31 May 2018
BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Yesterday we saw the spectacle of Senator Cash seeking to defend the indefensible in terms of her role in relation to the enquiry into the AWU.
Let’s remember exactly how this whole thing started - in August last year, we had Minister Cash leak a newspaper report about GetUp, and then when that was leaked to the newspapers and published in newspapers, that report was attached to a letter from Senator Cash in August to the Registered Organisation Commission. Within 24 hours the Registered Organisation Commission had commenced an enquiry into the AWU as a result of the leaking by Minister Cash of that report.
Then, of course, the rest we do know, and that is then the enquiry commenced, and in October last year we had Minister Cash’s office unlawfully leak information about an Australian Federal Police raid on two offices. Since that day we have not had a full explanation by Minister Cash in relation to her role and the role of her office.
We do know that one person has taken the fall for this. One of her staff has resigned, and we are expected to believe that staffer was some sort of lone wolf and acting on his own, risking his own career in order to further an attack on the Opposition and the AWU. This is all about, of course, attempting to smear the Opposition, a union, and indeed the Opposition Leader.
Minister Cash said yesterday that the Leader of the Opposition has questions to answer. Let’s remember the Government set up a Royal Commission, and the Leader of the Opposition answered 900 questions in two day on the stand. Yet of course what we have instead is a Minister who for seven months has refused to answer questions in the Senate, has refused to answer questions in Senate Estimates - arguing she can be covered by public interest immunity, and has spent now $500,000 of taxpayers money to defend herself and prevent herself going to court.
So far half a million dollars has been spent by Minister Cash on her own defence so she can avoid scrutiny – won’t account to the parliament, won’t answer questions in the parliament about the extent and nature of her role in the unlawful leaking of those raids. And obviously spending half a million seeking to set aside two subpoenas in order to not be involved in a court proceeding. A court proceeding, by the way, that has only happened because of the misconduct of Minister Cash and her office. She needs to explain that.
So too does the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister’s values and judgement is under question here. For seven months he has defended the indefensible. He’s allowed the Minister to stay even though she is clearly in breach of the Westminster principles of taking responsibility for her office, acting unlawfully in pursuit of an attack of the AWU and the Opposition Leader.
Of course we are getting to know Malcolm Turnbull each and every day that he likes to make character assessments about the Leader of Opposition, every day in parliament, and yet here’s a man - the leader of the nation, the richest man in parliament - willing to put all of his money in the Cayman Islands. I mean he talks about investing in this country, yet he takes his millions and millions and puts them in the Cayman Islands.
What sort of vote of confidence is that in the Australian economy to put all your money somewhere else when you are the leader of the nation?
Quite frankly, the people of Australia are waking up to Malcolm Turnbull. He is great at accumulating personal wealth, and quite frankly, good luck to him. But, when you start investing it elsewhere, and you start giving lectures about the character of other people, you might need to start looking a little more closely at home.
Happy to take your questions.
JOURNALIST: What is your take on reports that we have heard this morning about division within One Nation on the Government’s company tax plan? Is the Government that much closer to getting that through the Senate?
O’CONNOR: Two Nations! Civil war in One Nation. Well, quite frankly, Senator Burston, who I had not really heard of until today, has decided to separate from Senator Hanson. Clearly, there might be reasons why he has chosen to do that. You might ask him why he has chosen to depart from Senator Hanson.
We know Senator Hanson wants to support the tax cuts to the big end of town. Senator Hanson goes up to Queensland and says she supports the battlers, then she comes to Canberra, and 90 per cent of the time she votes with the Liberal Party.
The more her supporters start to realise that, the more I think we will start to see them turning away from One Nation. But, at the moment, as you say, there is one Senator now in One Nation choosing to take a different path. Well, let see what it entails. Let’s see what happens. I guess at this point the Government still does not have the numbers.
Labor will stand resolute against providing $80 billion to the big end of town, providing $17 billion to banks, and cutting $17 billion to schools.
If Senator Burston wants to take that approach, well I don’t think he will be returning to Canberra after the next election.
JOURNALIST: What about the Government’s foreign espionage laws - is Labor close to striking a deal with the Coalition on that?
O’CONNOR: Well, as always when it comes to national security, the Government and Labor work closely. We try to ensure we have a bipartisan approach to the security of this nation. That’s the sort of attitude we go in to any engagement with the Government.
The Government provides full briefings on matters which it does provide to our appropriate Shadows who explain to Shadow Cabinet the situation to the extent that they can. We will continue to work with the Government on that particular matter.
As I say, we have a very consensual attitude when it comes to national security. We try to find ways to reach accommodation with the Government because it is so important. It is the number one priority of any national parliament, and I think if you look at our history, we do seek to reconcile any outstanding differences and reach agreement in order to make sure our nation is safe.
JOURNALIST: Joe Bullock was with the Labor party for 40 years, but we have just heard this morning that he has joined the Liberal party. He said he felt isolated and lonely within the ALP. Is it possible to feel isolated and lonely within the ALP?
O’CONNOR: Well, I think it’s a great party. It’s like any political party, it has its characters and has its moments, but we are a pretty open political party. We have our arguments, our debates in public. Unlike the Greens we don’t have closed conferences. We are passionate, and that’s why often I find the media talk more about the Labor party than all the other political parties combined – because we are more interesting than the rest, and we are more transparent than the rest.
I feel very happy with my role and involvement within the political party. As for Mr Bullock, well, good luck to him. I wish him well. Perhaps it’s been a long journey - he has always been quite conservative in many respects. Maybe he has now found his natural home.
JOURNALIST: Also we have heard this morning that Greg Hunt has apologised to the Mayor of Katherine, Fay Miller, six months after an expletive-laden conversation with her. The behaviour of MP’s has been under scrutiny of late. Is an apology this late appropriate?
O’CONNOR: He has joined Senator Cash as being a potty mouth, that’s for sure. If you want to read the Hansards of Senator Cash, she would put wharfies to shame. If you want to read the transcripts, they are quite interesting reading the amount of expletives Senator Cash has put on Hansard.
As for the Minister for Health, he should focus on hospitals instead of bullying grandmothers. It is quite extraordinary this, the intimidation and bullying that seems to have gone on here because, as we understand it, this happened months ago and it was only until I think Rob Harris from the Herald Sun - or certainly News Limited - contacted the Minister’s office did the Minister then apologise to the grandmother, to the Mayor of Katherine.
So there is no real contrition here. He has apologised for political reasons, and he needs to show much greater contrition, and frankly he should be focussing on the health needs of the nation - not going around bullying and swearing at grandmothers.
JOURNALIST: Joel Fitzgibbon is going to seek to amend the Government’s live export bill today. Labor doesn’t have the numbers for that, is that just an empty gesture if Labor is going to vote with the Government on its bill eventually anyway?
O’CONNOR: Well, we are putting our position. The parliament’s there to debate issues and point out differences. Labor’s position is a better position. Joel Fitzgibbon has put, I think a very credible proposition to the industry, and I think it’s quite right that we consider that.
I don’t think the Government is in fact one on this issue. There are many members of the Government that disagree with their position. Many members of parliament disagree with the executive Government, and let’s see what happens when we debate that.
Finally, if I could just return to Senator Cash, I just say this. As I say, she has been shamed into accepting an invitation to turn up to Estimates today. So after seeking to hide from Senate Estimates, hide from the Senate and hide behind a whiteboard, she has now chosen to turn up today.
Well, I say this to the Senator - there is no point turning up today if you don’t answer questions. If you turn up today and seek to use public interest immunity and refuse to answer questions about the extent and nature of your role, then quite frankly that is not good enough, and if you are not willing to answer questions, you should resign because that is such a serious issue.
An unlawful leak by the office of the Minister that’s led to the court matter, and indeed, led to Minister Cash spending $500,000 of tax payers dollars on her own defence so that she doesn’t have to account to a court now. She hasn’t accounted to a court, hasn’t accounted to a Parliament. Spending $500,000 of tax payers money isn’t good enough. She must front up today and answer all questions.
Thanks very much.