: Alright. You noted the fact that this is all about the Registered Organisation Commission trying to find out more about this donation – the one that AWU made to GetUp! back in 2005-2006. 
Just in principle, you agree that it’s pretty important that unions follow their rules about these sorts of donations?

O’CONNOR: It’s important that all registered organisations – unions and employ bodies - comply with the rules.

SPEERS: Are you satisfied that this happened on this occasion?

O’CONNOR: Look, I’m not a court, and I’m not trying to be funny here. I think certainly the party, the AWU, is asserting-

SPEERS: It has not produced the minutes of its national executive meeting being approved then.

O’CONNOR: Look, again, I’m saying to you I’ve heard what the parties say – that matter can proceed regardless of what’s happening here. I’m not suggesting - see I’m not a court of law-

SPEERS: You’re saying Michaelia Cash has to produce documents. The AWU also needs to produce documents.

O’CONNOR: If they have to, they have to do that in a court of law. That’s their obligations under the law, given the construction of the Registered Organisations Commission and the allegations made against it.
I just want to step back a bit and say one – this is an investigation into a matter that happened administratively in 2005. It’s the only matter we know of that the Minister referred directly to the ROC. 
So, she got directly involved from the beginning. This is really important, because we know why the Government wants to use the ROC in this way. It’s because they are seeking to implicate and smear Bill Shorten, because it’s the only thing they have left, quite frankly.

SPEERS: Just coming back to that question. You’re demanding Michaelia Cash front up, produce documents, and give all the evidence. You’re not willing to make the same demands of the AWU?

O’CONNOR: I know, but the law demands that. The courts will demand that matter to proceed. 
Our role as the Opposition is not to prosecute matters of a lawful or unlawful nature by anyone in society. 
But, as a general principle they have to follow the law, and there are consequences for breaking the law. 
In relation to our role as the Opposition, we also expect that the Minister in this case be fully accountable to the parliament, and if she fails to do so she really does has to consider her position or the Prime Minister has to sack her.

SPEERS: Just on the donation itself, putting aside whether it was properly authorised – is it a bit weird that the AWU would give $100,000 to Getup!?

O’CONNOR: Look again, you’d have to talk to the AWU, they-


SPEERS: What do you think, you know how things work?

O’CONNOR: Look, community organisations, not for profit organisations, and trade unions work together on campaigns. Sometimes, I’m sure, GetUp! would have a campaign that wouldn’t coincide with AWU interests in one given area. Other occasions they might work together. I don’t think it’s particularly unusual that bodies such-

SPEERS: They all work together. Why do they need to give them a $100,000?

O’CONNOR: Obviously the campaign will work on the same matters. Quite frankly, again I wouldn’t know the extent and nature of that sort of arrangement, but I don’t find it particularly unusual that they’d work together, and that they would work on campaigns together. 
You’re talking about money - everyone talks about unions and money, but unions and most types of organisations have, relatively speaking, very little money compared to say the mining industry or-

SPEERS:  Which is why they should spend the money on health and wellbeing, or the clear advancement of their member’s-

O’CONNOR: It may well be a campaign that goes to the questions of the future of their members. And look, it’s not just about turning up at workplaces for unions - they have to fight campaigns to win the hearts and minds of the Australian people on a whole range of issues, whether it’s about secure employment, and the like.

SPEERS: Final one. A separate issue - the Greens back the ACTU’s push for a living wage, as the union want to peg the minimum wage to 60 percent of the medium full time wage, I think we’ve spoken about this before. Is that something you’re still considering?

O’CONNOR: We want to make sure that the minimum wage is sufficiently high to provide enough for people to have a decent standard of living. We’re still looking at the best way to do that. There is a role of course for the Commission, I don’t want to see that role removed. I think the Commission has a role-

SPEERS: You wouldn’t peg it necessarily to a certain percentage of the medium wage?

O’CONNOR: No, but we are examining it. The Greens have every right to put up a position they want to put forward, but honestly, we’re the alternative government, and we’re looking at the matters. We’re looking at the implications of the policy insofar as how it would affect businesses, as well as how to look after working people.

SPEERS: Brendan O’Connor, thanks for joining us this afternoon. Appreciate it.

O’CONNOR: Thanks David.



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